The continents on this Peters Projection map are a much more accurate reflection of their true size. (Photo: Strebe/Wikimedia Commons)
The new maps in the classrooms at Boston Public Schools might look a little strange compared to what you're used to seeing. Geography classrooms have almost exclusively focused on a map developed nearly 450 years ago to make navigating colonial trade routes easier.
But the Mercator Projection map, the "traditional" map we all recognize, distorts the land masses of the continents. Flemish cartographer Gerardus Mercator created his map drawing straight lines across the oceans to assist with navigation. In doing so, it exaggerated the Northern Hemisphere. On the map, for example, Greenland looks huge compared to Africa, while in reality, Africa is 14 times as large. Alaska takes up roughly the same area as Brazil, even though Brazil is five times as large.
To right those cartographic wrongs, the Peters Projection map, also called the Gall-Peters Projection map, was introduced in 1974. The map (shown above) shows the countries in more accurate proportion to each other. It's the map used by the United Nations, and now, by Boston Public Schools.
While some schools across the country have made the switch, Boston is believed to be the first school system to do so.
"[It was] “interesting to watch the students saying ‘Wow’ and ‘No, really? Look at Africa, it’s bigger,” Natacha Scott, director of history and social studies at Boston Public Schools, told The Guardian. "Some of their reactions were quite funny, but it was also amazingly interesting to see them questioning what they thought they knew."
Talking about other viewpoints
The Mercator Projection map was created in 1569 to help with navigation for colonial trade routes. (Photo: Strebe/Wikimedia Commons)
Swapping out the maps is part of the district's three-year effort to “decolonize the curriculum,” Colin Rose, assistant superintendent in charge of the Boston Public Schools’ Office of Opportunity and Achievement Gaps, told the Boston Globe. One goal is to make sure students are learning culturally correct material while eliminating bias and inequality.
“So this is about maps, but it isn’t about maps,” Rose said. “It’s about a paradigm shift in our district. We’ve had a very fixed view that is very Eurocentric. How do we talk about other viewpoints? This is a great jump-off point.”
The new map will help correct any misconceptions set by those colonists.
"Eighty-six percent of our students are students of color," Hayden Frederick-Clarke, director of cultural proficiency for the school district, told WBUR. "Maps that they are presented with generally classify the places that they're from as small and insignificant. It only seems right that we would present them with an accurate view of themselves."
The map swap was the brainchild of Hayden Frederick-Clark, the district's new director of cultural proficiency, according to the Globe. He created a list of a few changes to help the district — which is 74 percent black and Hispanic — more culturally competent.
Replacing the Mercator map was at the top of the list, he said, because the map “is, in my mind, one of the most insidious examples of how schools perpetuate racism.”
While 600 new laminated maps were distributed to Boston schools, the old maps won't be tossed or recycled. They'll be used to let the students make comparisons about how the world is perceived.
Said Scott, the district’s director of history and social studies, "One of the things we teach students is, to become good historians, they must question and analyze."