In the Boston public school system, the standard world map has long been the Mercator projection. This week, though, Hayden Frederick-Clarke, Boston Public Schools’ Hayden Frederick-Clarke has announced that over the next three years, the school system will switch over to exclusively Peters projection maps.
Frederick-Clarke, along with other local educators, has pushed for the change because while neither the Mercator nor the Peters projections are perfect, the Peters projection can help give students a more balanced view of the world. Both maps have the surprisingly complex, sometimes fraught task of displaying a three-dimensional world on a flat plane, but their different emphases in the final product most strongly affected Boston Public Schools’ choice of projection.
The now-abandoned Mercator projection has its advantages; it is a conformal projection, which means that it reproduces the angles of countries and continents with enormous accuracy. If the most important thing about the map is that the shapes of countries are accurate, the Mercator projection is one of the best. Further, the Mercator projection is easy to find; most educational maps available at superstores and bookstores are Mercator projections. However, the accuracy of shape and availability are not Boston educators’ only concerns in choosing a map.
The Peters projection is a type of map projection called equal-area, which means that while it distorts some continent shapes, it preserves their areas accurately. Frederick-Clarke and his supporters believe that the Peters is the best projection for Boston students to learn from because it does not preference one geographical area over another, which, as proponents argue, leads students to consider areas of the world, such as Africa, that the Mercator projection and other conformal projections reproduce as proportionally smaller than they actually are. It also encourages students to view Europe and Antarctica accurately, instead of giving them the exaggerated consideration the Mercator projection encourages.
Boston educators hope that switching projections will help foster more balanced perspectives in their students and their teachers. By emphasizing all areas of the globe equally, students might be more likely to think globally in every subject, from history to art.