Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: geography

Does the U.S. Postal Service know where Canada is?

Years ago, when I worked for Canada Post in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, I was instructed that the regulations of the Universal Postal Union required that mail to another country had to be sent to that country by the most direct route possible. Thus, if we received mail addressed to Boston we were not to send it to Montreal, the nearest Canadian centre to Boston, but to Minneapolis. The U.S. Postal Service would take over from there.

I have always wondered if the employees of the U.S. Postal Service have the same rules, or if they even know which direction to send mail addressed to some place in Canada. That question arises from a long history of receiving mail sent from places in Europe, Africa or Asia within a week, while mail from the USA takes anywhere from one to three weeks.

Thirty years ago, while we were living in Ontario, my wife had cancer surgery just before Christmas. Friends of ours were on their way to spend Christmas with family members who were missionaries in Belize. They bought a get well card in Texas and put it in the mail. They went on to Belize, spent almost two weeks there and then drove home. Their card arrived two days later – a full three weeks after the date on the Texas postmark.

Twenty years ago we were living in Montréal. I bought an Epson ink jet printer; the price was pretty hefty back then, but they were offering a nice rebate. This required sending a form and proof of purchase to an organization in Minnesota. I received a letter back explaining that the rebate was only available to people living in North America. I wrote back and asked them to look on a map, Montréal is a major North American city. I sent a copy of the letter to Epson. I got my rebate.

An acquaintance of ours told of how her family had moved from Montréal to Florida when she was still in elementary school. Her first day in school the teacher asked her to come up and tell the class about her trip across the ocean to the USA.

“But, we didn’t come across the ocean.”

“How did you get here then?”

“We drove.”

“How is that possible? Where is Canada?”

Whereupon the girl pointed out where Canada was on the classroom map.

“Oh. Is that Canada? I always thought that area up there was part of the USA.”

I suspect that at least some employees of the U.S. Postal Service had that same teacher, or one very much like her. I ordered three used books from Amazon last month. The first got here in a week, from England. The second, from the USA, took three weeks. The last one, also from the USA, came yesterday, a full four weeks after I had ordered it online.

There was a Royal Mail sticker over the top right corner of the address label and customs declaration. That mystified me. Why would a package from the USA have a postal sticker from the UK?

There seemed to be another sticker under it, so my wife tore off the Royal Mail sticker and there we read “La Poste, Paris, France,”still covering the corner of the original label.

I rest my case.

 

Stamp collecting

I collected stamps when I was a boy. It was a fascinating and inexpensive hobby. Many stores sold packets of used stamps for less than a dollar, either mixed or sorted by country or theme. One could also buy from mail order stamp companies. If one had the money to spend there were more expensive albums and stamps available, but there was an abundance of stamps and supplies available that fit my small budget.

I learned a lot about history and geography from stamps. I learned that many countries called themselves something different than the name I had learned. Germany was Deutschland, Holland was Nederland, Norway was Norsk, Finland was Suomi and Hungary was Magyar. I learned of countries that didn’t exist anymore, such as Bosnia & Herzogovina. Bosnia has reappeared in recent years and I know where to find it on the map because when I was a boy I found out where Bosnia & Herzogovina used to be.

I saw how the stamps of Deutschland of many years ago had been continuously overprinted with new amounts containing many zeros and learned about the hyperinflation during the Weimar Republic. I saw the stamps of French colonies overprinted with France Libre and learned how Charles deGaulle had created a new French army to fight the Axis powers after the capitulation of Pétain during the Second World War.

Do boys still collect stamps? Stamps have become more and more colourful over the years, more and more expensive, and less and less useful. How many people today anxiously await the arrival of the letter carrier in the expectation that there will be an important letter? In our home, we only occasionally get a personal letter via the postal service and hardly any bills. Almost everything comes by email, including a lot of junk emails.

I believe there will be a need for the postal service for many years to come – but it won’t look much like the postal service of my boyhood and will never again be as important in our lives as it was back then. That makes postage stamps less interesting to boys and girls, despite the effort to make them look more interesting. And that’s too bad, there is so much that can be learned from stamps.

Something else that has been lost since my boyhood is the place of the Bible as an anchor for society. It isn’t that everybody read the Bible, or believed it, when I was a boy, many people didn’t. But enough people did at least believe that it had some worthwhile advice for our lives that it served as a stabilizing influence. The number of people who will even pay lip service to the Bible is quite small today.

We have lost much in many areas of life, but the most crucial is in our concept of family life. A large percentage of children growing up today will not experience a united home with the same father and mother during their growing up years. Those who grow up in such a setting may never have a chance to observe a stable, happy, two parent family. They probably don’t even know that such a thing is possible, or desirable.

“Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18). In French the last part reads “sans frein”, meaning unchecked or unbridled, literally “without brakes.”  That’s a good description of today’s world; we have lost the vision and so people rush on trying to fix their problems with solutions that are more apt to make their problems worse.

The Post Office may not be fixable, but this situation could be fixed if only the vision could be regained.

Where is Ottawa?

Judith Adler teaches a course on families and the cultural traditions of families the world over at Memorial University of Newfoundland.  A few years ago she began to suspect that her students had no idea where some of the places she was talking about actually were. So she gave them  a quiz.

The quiz consisted of a blank map and a series of questions. Questions like: label South America, Europe, Australia and Asia. Label the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans and the Mediterranean Sea. Three quarters of the students failed the test. Memorial University is located in St. Johns, Newfoundland, a port city on the Atlantic Ocean. Some of the students could not correctly identify the location of that ocean.

Ms. Adler gives this test every year now. She says the students are not dumb; when faced with the reality of their ignorance they get to work. When given a second opportunity to do the test they never flunk it the second time. They simply have never been taught the simplest elements of geography.

Classrooms used to have large maps that could be rolled down over the chalk board like a blind. There were probably large globes or atlases in every room. The world has become much smaller today. We are linked to the whole world via the internet and hear news from every corner of the globe. How are these students going to comprehend what is going on if they don’t even know where these places are?

My wife was only 17 when we married and had just finished Grade 11. She started Grade 12 that fall, but she was the only married lady on the bus or in the classroom, plus she had responsibilities at home, so she dropped out after a week or two. A few years ago she enrolled in a course to prepare for the GED exam. One evening the teacher began the class by giveing each student a list of 20 capital cities with a space beside them to write the name of the country. Chris thought there was probably a time limit so quickly ran through the list and wrote in the countries.

Then she looked up and realized the other students were completely at sea. The teacher then told them they could work together to find the answers. They came to Berlin, decided it was in China and proceeded to find equally astute answers for the other cities. Then they came to Ottawwa and were totally stumped. The teacher told them they could use the atlas. They found Ottawa and saw that it was in Ontario.

“But Ontario isn’t a country,” Chris protested.

“Well what country is it in then?”

“Ottawa is mentioned in the news every day,” hinted my wife.

“Oh, we never pay any attention to the news.”

These people were not immigrants, nor were they fresh off the northern trap lines, they were normal city folks, the product of our fine public education system. They had dropped out before finishing high school, but a Grade 6 student from years ago would have found that test a snap.

This is one of the reasons why we did not send our daughter to public school, and why our daughter does not send her children to public school.

The decline and fall of public education

Chris was 17 when we got married and had just finished Grade 11.  She enrolled in Grade 12 that fall and rode the school bus to the nearest large town with a high school.  It didn’t last long — she was in a new community where she didn’t know any of her fellow students, she was the only married lady on the school bus and in the school and she had the responsibility of looking after a home.

Ten years ago she decided it was time to enroll in a G.E.D. course and obtain a high school diploma.  The first night she came home and said “I can’t get the answer to a couple of math questions.”  I looked at the questions in her book, the answers she had come up with and the answers given in the back of the textbook and told her, “You have the right answers, the book is wrong.”  It was like that throughout the course: the book gave the wrong answer for 20% of the math questions.  The teacher and Chris could calculate the correct answers; the rest of the middle-aged students needed help.

One evening the teacher began the class with a geography quiz consisting of a list of cities around the world and asking which country each city was found in.  Chris thought there would be a time limit and quickly answered all the questions, and answered them correctly.  Then she looked up and found the rest of the class was floundering.  Some thought Berlin must be in China.  Then they came to Ottawa and they were absolutely lost.  Chris suggested that they look it up in the atlas.  So they found Ottawa on the map and it was in Ontario.  “But Ontario is not a country,” Chris told them.  “Then what country is it in?” they wanted to know.

This was not a group of immigrants; it was a group of middle-aged Canadian-born people, mostly ladies.  And they did not know the name of the capital city of their own country!  “You must hear it or read it in the news every day,” Chris suggested.  “Oh we never listen to the news,” they replied.

Somehow they all passed the course and a graduation ceremony was scheduled.  The TV cameras were there and the Premier of Saskatchewan came to personally hand out the diplomas.  When Chris unrolled her diploma, she saw that Congratulations was spelled wrong!

Yesterday the National Post carried an article about a university professor in St. John’s, Newfoundland.  She teaches a sociology course about the cultural traditions of families in places around the world and about five or six years ago she began to suspect that her students didn’t have a clue where those places were.

Now she gives a pop quiz to her students at the beginning of every term.  75% of the students fail it.  Some will circle Africa and say that it is Europe.  Some will say that England and Ireland are in Africa.  Most don’t know where the Mediterranean Sea is found and many can’t place the Atlantic Ocean.  Newfoundland is an island in the Atlantic, St. John’s is the main port city, the students basically just have to look out the window to see the ocean, but they can’t name it!

The professor says these are bright students, the quiz wakes them up, they begin to study maps and never have a problem after that.  They simply have never been taught even the bare rudiments of geography.  It seems like the big wall maps and globes have disappeared from classrooms and there is no room in the curriculum for teaching things like this.

Must not be happening at home, either.  It seems that parents have been lulled to sleep, thinking that the schools are doing a good job of educating their children.  It’s high time for parents to wake up and ask just what the schools are doing.

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