Monday, June 1, 1992, changed my life. I had grown up a biologist, became a geographer in college, and spent 15 years teaching social studies in grades 7-12. Apple’s 1982 launch of the IIe began my enduring marriage to digital exploration and analysis of data about places. At the AAG conference in spring of 1992, I saw the beta of ArcView 1. Six weeks later, I began at Esri.
I struggled with my first task: week-long Unix-based ARC/INFO class. But I had seen ArcView for Windows and Macintosh, and knew what they meant: Anyone could analyze geographic data, see the relationships between things in different places, and investigate the interplay of multiple factors. It was only a matter of time before this would sweep education. My teaching brethren, I was sure, would embrace such powerful critical thinking tools with open arms. I figured it would take four years.
Seasons passed, elections came and went, technology zoomed, the World Wide Web arrived, data moved up a J-curve, and educational standards were born. With the latter came the powerful but sadly misguided vision of standardization, as if learning were neither art nor even science but simply “one size fits all” delivery. Booms and busts in economy, technology, and geopolitical stability caused some to hunker down, others to pinball to the latest idea.
Across this span, Esri’s Education Industry Team grew with a constant focus: To help all the world grasp the geographic nature of any situation, question, or problem; and to foster the ability of educators and students to examine anything with powerful tools, skills, and understanding, in order to make good decisions.
It has taken longer than I first reckoned to get the message out. But the rise of web-based and mobile-based geographic analysis through ArcGIS Online, with its ready access to vast banks of data and easy investigation, blows open the doors. A broad spectrum of ArcGIS tools means anyone can build capacity incrementally. And the expanding commentary that critical thinking and problem solving, effective communication and collaboration skills, and a sense of ethics and responsibility are more important than Pavlovian accumulation and regurgitation of bubble-ready facts gives hope for a more sensible pedagogical tomorrow.
The planet is in greater jeopardy on more fronts than it was 20 years ago. The mission to save the world through education continues, stronger than ever.
- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager