A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

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.


At 5/3/06, 8:38 AM, Blogger Amerloc said...

I was going to ask if we got Georgia after the breakup, but didn't want to give you apoplexy.

At 5/3/06, 9:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

All three Bog children took geography in high school.
Is when I first decided I needed bifocals, trying to read the tiny print to find some river in Central America.

At 5/3/06, 1:39 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I am 99.9999% sure that a larger study would find similar results. I moved from Maryland to Indiana as a freshman in high school. When I told people I was from maryland, the responses went something like this:

"Oh, thats on the east coast, right?"
"Is that far from here?"
"Wow. How cold is it really there in the winters?" (I thought this was an odd question because Maryland's weather isn't much different from Indiana's. Then I realized they were confusing Maryland with Maine.)
"Where is that exactly."

My favorite one was something I didn't hear when I first moved. In sophmore year, I had a class with the girl who had shown me around on the first day. She admitted to me, laughing, that she had been very impressed on my first day at how good my english was.
She seriously heard "Maryland" and thought I was a foreign exchange student.

If Indiana kids don't know where Maryland is, how could they possibly identify a smallish country on another continent?

I must note, however, that my saying this is somewhat hypocritical. While I learned all the states (and thier capitals) in 5th grade, my geography of other parts of the world is a bit shakier. I would have taken geography, but it was seen at my school as a "blow-off" class for kids who wanted work no more difficult than a bit of memorization. Us honors kids had more important things to do freshman year---like listen to our teacher spend entire weeks blabbering about things we were never tested over or expected to remember and then coping answers out of the textbook onto worksheets. I am ashamed really, of how much my geography skills are lacking.
But at least I can find Iraq on a map.

At 5/3/06, 3:20 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

amerloc, my kids commented on that, and said it was basically unfair of the Georgians to borrow the name of one of our states. Besides the ridiculousness of questions of "fairness," let's also ignore the fact that they had the name first....

And I'll have you know my bp is 90/60. No apoplexy here.

mrs. bog- I started out in bifocals when I was 8. I feel your pain.

stormia, I have several friends from New Mexico. One had a postal worker tell them to use international stamps to send a small package home. Another one was asked for his passport.

At 5/3/06, 6:13 PM, Blogger EHT said...

A big AMEN from here. We all need to do a better job. I use maps all the time---don't really see how you can teach history without them. I've gotten fairly good at drawing them quickly on the board when I need to. They don't always have the one you need in the book.

At 5/3/06, 7:06 PM, Blogger Janet said...

I think the problem can be traced all the way back to elementary school. When I was in school, geography was touched upon, but not drilled into us. There was never enough time.

Nowadays it's even worse. There isn't even always time to touch upon it. It worries me actually.:(

At 5/3/06, 11:14 PM, Blogger Jen said...

My five year old son has more of a geography background than this! He knows Louisiana, that it was hit by Hurricane Katrina, and can smack together a USA puzzle in no time. The kid loves maps and gives me hope for the future. That is, if his love for learning isn't snuffed out by standardized testing...

At 5/3/06, 11:54 PM, Blogger Dan Edwards said...

To the horror of my social studies experience lacking seventh graders, I give them a blank piece of paper and tell them to turn it into a map of say, China, Europe, The Arabian Peninsula Region etc., showing the major physical geographic features.

They do get much better at this by the end of the school year......

At 5/4/06, 10:15 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

eht- the kids can't stand it when I draw Europe in about 30 seconds-- it may not be perfect, but it's far from awful either. You're right about maps. The ones in my AP book are especially bad.

janet- that's part of my fear, too. My friends with elementary age kids tell me their kids get almost no social stuies content, even if their reading is on grade level or better.

jen- please keep reinforcing this! And remember, geography is more than maps. It's about how we interact with the environment, and why people migrate, and so on.

polski- I used to hand the kids a piece of paper on the first day of school and have them draw a map of the world from memory. We would then laminate them and use them as bookcovers (I had them write their names where the spine would be). By the end of the year, they would laugh about how little they had known in September.

Jessica-- I had a kid ask me today if New Zealand was right by Africa? I tried not to sob too loudly.

At 5/5/06, 7:10 PM, Blogger Jen said...

I think, in retrospect, I would have enjoyed studying geography. I went to great schools and it was never really covered. A will get a lot of it in his school and with his curiosity, he'll love it. And I will too.

At 5/10/06, 9:36 AM, Blogger MommyProf said...

I teach college and my kids sure don't know geography, which kind of matters in my subject. I remember not being taught very much in school, myself, although I could find all the countries in the Americas as well as the 50 states, which the majority of my students could not if their lives depended on it.

Offspring has a world map pinned over her bed and we talk about it a lot.


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