Dumbing down?

In the pre-Google maps days it was harder to find [some] places. I well remember how Mother-of-witch and I searched for Henley. Yes, that Henley. The one with the regatta. A teacher at Mother-of-witch’s school (where she worked; not the school she attended) had told her to take me to Henley on holiday. So she booked the trip, without knowing much more than that Henley was a nice, small town and very child-friendly.

But where was it? We pored over the England page in the atlas. Oh, how we pored. And finally, one day I found a place called HenleyEton. Turned out it was only very tightly spaced print, so Henley was just to the left of Eton, making it look like the one placename.

So that was fine. Now we knew where we were going. We weren’t the only ignoramuses, though. Once actually in Henley we ran into the sister of a friend, and she had absolutely no idea where she was, straight off her coach for a brief break.

But the poring. I did that a lot, with atlases, even without any holidays planned. I loved maps and could spend hours staring at the pages of the new atlas Mother-of-witch had invested in, to replace her school atlas from the 1930s.

The more I pored, the more I learned* in a passive sort of way. That’s how I knew where Nicosia was. These days I expect a child would know it from a holiday, and not a map. Although, Daughter’s friend at school only knew her family’s holiday destination began with the letter T and was on the Mediterranean.

I’m not sure whether we ever found out if it was Tunisia or Turkey. It’s a shame, really. Unless it mattered so little to the adults that the child knew where they went that it became meaningless.

I’ve reviewed a number of children’s atlases. Most of them good in a picture book kind of way. But one that I received some time ago tipped me over the edge. They are skimpy, with bare outlines of whole continents and a few strategically placed polar bears or culturally appropriated native peoples and their traditional dress and well-known items that ‘belong’ somewhere.

It suddenly struck me that if the young Witch was capable of looking at and enjoying a real map, then so are today’s children. But their parents probably don’t think of giving them a grown-up atlas, and the publishers offer us endless polar bears. I mind less what the children don’t learn, and object more to what they do learn if they pay attention to these books. Because I could see in this recent one that my part of the world was inaccurately depicted.

And it is hard to unlearn accidental knowledge.

Here’s to more HenleyEtons!

—-

*When the Resident IT Consultant went to Samara for work, I was so ashamed! I didn’t know it. What was wrong with me? (No need to tell me.) It was only as I did some detecting that I discovered it was good old Kuybyshev. Which I ‘knew’ very well. Not sure why they have to keep renaming places so much. Well, I do, but…

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