U.S. youth lack geographic knowledge

Survey says half of students surveyed can't locate New York on a map

A National Geographic survey conducted in 2005 found that 37 percent of young Americans cannot find Iraq on a map, although U.S. troops have been stationed there since 2003.

"These are sad results," said Helane Miller, Assistant Principal at Woodrow Wilson High School in D.C. "Iraq is a place we should all be able to locate."

The survey tested the knowledge of 510 American students, ages 18 to 24, and their knowledge of geography. Data was weighted by sex and age, and half of all the survey questions were answered correctly, according to the National Geographic Web site.

Twenty percent of young Americans think Sudan is in Asia, 48 percent of young Americans believe the majority population in India is Muslim and half of young Americans can't find New York on a map, according to the National Geographic Web site.

Some blame the media for lack of international coverage.

"If there isn't anything that concern[s] Americans in a personal way, they don't seem to pay any attention to it," Miller said.

However, Miller said she doesn't blame the education system for the children's lack of knowledge.

"I don't think that there is a lack of knowledge with American school children," Miller said. "I think they pay more attention to other subjects and what the media chooses to focus on."

Some students say the media is the main source of people's interests.

"The media does not cover anything but domestic happenings. It is hard to stay informed of international issues," said Ryan Sarazin, a Washington Semester student from Clark University in Massachusetts.

Geography education differs between schools. In some places, students study geography until the ninth grade, while others only study it up to sixth grade, according to the National Geographic Web site.

Miller said she believes students shouldn't be forced to learn.

"It is the responsibility of the individual to learn what school does not teach you," she said.

Scott Nyitray, a Washington Semester student from Marietta College in Ohio, said he thinks schools don't put enough emphasis on learning about other countries.

"We are Americans, the rest of the world doesn't really matter - in school you just learn the basics and that's it," Nyitray said.

Other students said they think there should be more focus on other aspects of international issues.

"I think that everyone should learn about other countries," said Carys Davis, a Washington Semester student from Leslie College in Boston. "I do, however, think that there are more important things to talk about than the location of the different countries."

Travis Bunner, a Washington Semester student from Purdue University, said he thinks attitude is a problem as well.

"Americans don't care about other countries and why should they; the United States is as big as Europe," Bunner said. "That is at least how the mentality is here."

Some students have never had geography in school.

"It is important to know about other countries and where they are located, but I was never taught [geography] in school, so I never bothered looking it up," Sarazin said.

To read more about the National Geographic survey, go to http://geosurvey.nationalgeographic.com/roper2006/findings.html.

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