I stumbled on a 1992 New York Times article in honor of Geography Awareness Week titled “Redoubling the Efforts at Teaching Geography.” It cited a 1988 Survey of Geographic Literacy stating that 25% of young Americans, 18 to 24 years old, could not find the Pacific Ocean on a map. This got me thinking: what has happened since? Thankfully, NG has continued the study in both 2002 and 2006. Catholicgauze happened to comment on the 2006 survey results, too.
It's interesting to see the trends and compare results over time of young Americans. I'm trying not to bombard you with statistics, so I picked out what I believe are interesting and balanced indicators.
Overall there has been little to no change since the 1988 study. Moreover, young Americans lag behind their counterparts in Europe. Simply stated, Americans need more geographical knowledge. How can this be accomplished? Well, I'm sure that could be up for debate. National Geographic has wonderful online tools and resources; however, if they have been implementing programs to combat geographic ignorance since 1988, perhaps the programs they have need to be revisited (or I suggest doing a case study on effectiveness at those schools/classrooms that use the NG material vs. the classrooms that do not).
Geography is not all about locations – only 29% in 2006 stated correctly that the U.S. is the largest export of goods and services measured by dollar value (48% incorrectly stated China) – and – only 18% knew that Mandarin was the most widely spoken language in the world (74% said English).
So, who did well on the 2002 and 2006 surveys?
- Those who had taken a geography course or completed more education.
- Those who travel internationally, speak more than one language and/or have contact with cultures outside of the U.S.
- Those that keep up with world events through the Internet and other media sources.
- Those whose families (as well as themselves) were not recent immigrants.
And finally, if you can't get enough: Test your knowledge with National Geographic's quiz!