Not Knowing East From West
It seems as though every few years we hear about one of these studies that show how little young Americans know about the Outside World. But now it's getting ridiculous:
Young Americans know little about world geography, with the majority unable to locate Iraq on a map and three quarters unable to find Indonesia, according to a study.Here in California's "Imperial" Valley, students stopped studying geography as a discrete subject decades ago.
The Roper poll conducted on behalf of National Geographic found that most of the young adults questioned between the ages of 18 and 24 also had little knowledge about their own country, with half or fewer unable to identify the states of New York or Ohio on a map.
Moreover, the study said, many of those questioned were not bothered by their lack of geographic knowledge.
"Half think it is 'important but not absolutely necessary' either to know where countries in the news are located (50%) or to be able to speak a foreign language (47%)," a report on the survey said.
The report said that despite nearly constant news coverage since the US invasion of Iraq in March 2003, 63 percent of respondents could not find Iraq on a map and 75 percent could not find Israel or Iran.
It added that that nine in ten also could not find Afghanistan on a map of Asia and 70 percent could not find North Korea.
When questioned about natural disasters, only a third (33%) correctly chose Pakistan from four possible choices as the country hit by a huge earthquake in October 2005.
China fared better than most countries, with seven in ten (69%) respondents able to find it on a map. Still, the study found, young Americans have a number of misconceptions about China.
Nearly 75 percent believe English is the most widely spoken native language, rather than Mandarin Chinese, and half think that China is the biggest exporter of goods and services rather than the United States.
The survey was conducted between December 2005 and January 2006 and involved 510 interviews.
National Geographic released the survey in launching a five-year campaign to improve geographic literacy among young people in the United States.
"Geographic illiteracy impacts our economic well-being, our relationships with other nations and the environment, and isolates us from our world," said John Fahey, National Geographic Society president. "Without geography, our young people are not ready to face the challenges of the increasingly interconnected and competitive world of the 21st century."
Sadly, in spite of the nationwide thrust towards standards-based curricula, the study of geography is still being neglected in many areas of the country.