A few years ago, the general lack of geographic mastery of many Americans became front page news after this now famous answer regarding Americans' inability to locate the US on a world map.
Notwithstanding the hilarity of the poor girl's misfortunate answer, we should remind ourselves of the question. "Recent polls show 1/5 of Americans can't find the US on a world map. Why do you think this is?"
In many ways, Ms. Teen South Carolina might not have been too far off with her main point - we need more MAPS.
Realizing that this is a serious issue, I wanted to learn about groups promoting geography as a discipline and not just a map quiz (as much as I enjoy those). Geography is so much more than being able to find Mauritania on a map and we need to promote it as such! A web search brought me to an amazing initiative from National Geographic (who else?) called my wonderful world.
The site is full of shocking statistics from the Roper study about our (Americans) lack of geographic knowledge. Did you know only 19% of kids have a world map? (It's no wonder nobody knows about Eritrea.) Half of young Americans can't find New York on a map and half of high school principals think their geography tools are inadequate (although I haven't heard a kid mention French West Africa myself) and only 37% of young Americans can find Iraq on a world map. These stats are staggering! I know it's easy to make these results worse than they really are by tweaking the questions and the way they are asked but the underlying issue remains clear: Geography is not our strong suit and to a great extent we think we are alone in the world.
I'd be very interested to see the Roper study, which was the basis for the epic Ms. Teen USA question, administered in other countries around the world. I think we'd find an extremely high correlation between investment and achievement but I bet there are very few countries who adequately invest in their geography curriculums. That's a problem. It's time for "US Americans" to step up the plate. Help spread the word. Go to My Wonderful World and pledge your support today.
Remember, as the Discovery Channel taught us, the world is just awesome!
Boom-de-a-da, boom-de-a-da, boom-de-a-da...I love that song!