Where's Iraq? Apparently some people don't want to know...
A new survey sponsored by the National Geographic finds that young adults' knowledge of world geography is horrifyingly lacking, even about places that are in the news every day. The study found that about 60% of the 510 subjects aged 18-25 could not find Iraq on a map, not could 88% find Afghanistan on a map of Asia. Prepare to be further dismayed:
Thirty-three percent of respondents couldn't pinpoint Louisiana on a map.
Fewer than three in 10 think it important to know the locations of countries in the news and just 14 percent believe speaking another language is a necessary skill.
Two-thirds didn't know that the earthquake that killed 70,000 people in October 2005 occurred in Pakistan.
Six in 10 could not find Iraq on a map of the Middle East.
Forty-seven percent could not find the Indian subcontinent on a map of Asia.
Seventy-five percent were unable to locate Israel on a map of the Middle East.
Nearly three-quarters incorrectly named English as the most widely spoken native language.
Six in 10 did not know the border between North and South Korea is the most heavily fortified in the world.
Thirty percent thought the most heavily fortified border was between the United States and Mexico.
The lack of knowledge indicated is frightening, even if the sample surveyed is statistically very small. I would like to see a much broader study to see if these results can be replicated.
As a social studies teacher, I am saddened but not surprised, nor do I expect this to get much better any time soon, since many parents I know with kids in elementary school report that their children are getting less emphasis on social studies in the name of instruction in math and reading. But 18 to 25 year olds are not as affected by the testing climate as today's students. My students were stunned to find out that Georgia and Ukraine used to be in the Soviet Union. So we've been doing lots of geography this semester, and they've actually been enjoying it.
I am happy to say, however, that we had enough students indicate an interest in the subject during registration to lead to the formation of a geography elective course next year, for the first time in anyone's memory. (A great step in the right direction-- and I bet I don't need to give you a hint as to who is going to be teaching this class.... Four preps, baby, including two with do-it-myself curriculum! I am CRAZY!)
Nonetheless, it is certainly important for all of us social studies professionals to include geography instruction as part of our courses.