The “Tallest” Mountain in North America

Mt. McKinley Initial Ascent

Several years ago, Slate Magazine compiled the worst things teachers said to some people. Some things were bitter, others were crushing, but overall they were stupid and pushed beyond the boundaries of fact. I had a similar experience which I was able to overcome…with a little help from my mom.

Mrs. Vogel went around my 6th-grade classroom, quizzing us on last night’s geography reading. I was doodling away, drawing some sort of Dungeons & Dragons map on the jacket of my textbook. She then posed the question, “What’s the tallest mountain in the United States?”

I shot my hand up and she called my name. “Mt. McKinley,” I said with full conviction.

“Wrong, Matthew,” she said before letting another child answer.

“Pikes Peak,” said some random little shit. “Correct,” said Mrs. Vogel.

But it couldn’t be Pikes Peak, I thought. I read this just the other day in our copy of the World Book Encyclopedia, the series of Encyclopedia Brittanica rip-offs I had read cover-to-cover several times as a kid.

I interrupted the teacher to protest. I insisted to Mrs. Vogel that Mt. McKinley was the tallest mountain.

Her reply kills me to this day. “Well, when I asked my question, I meant the contiguous 48 states, not Alaska.”

After I walked home later that day, mom asked me how school went. I told her what happened with my geography lesson, and she asked me to fetch the encyclopedia. And when we looked it up, I was correct — Mt. McKinley was tallest, and Alaska was part of the United States of America.

The next day, my mom contacted the school to correct the teacher. And in front of my classmates, my teach had to admit she was wrong. And for the rest of the year, I’m sure Mrs. Vogel had me on her shit list.

Geography, baby!

Photo Credit: University of Alaska Museum of the North

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