John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

What are Your Roadmaps?

September 11, 2014John N. GardnerInsights0

John N. Gardner

Recently, t’was the night before a vacation trip and after getting in bed I realized that I had forgotten to pack some maps of the region my wife and I were going to visit. I woke up the next morning and went promptly to the room where I had stored my maps for 15 years. Now I don’t save everything, mind you. But I am/was, a saver of maps. Maybe they had unconsciously taken on a significance for me that I was not aware of.

Anyway, I am an “everything in its proper place” kind of guy. So great was my surprise when my maps weren’t there. The “there” happened to be a storeroom that I share, like most everything else, with my wife and some of her things. The maps were gone. I immediately accosted my dear wife about the whereabouts of the maps. She, Betsy Barefoot, immediately replied that she had thrown them out! Upon further explanation, she explained that she had not realized that I had been putting MY maps in there, particularly those I had been recently acquiring, expensive, purchased, maps for touring in faraway places like New Zealand, France and Italy. Betsy duly apologized. But it has been the subject of much conversation between us for days following, mostly in the spirit of amusement and good nature. But it has really driven home how attached I am to maps!

Betsy’s initial reaction was one of surprise when she learned from me how attached I was to those maps. She even said to me: “John, that is so TWENTIETH CENTURY (emphasis mine) of you! Nobody uses maps any more. We have our phones.” Well, I have been begging to differ with her since. I still use maps. I love maps. I love to hold them in my lap and to pour over them with a magnifying glass, tracing routes with my fingers and then a highlighter pen. Why smart, pioneering, professionally courageous men like me, and women, have been using maps for centuries. Great discoveries have been made thanks to maps. This is a serious matter.

So now I have lost my maps. What am I going to do to replace them so I have direction for my most important of life’s journeys?

Let’s think of the “map” or “maps” or “roadmap” as a metaphor. Or we could convert it into an allegory. Surely, as educators we have all used these concepts with our children, our students, our peers, our mentors, our mentees. Most all of us can explicate our maps. And we work with the significant people in our lives to help them develop their maps. But maps are not static. They are constantly being redrawn.

And what happens to us when there is enormous cultural, political, economic, social change that leads to upheavals in our maps. Can we really totally lose our maps as I did when my wife inadvertently threw out my whole collection? When you lose your maps, how do you begin to replace them?

People are losing their maps all the time. The start of the school year is a great time to be thinking about this. Our new students come and many set aside the maps they came with. Others hold on to their home given maps even more tightly than ever. Many of us are working with our first-year students to help them develop new maps.

And, unquestionably, technology is replacing the ways we go about map making. I find myself constantly asking if these changes are for the better. Of course, there is no simple answer.

Three days after discovering the loss of my maps I crossed the state line from Massachusetts into Vermont by car. And the first thing I wanted to do was to stop in the state welcome center where I knew I could get a good map, multiple maps. And I could begin the process of replenishing my old maps, maybe some of which, my wife adds, were 25 years old!

I was privileged to live in Canada for five years during my childhood, from ages 9-14. Canadian school children such as I became mandatory students of world geography. I would never have done that in a typically ethnocentric American school. Why, we don’t need to study maps of anybody else! All that matters is ourselves. But I really did study maps in Canada. And I came to love maps. They made me think about where I might want to go during my own life and how my life could be different and what I could learn from these people who lived in these faraway places. I have to admit, I still think this way. I like the way I think. I like what maps have always done for me.

I am in good company with many higher educators I know. Our mental maps are being challenged and redrawn, especially by technology. And we are having to decide what to hang on to, what really matters, what to rethink, redraw, unlearn, relearn, plan in new ways. Being a twentieth century man and having to learn to be a twenty first century cartographer is hard work. I am fundamentally though a geographer of higher education and of institutions, students, faculty, and staff in transition, as we all look for new maps and decide which of our old maps we hang on to.

How are you coming with your maps? Can/should some of your maps be thrown away? Which ones are you consciously deciding to save and keep living in terms of?

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