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Americans Lack Geographic Literacy: Can’t Find New York on a Map

Americans Lack Geographic Literacy: Can’t Find New York on a Map

It’s not a reassuring picture.

The 2006 Roper Public Affairs-National Geographic Literacy Study revealed that Americans between the ages of 18-24 have a poor grasp of “geographic skills and knowledge,” meaning they know less about the world than most young adults their age living in other countries.

Granted, the study is four plus years old, and conceivably results would be different if the test were given today. No updated, similar report seems available.

Still, even this snapshot provides little comfort to an America seeking a compelling role on the world economic and political stage…especially when 54% tested did not know that Rawanda and Sudan were in Africa.

Ten percent said Sudan was in Europe.

The poll involved several hundred “young adults” and a half-hour, in-home interview covering a range of cultural and geographic topics.

Some highlights:

• Half or fewer than half of the men and women could not find Ohio or New York on a map of the United States (50 and 43% respectively)

• In spite of an Iraq war that began in 2003 and nearly constant news coverage, six in ten (63%) of those tested could not find Iraq on a map of the Middle East

• Three-quarters (74%) believe English is the most commonly spoken language in the world. It’s Mandarin

What concerned the researchers, was the indifference of those tested.

About 50% said it was “important but not necessary” to know where the countries mentioned in the news were located, and only 14% said speaking another language “was important.”

While the Americans received high marks for access to Internet tools for research, the report more or less concludes that America young adults are “unprepared for an increasingly global future.” That far too many “lack even the most basic skills for navigating the international economy or understanding
the relationships among people and places that provide critical context for world events”

Other highlights:

• Nine in ten (88%) could not find Afghanistan on a map of Asia, and regardless of the intense coverage following hurricane Katrina, two-thirds (67%) could not find Louisiana on a US map and half (52%) could not find Mississippi.

It may be that more travel and intense use of the Internet have made this group of Americans more geographically literate.

But in 2006, only two in ten had a passport (22%), and only seven in ten (70%) had traveled abroad.

Bring back “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?”

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