Costs the Earth

4th April 1997 at 01:00
Oh dear. Reading Gerald Haigh's article on the value of globes (TES, March 21) in the classroom last week, it struck me forcibly yet again that, as far as the globe-makers are concerned (and it looks as if at least some users of their products), the past 30 years of research in the earth sciences may as well never have happened. Its results are very poorly presented.

Ever since the magnetic results came in from the famous area of the North Atlantic seabed - in 1974 - it has been clear that the ocean floors are spreading, and that they have been doing so for a very long time. This is perhaps the major physical feature of the globe.

Internal convection explains most of the everyday outlines that we ask pupils to become familiar with. The relative ages of the rocks of the ocean floors are now well known and are highly significant.

This is not a particularly complicated fact to display to eight-year-olds in, for example, simple graded colours. Nor are the ocean floor swells and troughs, which are associated with the coherent spreading and sinking processes, that have shaped our world as it now is, still going on.

Next time an earthquake gets reported, it is more than likely that it will lie along a global pattern of cracks and splits which are the direct consequences of that same convection process. All familiar stuff.

Have the globe-makers caught up with these now elemental truths? Not on your nelly! One searches the shops in vain for reasonably priced and scientifically accurate globes that portray in exciting and clear ways even a few of these points to young, or not so young, observers.

The oceans continue to be given the sort of mysterious blue wash, with vague indications of "deeps".

No attempt is ever made to relate together the major physical features of the landmasses with the idea of a moving and spreading ocean floor. Yet this is basic to a modern understanding of how our globe works.

The boundaries of the main plates are almost never demarcated. Nor is there any sense of the direction of plate movements, or of the consequences of that movement for the people who unfortunately live along the edges. Earthquake danger zones could surely be coloured in several ways, and the whole given pleasing, artistic effect.

Could we even dare to hope that a globe might be made that gives the teacher the possibility of twisting and splitting the two hemispheres so as to display at least something of the internal structure - now not quite as mysterious as it once was - and also the product of convection?

"Talking globes" and the like hardly constitute an exciting educational tool. I find it difficult to avoid the conclusion that the globe-makers are simply content to stand still and rake in the profits, rather than continue the long and illustrious tradition of scientific accuracy combined with artistic beauty and affordable craftsmanship which once was theirs. All of us are the poorer for that.

JAMES E SIDDELLEY 37 Denison Road Hazel Grove Stockport Greater Manchester

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