An Interview with Brenda Runkle
CBD Could you tell us about your teaching experience?
I started teaching in 1963 at Harding Junior High School. I had your typical student teacher experience. I went into the
main office and introduced myself. They said, "That's fine. Coach Potter's room is outside the locker rooms down by the boiler room, and he's expecting you." I never laid eyes on him, so I taught an
entire year without any supervision. And of course, I had all the jocks, because it was down in Coach Potter's room. But it was absolutely wonderful! I loved every minute of it.
Then I transferred to John Marshall High School where I taught twelfth grade political economic world history. And I was the first psychology teacher in the state of Oklahoma. They had the TV cameras there
and everybody to make sure that I wasn't going to teach any sex education or anything like that. Little did they know that I was afraid of that, and didn't want to do it anyway! It was interesting that when
the books came from the distribution center, parts of the book were marked off with black electrical tape, and I couldn't teach out of that part of the book. But anyway, I loved political economic history, and I
taught for about eight years. Then I was sent down to the seventh grade to teach geography to replace a teacher that had been fired. I came to the conclusion that I am an arrested seventh grader! That's
my role in life. I love being a seventh grader. My neighbor John Saxon was one of my dearest friends and my mentor.
Then I transferred to John Marshall High School where I taught twelfth grade political economic world history. And I was the first psychology teacher in the state of Oklahoma. They had the TV cameras there and everybody to make sure that I wasn't going to teach any sex education or anything like that. Little did they know that I was afraid of that, and didn't want to do it anyway! It was interesting that when the books came from the distribution center, parts of the book were marked off with black electrical tape, and I couldn't teach out of that part of the book. But anyway, I loved political economic history, and I taught for about eight years. Then I was sent down to the seventh grade to teach geography to replace a teacher that had been fired. I came to the conclusion that I am an arrested seventh grader! That's my role in life. I love being a seventh grader. My neighbor John Saxon was one of my dearest friends and my mentor.
CBD The John Saxon of Saxon math?
Brenda Runkle Oh, Yes. He would come to my classroom, and he kept saying, "You know, you've just got to start writing books." So I did, and seven years later I have one book on the market with the mapping method. My philosophy of teaching is that you don't write a 500-page book just to make sure you have a big thick book that sits on the shelf. That seems to be what the big publishers demand. They want it to be "x" number of pages, but you can't use it. So John and I would sit down every Saturday morning, and we would comb though and throw out everything that we thought was not absolutely necessary for forming a core curriculum knowledge of world physical geography. I teach much the same way as John did. Every lesson is incremental. Every lesson is reinforced, and there are no worthless facts. I write to all four modalities of learning. The children will see it, they'll hear it, they'll speak it, and they'll manipulate. But regardless of their learning styles, they're going to pick it up, because it's reinforced as well.
CBD What really struck me, looking through your Geography book, was, "Wow, this would really appeal to many different types of kids!" You've got plenty of logical, sequential facts. You've got concrete, hands-on activities. And you have the sort of multimedia approach for the more intuitive with lots of pictures, graphs, and side bars. It's really terrific.
Brenda Runkle One of the things I picked up in all my years of teaching, is that I could probably count of one hand how many times a child has turned to the glossary to look up a word. So I just decided that when I introduce a word for the first time, I'm going to define it right where it's used, and then we don't play any guessing games. They know the definition of the word, and understand what the sentence is about. I'm a tactile learner. I'm one of those people who can't change my clock once a year, because I can't remember how to do it. And I can't record anything on the VCR, because I only do that about once a year. And I thought, "If we only introduce a concept and then we drop it, that's not useful information." And I don't want any information that isn't useful. I don't want any fluff. I want them to have the kind of knowledge that, when they're driving down the street, they can say, "Whoa, I understand! Look at that gully, and look at that erosion pattern, and what's growing here." Just looking around, they can absorb what they see, and see it with understanding. That's my philosophy in a nutshell.
CBD You challenge kids at the beginning of the year by telling them that they're going to learn all the countries of the world, their relationship to where they are, and how to spell them all. I can imagine that your enthusiasm must really be contagious.
Brenda Runkle It's so much fun to learn! Once the kids learn, and they can use the knowledge, then it makes a big difference. That's why I always start with Africa. If the kids can learn all the countries in Africa, then their bragging rights just soar through the ceiling.
CBD How many adults can do that?
Brenda Runkle Almost nobody. And then the kids are all geared up, and say, "Look what I've done! So let's march right around the world, and let's do it all."
CBD Are social studies, maps and geography a particular love of yours?
Brenda Runkle Oh, absolutely. I grew up learning all the countries of the world at the dinner table. I think my father, who was a surgeon, was a frustrated geographical geologist. When we would go on our summer vacations, daddy and I would pick up rocks, and then we would go buy the book that would tells us about the rocks. Or we would get all these maps. Dad just instilled this inquisitiveness in me, that when you look at something, you want to sing, "How does this work?" You don't just look at the surface of it all—you get underneath it. Why does the water flow in this direction? Why is so much algae growing in that pond? You just ask all kinds of questions.
CBD It's really interesting how you draw in a lot of the geological aspects of geography, and discuss different types of glaciers and so forth. It gives depth and meaning to the subject, instead of just having a pile of facts to memorize.
Brenda Runkle Most people think that geography is just simply looking at a map and identifying certain things. That's just not true, because it's the physical geography that determines how the people live on the land. When you look at history, and you understand your physical geography, you'll see that all armies follow the same exact route. It's because there are only certain ways you can move large amounts of men, animals, and machinery. You can't out march your supply lines, unless you have available food and water along the route. Look at Hannibal when he crossed the Alps. Look at how many men he lost and how many elephants he lost, because he didn't follow the well-worn paths of all the other invading armies.
CBD I was really struck by that in the Holy Land, which has been the route of army, after army, traversing through. It was very haunting. So I know just what you mean, when I remember looking down into the natural battlefield of the Jezreel Valley.
Brenda Runkle Have you been to Gettysburg and Antietam? Oh, Christine, you should go! It is place where people were speaking in whispers. When you go back into the woods where Pickett made his charge, there are all those statues of these different divisions and people who fought there. You absolutely feel that battle. It makes the hair on your arms stand up. What amazed me was that even the young children were speaking in whispers. Nobody was running around flying a kite. It's very obvious that ground was soaked with blood. There's a tower you can climb at Antietam. You see the physical terrain and the gully where the Southern soldiers thought they were coming unseen. Well, the Northern soldiers knew they were down there, and they killed so many. That trough with filled with bodies and it was running red. All battles are fought based on having the best view of the land. So if you don't know how to read a topographical map, and if you don't know your geography, you're not going to win. It's as simple as that.
CBD I can certainly imagine you inspiring and capturing the imagination of a classroom! Do you have any advice for our homeschool parents who use this book? One of our product specialists here at ChristianBook.com is one of eleven children, and her mother is a big fan of your geography book and used it with several of her kids in a homeschool setting. Have you had any experience with homeschooling or any suggestions for our customers?
Brenda Runkle The only thing that I would suggest is when you have a problem you call me. If something doesn't make any sense don't fool with it. Just give me a call. I'm here all the time. I can walk you through it. And one of the things I am willing to do, Christine, is where we have large groups of homeschool families and they get together and have their introductory meeting at the first of the year. I would be more then glad to fly out and do a one day work shop. If I sell enough books to pay for my airline ticket and hotel room, I would love to come to that weekend workshop and walk them through it and show them how to teach it. I guess that's my frustration of being out of the classroom, that I love to do that.
CBD That would be a fantastic resource.
Brenda Runkle I would be more then glad to do it.
CBD Do you have any specific suggestions for homeschoolers for sparking the kids' imagination and their desire to learn that's behind your approach in designing your geography book?
Brenda Runkle One of the things is I would always have a globe available. I would always have a classroom atlas. Don't get that premier world atlas. You want what's called the classroom atlas, that doesn't have 75 things on a map. It will have four or five things and be very clear. Use it when you're studying English. For instance, if you're studying the "Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner," and you look at that through the eyes of a geographer, you know exactly where that boat is. You know when he's going south, and you know when he goes south of the equator or starts turning around, because you know your geography. When you're watching the news and an earthquake occurs, like the one that happened over in Malaysia, get your map out. Say, "This is where this occurred, and now let's open up the book, and let's look at volcanoes." Ask, "Why did this occur? Are plate tectonics active here? Is subduction going on here?" Make learning pertinent. When you're doing your Bible studies, get the maps out. Say, "Look at this." As Christians, when we read about the River Jordan, we envision it as being mightier than the Mississippi, because it is so important in our Christian history. But do you know that the River Jordan is some places is only five feet wide and two feet deep? And yet it plays such an important role with us. So these are the things that help them visualize. Whenever a question comes up, get a map. Don't just gloss over it. Say, "Well, you know what? Let's just find out about this." Then use your encyclopedia, get on the Internet, go to the library, and just ask questions. As a homeschooling parent never say, "We can't do that today, because it doesn't fit." When a child asks a question, drop everything and answer it, otherwise you will stifle their creativity. If it takes you fifteen minutes off track, that's fifteen minutes well spent.
CBD Your remarks will be especially pertinent to families that take a unit studies approach. I'm sure you'll inspire them to draw in geography into the picture as you described, relating it to a poem, current events, history, or whatever they may be studying.
The early industries had to be where you had a source of energy, which was falling water. And all of your factories
had to be near falling water and near the natural resource. This is why your major towns are where they are. Today you can put a semiconductor together anywhere. I could have my office anywhere
and just take my computer. So this change is changing the personality of our towns, and the major moves families make. It is a whole new ballgame today. Its fun, but I'm certainly glad I'm not a teenager.
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Order your copy of Brenda's book: