Thursday, May 04, 2006

Geographically Dumb Americans

A while back I was in the break room of my former job and talking to my manager. He was from Britain and I was telling him what I wanted to do for a career. When I told him that I wanted to be a geographer he was impressed. He stated many Americans do not know geography and talked about his schooling and what he was taught. He told me all about Oxbow Lakes and other physical features.

I realized just how horrible American geography education is. When I was in high school the class was taught North America's countries and maybe something about the country's relations with the US. My British manager was taught not only human geography but physical also. He knew various theories and could talk about the various fields of study.

I knew then Americans were bad at geography but I did not know how bad until recently. My good friends at National Geographic have released yet another study of Americans not knowing regional geography.

The horror highlights include:

  • 90% thought knowing the locations of countries in the news was not important
  • 75% could not locate Israel on a map of the Middle East
  • 60% were not to find Iraq on a map of the Middle East
  • 47% could not find India on a map of Asia
  • 30% thought the most heavily fortified border was between the US and Mexico

Harm de Blij would be rolling in his grave if he was dead.

Other geographical subjects are important. Knowing urban planning can help one figure where the best housing prices will be. American cultural and social geography can aide those who wish to market products. Knowing soil geography can tell one if there house will fall in a sink hole or erode into the ocean. All geographical fields are important yet schools only teach World Regional and they fail at that. I think teachers should take a page out of the British school system and find out what Americans are doing wrong.


Anonymous said...

Hey, Isreal is really small...

India, on the other hand, is pretty hard to miss.

About a year ago, I found a website that had some good interactive geography quizzes on it (must find again). I thought I would do pretty well, but I was shocked at how weak I was, even in Europe. Basically, anything East of Germany and Austria was pretty foggy.

Anonymous said...

As the USA is more involved in the world than any other nation, perhaps over-involved, its citizens ought to know the wotld better than anyone. Of course they do not and have become americentric. It used to be said 'Know thine enemy", today it is 'Know thine competition', but we do not. Our competition, however, does know us well, too well, and we are suffering for that today.

Catholicgauze said...

Right on Anonymous. Harm de Blij brings up this and other points in his book Why Geography Matters.