Boston Public Schools recently made headlines around the globe by introducing a different style of map, called the Gall-Peters projection, into the classroom for the first time. While some individual schools in the United States have used the Gall-Peters projection, it is believed that Boston is the first school district to adopt the map in all of its schools.
In the middle of the whole change process was an FIU alumnus.
Josue D. Sakata, assistant director at the Boston Public Schools’ History & Social Studies Department, graduated from FIU with a bachelor’s degree in print journalism in 1998.
According to Sakata, the decision to integrate the Gall-Peters projection into Boston’s public schools had a lot to do with addressing biases that exist in the Mercator projection.
The Mercator projection was designed in the 16th century to help with navigation along colonial trade routes by drawing straight lines across the oceans. As a result, the projection exaggerates the size of North America and Europe, making both continents appear larger than South America and Africa.
“We’re working a lot in Boston to meet the needs of our most marginalized students and their meeting social, emotional and cultural needs,” Sakata says. “We want to make sure we honor our diverse community, with students from all over the world, so they can see themselves in the historical narrative and in the history curriculum.”
When the maps were implemented in March, the Gall-Peters projections were placed side by side with the Mercator maps so that students could study the differences for themselves.
The Gall-Peters projection, however, has its own flaws. Linda Bliss, a professor of qualitative research in FIU’s School of Education and Human Development, says that while the size and position of each continent are correct, the shape of each continent is somewhat lost.
“Each map has a purpose and each map has its own flaws and biases,” Sakata says. “We have not gotten rid of Mercator maps. We are not throwing those away. We want to allow students to see different perspectives in maps and gain a more well-rounded worldview of what’s going on around them.”
Working with the history and social studies departments, the district rolled the Gall-Peters maps out in second grade, seventh grade and 11th grade classrooms.
In second grade, students begin to learn more about countries and states; in seventh grade, they take world geography classes. And in 11th grade, they learn world history. The district decided these classes would be the best grades to introduce the maps.
“We are helping our students cover their personal narrative– their personal connection to the history curriculum,” Sakata says. “We want our students to tap into their curiosity. You learn more that way.”
At FIU, Sakata worked for the student newspaper (then called The Beacon) as the sports editor and was also a peer advisor for fellow students. While he majored in print journalism, he also took classes in history and international relations that helped foster a passion for Latin American history.
“FIU was a great experience for me and prepared me for working in the public school system,” Sakata says. “Those classes gave me the background and foundation that there are many perspectives.”
After working in journalism for a few years, Sakata switched careers and became a teacher in the Miami-Dade County Public Schools system for 12 years before becoming a curriculum support specialist for the county’s Education Transformation Office, where he oversaw social studies instruction and provided coaching and support to schools. He joined Boston Public Schools in the fall of 2014.