The National Geographic-Roper survey of geographic literacy is now famous for its findings regarding American school-age kids. Many do not know the basics of geography. A few of the more disturbing findings are as follows:
Can you imagine what it might mean not to be able to locate Florida on a map? India? Australia? But, it's not just this. Not being able to locate these places on a map (like New York) must mean you don't know what they look like at all! If you did, you'd be able to find them.
I remember as a child, playing with a puzzle map of the United States with my sister. Each piece was a different state and I learned about the states and their locations by assembling the puzzle. Later, we had a globe with the mountains raised so you could see them. I was always fascinated by the pyramids of Egypt so, of course, I knew where Egypt was. When I found out about the mysterious statues on Easter Island, I found it on the globe. When we went on family trips we always took maps so I could see where we were going. Geography wasn't some difficult subject in school to learn, it was something to do with the family and was associated with fun activities.
I suspect none of these fun activities are engaging families today and it certainly seems that geography is not part of these activities or any others. Like many things not being taught to our young, the schools have a part to play. But, I'm reluctant to place all the blame there. Parents seem to be missing opportunities to teach their children useful information and do it in ways that are fun and engaging.
Of course, a possible cause of this is that the parents themselves do not know the basics of geography. So, not only do we have kids who don't know what the world looks like, but we have voters who don't know what the world looks like!
My advice: buy a map of the world, a puzzle of the United States, a globe, and Mark Stein's excellent book How the States got Their Shapes. Join AAA and get free maps of each state! Check out Google Earth or just Google any location, click on the map and then zoom out and explore! Talk about far away places and show them to your kids on the map and globe. Learn geography and teach it to your kids! It might be useful, it will be fun!
KEVIN J. BROWNE
Philosopher / Educator
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