Public schools in Boston are using a new global map to help give students a better picture of what the world really looks like.
Boston Public Schools, a network that includes 125 institutions, announced Thursday that instead of just using the widely popular, over 400-year-old Mercator projection map, which grossly distorts the size of the world’s countries and continents, classrooms will be incorporating the Peters projection map because it is more accurate.
In the Mercator map, which was created in 1569 to help establish and navigate colonial trade routes, many of the world’s countries and continents appear warped when compared to their actual size: Alaska is portrayed as larger than Mexico, which is untrue; South America looks the same size as Europe, when it is nearly twice as large; and Greenland appears mammoth when compared with Africa, but it is in fact 14 times smaller than the continent.
The Peters projection map, which was created by German historian Arno Peters in 1973, shows the world’s landmasses at their true scale. It has been adopted by the United Nations, and Boston school officials believe the newer map will enrich students’ global learning. Both maps are shown below.
“By incorporating the Peters projection maps — an equal area representation — into classrooms, we are opening the door for students to view the world in a different light,” BPS’ History and Social Studies Director Natacha Scott told The Huffington Post. “Taking the time to analyze different map projections will help facilitate conversations about bias in the classroom, allowing students to become more aware of the world around them.”
Scott says Hayden Frederick-Clarke, director of cultural proficiency of BPS, initiated the discussion around using the Peters projection map in the classroom. He spoke with members of the BPS’ Office of Opportunity and Achievement Gaps as they embarked on a three-year effort to “decolonize the academic curriculum,” which Scott says “means examining and removing instances of bias in all academic disciplines, including social studies, math, science, and English language arts.”
To be clear, any two-dimensional rendering of a spherical object is inevitably going to make compromises, including the Peters projection map, which has the effect of creating some horizontal distortion at the poles. BPS will still use the Mercator maps in schools as a way for students to compare it to the replacement map and spark honest discussion around the world’s landscape. Frederick-Clarke says this is especially important for students of color, who make up 86 percent of the school district.
“Maps that they are presented with generally classify the places that they’re from as small and insignificant,” Frederick-Clarke told radio news station WBUR. “It only seems right that we would present them with an accurate view of themselves.”
While rollout for the replacement map began with second-, seventh- and eleventh-grade social studies classrooms, Scott says that the district plans to eventually purchase the map for all classrooms to use. She says she sees immense value in teachers and students using the Peters projection map to form more factually accurate ideas about the world’s geography and history.
“Overall, we hope students gain a deeper understanding of the importance of researching and analyzing multiple perspectives in order to develop their own conclusions about the world around them,” she said. “By exploring geography, we also hope to increase an awareness of the relationship between themselves to other countries, communities, cultures, and individuals around the world.”
Clarification: Language has been added and amended to better describe differences between the maps in question.