The world, and the United States’ place in it, probably isn’t what you picture.
Most of the world maps hanging on classroom walls in America’s schools provide a distorted view, experts say. They give the impression that, among other things, North America and Western Europe are far larger than they actually are, and that Africa and South America are significantly smaller.
The Boston Public Schools system is looking to change that, and to give students a clearer perspective on the world.
The school district, which serves 56,0000 students, is among the first in the country to begin implementing what’s known as the Galls-Peters Projection map. Created in 1974, the world map shows the size of continents based on their true land-mass proportions. While it’s been around for 40 years, it isn’t widely used in classrooms.
The more popular choice, and the one most Americans are familiar with, is the Mercator Projection map, which was originally created in 1569 to aid ship merchants on trade routes.
Experts say the size of continents on the Mercator map are inaccurate partly because of the challenges that come from translating a sphere onto a flat grid, and partly because of its colonial roots.
So, Mexico is larger than Alaska on the newer maps, not the other way around, as depicted in the older maps.
The move to more accurately reflect America’s place in the world comes at a moment in time when President Donald Trump is promoting an “America First” approach. The idea that the U.S. is often portrayed as larger than it is, and other countries smaller, reflects a bias that Boston Public Schools spokesman Dan O’Brien says the district is working to eliminate.
The map change is just one step in a larger three-year initiative the district is undertaking to “decolonize the curriculum,” O’Brien said, to challenge any “implicit or historical biases” that may be under the surface of the lessons.
“We have 86 percent of our students as students of color,” he said. “We are trying to make our academics culturally proficient to all of our students — we don’t want to diminish their cultures and their background — and the Peters Projection map is just one small way to promote culturally proficient learning in Boston Public Schools.”
Another example of a distortion on the Mercator map involves Greenland, the ice-covered country that appears almost as large as Africa. In reality, Africa is about14 times bigger.
The addition of the Peters Projection map will begin with students in the second, seventh and eleventh grades. Though the Peters Projection map isn’t perfect, it is still widely regarded as a more geographically accurate depiction.
The new map also won’t completely replace the Mercator model; the two will hang side by side. That way, students can see the differences and teachers can start conversations about the way world views and worldviews change over time.