Geography Lost on America's Youth
Survey shows students ignorant about world geography
October 27, 2006 3:25 PM
A recent survey has found the bulk of young American adults failing at a range of questions testing their basic geographic literacy, and SF State may not be an exception.
The survey, commissioned by the National Geographic Society, suggests young Americans are ignorant about geography while the reasoning and significance is being explored. The survey asked 18- to 24-year-olds in the continental United States basic geography questions.
“I have always found it staggering that we don’t know much of geography,” said SF State geography professor Qian Guo. “And I have been further perplexed that many simply do not care that they don’t have basic knowledge and perspective of geography.”
Results from the 2006 NGS survey include:
• 20 percent of young Americans think Sudan is in Asia (it’s the largest country in Africa).
• Despite U.S. invasion in March 2003, 63 percent of young Americans cannot find Iraq on a map.
• 70 percent cannot find North Korea on a map.
• Half of young Americans cannot find New York on a map.
An informal survey conducted by [X]press showed that 10 out of 23 SF State students failed to point out New York State on an unmarked map.
Theater major Summer Gephart, 19, who found New York with ease, said such global unawareness is probably from our early educational system being under-funded.
“Younger people are not applying themselves, especially in high school,” Gephart said. “This has to do with teachers and how they perform, but also growing up in our society makes me believe people don’t think globally. People just don’t care. This is definitely a nationalistic nation.”
The NGS survey results suggest young people in the United States – the most recent graduates of our educational system – are unprepared for an increasingly global future.
“Maybe we are still suffering from Manifest Destiny syndrome, number-one mentality, and the perception that we are in the land of plenty,” added Guo. “We don’t need to know our country’s geography and we still reap a lot relatively easily. We don’t need to know the geography of the rest of the world since it seems that all the rest of the world still tries their best to reach our shores, and we can tell them what to do.”
History graduate Conrad Moore, 23, is currently enrolled in the teaching credential program at SF State and plans to teach high school history. According to Moore, there are more than 100 future teachers in the program. None are emphasizing in geography.
Moore said geography was not a focus in the public schools he attended. The last time he remembers being taught geography was in the sixth grade. He said it should be reworked into our public schools.
“Geography is a pretty basic field of knowledge,” Moore said. “As a history teacher, I can work geography into my history lessons. You could work the subject into any curriculum, really.”
National Geographic has teamed up with partners, including 4-H Club and the National PTA, to create a five-year call to action for children, parents and schools in hope to improve geographic literacy. The multimedia campaign is called “My Wonderful World,” and its mission is to give kids the power of global knowledge by motivating parents and educators to expand geographic offerings in school, at home and in their communities.
“I definitely think that geography should be in the earlier years of K-12 education, especially when kids are still curious and in their formative years,” said Guo. “It is depressing to geography educators because we have not done a good job.”
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