Saturday, October 18, 2008

Geography Awareness Week - Never Needed More Than Now

Geography Awareness Week is coming up from November 16-22, and it has never been needed more than now.

Florida, like most of the country, has aggressively embraced civics education. Now let me assure you, I am an advocate of enhanced civics education. Watch any of the late-night man on the street clips and it becomes painfully clear that Americans are woefully our of touch with the workings and institutions of their country. So I am excited about the opportunity to help correct this tragedy of American education.

But there is another tragedy that is getting less attention - that of the geographic illiteracy that has swept across our nation over the past several decades. Consider the 2006 Roper study on geographic literacy:

Young Americans answer about half (54 percent) of all the survey questions correctly. But by and large, majorities of young adults fail at a range of questions testing their basic geographic literacy.

  • Only 37% of young Americans can find Iraq on a map—though U.S. troops have been there since 2003.
  • 6 in 10 young Americans don't speak a foreign language fluently.
  • 20% of young Americans think Sudan is in Asia. (It's the largest country in Africa.)
  • 48% of young Americans believe the majority population in India is Muslim. (It's Hindu—by a landslide.)
  • Half of young Americans can't find New York on a map.
Unfortunately, geographic education has fallen victim to civics education overkill in many states. In Florida, big money has been thrown behind the civics education initiative. Former U.S. Senator Bob Graham (Dem) and former U.S. Representative Lou Frey have both established university-based institutes to promote the civics cause. With state social studies standards currently under revision, it appears that this high-powered lobby has won over standards writers. In Leon County, the move towards civics has pushed geography out of our middle school curriculum. In an age when knowledge of the world has become increasingly important, education leaders in Florida have turned their heads on the subject that delivers that knowledge.

National Geographic is seeking to fill the void - at least partially - left by the current wave of civics zealotry. Their campaign is called My Wonderful World (MWW) and seeks to engage today's kids by targeting not only teachers, but parents as well. Though I am currently teaching U.S history - and really enjoying it - I have been alarmed enough by current trends to take on the role of MWW Public Engagement Coordinator for my state. I encourage all readers of this post to visit the MWW website, sign-up for the campaign, and use the site to contact your legislators about this crisis.

If you have any questions about the My Wonderful World campaign or are looking for teaching materials (maps, posters, etc.), feel free to contact me at

Here is the campaign PSA:

Image from George Mason University Gazette.

1 comment:

Ms. Wojo said...

Great post! I came here from the MWW blog. I've blogged a bit about GAW and MWW too.