Americans have taken pride in being portrayed as the successful, well-informed front runners of society. However, lately we have fallen behind in one vitally important category: geography. Geographic illiteracy has continued to be a widespread problem throughout the world, but a recent survey of developed nations indicated that the United States falls second to last in geographic knowledge. Six out of 10 Americans were unable to locate Iraq on a map of the Middle East and only 25 percent of those polled could locate Israel. Not only did Americans perform poorly on their command of international knowledge, but they also demonstrated ignorance of their own spatial unawareness on home soil. About one third of those polled believed that the U.S. population was between one to two million people; the answer is 320 million.
Not only are these results humiliating for our country, but they also put the United States at a disadvantage internationally. While the world is becoming increasingly global, Americans are becoming culturally isolated from the rest of the world. We may not maintain our position as a world leader by being sheltered from other nations. I think the problem lies in the “Americentric” attitude displayed—the notion that we are this superior, powerful country, and the only issues of significance are those pertaining to our home front. Americans need to increase their spatial and cultural awareness in order to remain competitive globally.
The primary concern is the younger generation; today’s youth knows shockingly little about foreign societies. This may be attributed to the lack of time dedicated to social studies and geography in the education systems. The emphasis on STEM education has pushed out the understanding of the world we live in culturally, environmentally, economically, naturally, and in terms of global interdependence. Geography is multi-disciplined and should be a core skill for the 21st century. How many more times will Africa be referred to as a “country” before changes are made to implement geographic education appropriately into our schools to meet the changing needs of our students?
Geographical knowledge spans so much further than just locating countries on a map; the skills which come with geographic analysis are necessary to make choices we face everyday. Where to live? How and where to distribute goods? Where to go abroad? How to interpret global interaction? How to make sensible judgements regarding spatial awareness? All of these questions can be answered with the right amount of geographic knowledge. Geography serves to help us in our everyday decision-making and gives us a greater insight into the relationship between natural and human life.
While it is important to understand what happens locally, and we are naturally more concerned with what affects us directly, we cannot be ignorant of the greater international issues. Each American should have a firm understanding of world geography and how relationships between people and places create society. There is no excuse for Americans to lack such an essential skill. Geography is a necessary tool that helps us better comprehend the world on a local and international scale. Geography is the compass which will navigate us into the future.