Our continents just got skinnier, America and Europe just got smaller and Africa and South America got a lot bigger. It’s not a hoax. It’s what happens when a school district decides to adopt a more realistic map of the world. It turns out that the images we are all accustomed to seeing reveal cultural biases that have been around for 500 years.
What we are used to seeing is intrinsically a distortion because it is a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional globe, and it matters what you put at the centre, at the top and at the bottom. We give more importance to things that are big and on top. Traditional maps are based on that of Gerardus Mercator, a renowned Flemish cartographer, who devised his map in 1569, principally to aid navigation along colonial trade routes by drawing straight lines across the oceans.
Now Boston public schools have replaced Mercator with the Gall-Peters Projection. Europe and the USA are cut down in size and the UK seems adrift in the North Sea (which sounds about right after Brexit).
As an article in The Guardian puts it,
The result goes a long way to rewriting the historical and sociopolitical message of the Mercator map, which exaggerates the size of imperialist powers.
This was all covered in an episode of West Wing and C.J. Craig’s reactions to the meeting with the ‘Cartographers for Social Justice’ are priceless.
Reality is different to what you think
The decision of the Boston Schools is to be applauded. It educates young minds to the fact that bias exists and that there can be political and cultural reasons for representing ‘facts’ in a certain way. How timely that is in our ‘post-truth- world. We all have mental models (assumptions). Some are functional, like thinking there is something to step onto when you open your front door. Otherwise we’d be testing reality all the time. But, as individuals and organizations, we need to continuously challenge those mental models that separate us from our own potential.
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About the Author
Angela Montgomery Ph.D. is Partner and Co-founder of Intelligent Management and author of the business novel+ website The Human Constraint . This downloadable novel uses narrative to look at how the Deming approach and the Theory of Constraints can create the organization of the future, based on collaboration, network and social innovation. She is co-author with Dr. Domenico Lepore, founder, and Dr. Giovanni Siepe of ‘Quality, Involvement, Flow: The Systemic Organization’ from CRC Press, New York.
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