A Message from Kurt about the TN State of Geography Education

[I’m working on a couple of new entries today and tomorrow, but once again I’d like to cede my blog to my friend and colleague Kurt Butefish of the TN Geographic Alliance, who sent this around my department this morning. If you’re in TN and care about geography (at least the latter part should apply to 99.9% of you reading this), take a few moments, read this, and help out where you can! Thanks, talk to you all soon – Ty]



I’ve got a big favor to ask, but it is very important.

I apologize for the length of this email, but there is a great deal of information I need to covey to you.

We have been presented an opportunity to get our message out about the sad state of geography in Tennessee’s K-12 curriculum and I desperately need your timely assistance.

As many of you know, meaningful geography content was virtually eliminated from the K-12 curriculum standards in Tennessee in 2013.  It is now possible for a student to go through school in Tennessee and the only meaningful geography content they will receive is in the 3rd grade…and their 3rd grade teachers are under pressure to have their students score well on English Language Arts (reading) and math tests so Social Studies often gets short shrift.  I have attached a position paper that explains what happened and the negative effects that we are experiencing as a result.

Currently, the State Department of Education is accepting comments on-line for the new Social Studies standards, and will do so until April 30.  The process to provide input is clunky because the goal is to allow comments on every Social Studies standard for every grade level K-8 and also in the new hybrid History/Geography courses taught in high schools.   Unfortunately, there is no provision for people to provide more general comments.  You may click (here) to visit the DoE’s website for information on the process and to comment on individual standards or you can plug the following URL into your browser.


However, it is critical that the DoE, State Board of Education, and the Legislature are aware that the geography and geospatial communities do not support the current state of the geography curriculum and why.  The best way for us to communicate our views is through email and physical letters to these key decision makers.

This morning, I sent the following email to every member of the State Board of Education.  Please help me by covering my back and communicating to them as requested below.

Thank you for your service to the State of Tennessee in your role as a member of the State Board of Education.

While comments on the new Social Studies standards are currently being accepted from teachers by the State Department of Education, I strongly encourage decision makers like you to be listening to the professional and higher education communities about those standards.   There is a constituency of professionals and university level educators who are concerned about the past erosion of the quality and quantity of geography instruction in Tennessee’s K-12 curriculum and how it will negatively impact industry, government service and education in our state in the future.

In the next few days, you should receive a packet of information from me outlining the concerns of these communities and why geography needs to be strengthened in the K-12 curriculum.  You may also receive communications in the next few weeks from members of these groups about their concerns.  I respectfully encourage you to listen carefully to their messages.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions about this issue. Thank you for your attention to this request.

PLEASE take the time out of your busy schedules to write to Education Commissioner Candice McQueen, Coordinator of Social Studies at the DoE, Kadie Patterson, and ESPECIALLY the member of the State Board of Education who represents your Congressional district (instructions on how to find out who that person is are included in the attached instruction documents).  If your state Senator and/or Representative is on either of the legislative Education Committees, then it is important for them to receive a letter as well.   Each one of these house/senate members received a hand-delivered packet of information about the issue from me earlier this month in Nashville.  One letter with the same message should cover all the bases (again, there is information attached to help you determine if your Representative/Senator is on one of the committees).  I’ve tried to make it as easy as possible, but if you get totally lost in the process, please don’t give up…contact me.

Draft language for your letter is also included in the instruction documents.  I strongly encourage you to not cut and paste, but to personalize your letters.  It is not effective for the cause for these folks to receive the same mass mailing.  We need them to understand YOUR concerns and how this impacts YOU, your employer, and your ability to recruit students or employees in the future.

You should not feel obligated to state for whom you work if that puts you in a compromising position.  I completely understand that as many of you work for the state or for private employers who have state contracts.  However, you have every right as a private citizen to advocate for a cause.

I greatly appreciate your attention to this request.  You will receive gentle reminders in the next few weeks to encourage your participation in this important process.

If you no longer wish to receive emails from me about geography education issues, please don’t hesitate to email me and ask to be removed from my contact list(s).

Kurt Butefish
Tennessee Geographic Alliance



Department of Education Contacts

Candice McQueen
Commissioner of Education
Department of Education
710 James Robertson Parkway
Nashville, TN 37243

Kadie Patterson
Coordinator of Social Studies
Department of Education
710 James Robertson Parkway
Nashville, TN 37243


Mr. B. Fielding Rolston, Chairman
Represents: 1st Congressional District
Resides: Kingsport, TN
Email: Fielding.Rolston@tn.gov
Occupation: Retired; Former Vice-President, Human Resources and Communications, Eastman Chemical Company
Appointed 1996; Reappointed 2013; current term: 2013-2018

Mr. Mike Edwards
Represents: 2nd Congressional District
Resides: Knoxville, TN
Email: Mike.Edwards@tn.gov
Occupation: President and CEO, Knoxville Chamber
Appointed: June 24, 2011, current term: 2011 – 2016

Ms. Allison Chancey
Represents: 3rd Congressional District
Resides: Cleveland, TN
Email: Allison.Chancey@tn.gov
Occupation: Teacher, Bradley County Schools
Appointed: 2013; current term: 2013-2018

Mr. Lonnie Roberts

Represents: 4th Congressional District

Resides: Columbia, TN

Email: Lonnie.Roberts@tn.gov

Occupation: CEO TRH Health Plans

Appointed: June 24, 2011; current term: 2011-2016

Ms. Carolyn Pearre, Vice Chair

Represents: 5th Congressional


Resides: Nashville, TN

Email: Carolyn.Pearre@tn.gov

Occupation: Retired educator; Former Executive Director Tech Prep Programs,

Tennessee Board of Regents

Appointed: April 2002; Reappointed 2011; current term: 2011-2016

Ms. Lillian Hartgrove

Represents: 6th Congressional District

Resides: Cookeville, TN

Email: Lillian.Hartgrove@tn.gov

Occupation: Workforce Development and Education Vice President for the

Cookeville-Putnam County Chamber of Commerce and the Highlands

Economic Partnership

Appointed 2014; current term: 2014-2019

Ms. Wendy Tucker

Represents: 7th Congressional District

Resides: Nashville, TN

Email: Wendy.Tucker@tn.gov

Occupation: Attorney

Appointed 2014; current term: 2014-2019

Mr. Cato Johnson

Represents: 8th Congressional District

Resides: Memphis, TN

Email: Cato.Johnson@tn.gov

Occupation: Senior Vice President, Public Policy and Regulatory Affairs,

Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare

Appointed 2014; current term: 2014-2019

Dr. William E. Troutt

Represents: 9th Congressional District

Resides: Memphis, TN

Email: William.Troutt@tn.gov

Occupation: President, Rhodes College

Appointed 2014; current term: 2014-2019

How to find out what Congressional District you live in (you may need to know

your Zip + 4): http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

How to look up your Zip + 4:


TN House Education Administration & Planning Committee

Harry Brooks – Chair
Debra Moody – Vice Chair
Kevin Brooks
Kent Calfee
Jim Coley
John DeBerry
Kevin Dunlap
Craig Fitzhugh
Eddie Smith
Jonnie Turner
Dawn White
Mark White
Rick Womick

TN House Education Instruction and Programs Committee

John Forgety – Chair
Billy Spivey – Vice-Chair
Raumesh Akbari
Harry Brooks
Shelia Butt
David Byrd
Bill Dunn
Roger Kane
Sabi Kumar
Ron Lollar
Harold M. Love, Jr.
Joe Pitts
Joe Towns, Jr.
Ryan Williams

Senate Education Committee

Dolores Gresham – Chair
Reginald Tate 1st Vice-Chair
Todd Gardenhire – 2nd Vice-Chair
Rusty Crowe
Steven Dickerson
Ferrell Haile
Joey Hensley
Brain Kelsey
Jim Tracy

How to find out your Tennessee Senator and Representative, go to:

http://www.capitol.tn.gov/legislators/ On the top menu bar click on
“Find my Legislator”.

Visit those individual’s pages on the http://www.capitol.tn.gov webpage
to find out which committees they serve on.

How to find out what Congressional District you live in (you may need to
know your Zip + 4): http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/

How to look up your Zip + 4:

April XX, 2016

Ms. Jane Doe From Their District
Tennessee State Board of Education [or Department of Education]
1000 Phillip Fulmer Way
Knoxville, TN 37996

Dear Ms. Doe:

While comments on the new Social Studies standards are currently being accepted from teachers by the State Department of Education, I strongly encourage decision makers like you to be listening carefully to the [professional or higher education] community.  As a [college –level educator] [professional geographer] [GIS Technician] etc. , I am very concerned with the lack of geography content in Tennessee’s K-12 curriculum.

In July of 2013 meaningful geography was removed from the Tennessee Social Studies standards.  Even though Governor Haslam and current Commissioner of Economic and
Community Development, Randy Boyd, are continually stressing the need to prepare
Tennessee’s graduates to be “College and Career Ready”, the degradation of the geography
standards stands in stark contrast to that goal.

Geography equals jobs for Tennesseans, but we are not preparing our graduates for those jobs or with the basic geography skills to pursue a related degree in college.

[Include a paragraph here that personalizes your concerns.  For example:]

As someone who employs people with skills in geospatial technologies, I am concerned that students graduating from Tennessee’s schools are not going to have any knowledge about [geography or geospatial technologies] as a career path, let alone the basic skills necessary to be successful in geography courses in college.   This will have a direct impact on my organization’s ability to find qualified employees from within Tennessee in the future.

As a college professor specializing in geography, I am seeing students who have no idea that geography is a viable career path.  Nor are they coming to [your university] prepared with the basic knowledge to be successful in our introductory geography courses.  It is alarming to me that geography is being taught chronologically in hybrid history/geography courses in our schools.  No college or university in Tennessee teaches geography, a subject whose structure should be based on themes and topics, in such a manner.   In our department, we are spending considerable time and effort simply having to recruit majors, contrary to the demand for our graduates, and in providing remedial instruction in basic geographic knowledge.

I strongly encourage you to work with the [State Department of Education or State Board of Education] to reverse the trend of minimizing geography content to the detriment of our college and professional communities.

If we truly want our students to be college and career ready, we should be stressing spatial  thinking, critical thinking, problem solving, and use of technology.  Geography is the subject through which these skills should be taught.  State standards should be updated to expand these skill sets, Geography should be a stand-alone courses in middle schools and it should be a one-year, required course at the high school level.

If you need additional information about this matter please do not hesitate to contact me at [email address and/or phone number].

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