“No it’s not. It can’t be! There is the United States. This bit, way over here can’t be part of it.”
I was working with a group of students in Membrillo, Panama. We were painting a map of the world on the wall of the school, and we were arguing about Alaska.
We argued about more than one country placement, including Panama.
It wasn’t really a surprise that these children, most of whom had never gone further from home than they could walk in a few hours, didn’t know where on the planet they lived.
But talking to them, I realised they didn’t even know where in Panama they lived. Many of them had parents working in Panama City, and most of them would one day work there themselves, but they had no idea where the city was in relation to their own village.
So when we finished the world map, I spent a week enlarging a map of Panama to transfer to the other blank wall at the school. Before these kids were going to make sense of Panama’s place in the world, they needed to be able to see their place in Panama. We outlined the provinces, and labelled the cities and towns. When we finished, Membrillo was the largest name on the map—the centre of the universe, with their nation and their world arrayed around them.