Why all 195?
History in schools is forever rife with controversy as to what to teach, English has the same problem. Here we have a simple and almost definitive list that is well within human capacity to learn, and people still want to argue about it? I find that somewhat obtuse, but okay.
If we don’t go for all 195, then we have to make value judgements about what constitutes an ‘important country’ or not.
To collectively decide ‘no-one needs to know about country x’ is to actively choose to remove it from the National consciousness; that country and its people will for all intents and purposes not exist.
We cannot always know what we’ll need to know
We can never know what we’ll need to know. I reiterated this point already in the last post, and also a previous post where one person assumed there’d be no point to knowing about Djibouti or its capital, yet coincidentally in my life that wasn’t quite the case.
There are perhaps unforeseen bonuses to knowing all 195 countries and their capitals. For example when a place you’ve never heard of is mentioned, it’s likely to be a town or city somewhere in the world, because you will recognise that it’s not a country or one of the capitals. If you don’t know all of them, then when you hear ‘Nuku’alofa’ how are you to know whether or not it’s a country you haven’t heard of yet?
Many people still confuse Africa, Kosovo, Greenland and Kurdistan with countries. The fact that they are not (or are they…) is therefore surprising, and can engender curiosity in why they are not countries, and what it is that makes a country a country.
But the ‘list of countries’ of forever changing…
Countries occasionally change. Not so long ago the Czech Republic and Solvakia were both one country, Czechoslovakia. Some people have therefore argued that learning them all it pointless.
First, most of them don’t change, so no.
Second, if you know all of them then when you hear about a country you don’t recognise you will immediately know that something significant in the world has changed and might take greater interest.
Cost Benefit Analysis – Related to opportunity cost, but not the same thing
The most compelling counter-argument I’ve heard is that of opportunity cost. Time is finite, memorising these requires time, that time could be invested elsewhere, is this the maximum gain for that investment? Always an important question to ask, and actually where I think there’s scope for sensible discussion.
It’s my current belief that the time required is much lower than most people will suspect, and that objectives such as these can actually be delivered without a teacher in large part, and therefore outside of usual lesson time. I also believe that the gain to having a comprehensive knowledge of the entire globe, rather than a curated selection of the ‘top 50 countries’ is of such great value – for reasons previously noted – that it is worth the investment.
There are obviously many heated ‘battles’ fought in English and history in particular as to what content should be included in curricula. In English almost more than anywhere, the choices to be made might appear most ‘arbitrary’ and open to dispute. I chose this topic to discuss in part because of my personal experience of it, but also because I felt it was in many ways on the firmest footing in comparison with alternatives in the others humanities – people live in countries, identify themselves based on those countries, events take place in these countries, and there are (currently) precisely 195 of them.