National Geographic to the rescue?

National Geographic to the rescue?
The good old National Geographic has grown up into a superb resource for teachers and anyone else who wants to introduce children to both the glories and the troubles of their world.

The National Geographic was always a good magazine, in a stodgy kind of way, but you should know that it’s lately reborn as an excellent modern magazine—it still ranges the whole world of wildlife, people, and scenery; it still takes the reader along with actual, real-life explorers;  and it still covers important research on, for example, the Arctic, energy conservation in the home, and so on.  But now it uses even more and bigger pictures, enticing brief items, and online goodies that expand the printed magazine. In the web Geographic of June 2012, for example, you can watch sunspots flaming as close-up as you’d care to be, a good use of video. It’s dramatic, a nice complement to a story about how sunspots—Earth is entering a decade when the sun will be especially active—could shut down large chunks of the world’s electric grid. Effectively, a solar superstorm could fry transformers. Oo-oo-oh. Fascinating.

Don’t you think such a magazine should be available, just casually left around available, for children of any age or country who read English with ease? If all they learned were that the world is big, varied, beautiful, and surprising, that’s well worth knowing. If they also were lured into reading articles like the occasional ones on (for example) degraded soil, species extinction, new technology, and bicycle sharing programs in many big cities, that would be even better. All such material is clear, nicely translated out of technical language. There’s enough detail to be informative, and bad news is presented less often and with no more emphasis than good news. So as a package, the National Geographic can start young people thinking realistically about the world they will inherit, both its glories and its troubles. The paper magazine is a good approach to the troubles, in my opinion, because individual children can self-censor whatever they find too much to take.

The Geographic’s mission statement is, “Inspiring people to care about the planet since 1888.” Yes, precisely.

An annual subscription costs $15, which makes it quite a gift… to be given not only to your own household or to the children you love, but also perhaps to your local schools? To a community center? After-school care centers? Think about it.

As a child, I pored over this magazine, not only looking for semi-clothed people (come on, you did it too), but because it was so interesting. Some of those pictures I remember to this day. So now I’m feeling like I’ve met again an old, old friend, and boy, it feels really good.

What’s more, I find I admire my old friend’s grown-up integrity, for two reasons. One, the attitude that seemed to go with the semi-clothed people is completely gone. If the Society’s productions evince any disrespect to any of the world’s peoples, I can’t find it.  And two, because all the content is freely available. If you want to, you can read the magazine completely on line (there’s an iPad app), as well as go into past issues. That’s a real and rare public service, and we can be sure the editors have been advised that they’re losing subscriptions. So they must be doing it for the sake of the world, and I thank them very, very much.

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