(Note: This was written for and posted on Sept 11 of 2011, the tenth anniversary. The memories, and need for learning, remain as strong as ever. Never give up. -Charlie)
On that dreadful day in 2001, under the “severe clear” September sky, in those thunderbolts of inhumanity that cost so dearly, we lost two friends from National Geographic who, with students and teachers in tow, had embarked on a mission full of hope.
The roots of that ghastly day snake back to and reach full stop at a scandalously inadequate geographic understanding, even among the ranks of those who influence the planet. The world is stunningly complex, with visible influence and hidden links far and wide. How can anyone hope to make good decisions about complex matters while ignoring the matrix of connections?
We need to see the broad patterns and fractal fabrics around us, grasp the relationships between conditions here and those over there, envision from all sides the Mobius strip connecting yesteryear and tomorrow. Without this holistic view, without comprehending the tyranny of distance yet still the web of connections over space and time, the road ahead is perilous, for each of us, and the world in which we live. Ignoring the lessons of geography, we become a braided stream of humanity, tumbling inexorably toward a cliff.
Ann and Joe lost their lives while working to build geographic understanding for all … young or old, teacher or student, rural or urban, American or global. It remains for us truly a mission in which failure is not an option. For those who live in anonymity on up to those whose decisions shape us all, understanding the power of place and past, and the gravity of patterns and relationships, is vital for navigating safely between the shoals of ignorance and apathy, toward a secure and sustainable world. Let us resolve to ensure that all gain experience in thinking geographically, and hail the disposition to do so about matters large and small.
Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Schools Program Manager
Link to Facebook group remembering Ann and Joe