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Friday, July 25, 2014

Geo-illiteracy

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Stimulated by the "Letter From the Editor" in the January 31 issue of the Pilot-Tribune, I feel compelled to respond. The letter artfully discussed the dearth of geo-literacy (ignorance of geography) among our kids. As a retired university professor, I have long had concerns with the subject, since I first discovered a near total void of geo-brain cells in my students.

Teaching courses requiring a foundation of geography (International Communication, World Media, etc.) to seniors and juniors, I quickly discovered their puzzlement when I discussed geographic considerations in both the U.S. and the world. Myself having been educated in Iowa's school system in an era in which it had been considered one of the best in the U.S. (although admittedly, I was not one of the best in the system), geography had been a required and essential core course of the curriculum. It had prepared me well for my career as a military advisor to foreign governments of service and travel in 24 countries of the world and most U.S. states. I therefore was well aware of the value of knowledge of geography. I decided to test my students' knowledge of geography.

I handed out 8x11" blank maps for the students to label different locations on each of them. The first only outlined the continents, for them to label as many as they knew. Depressing results! The second outlined only the countries of the world, for them to label specific significant countries (U.S., Mexico, Canada, Vietnam, Korea, Japan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, etc.). Terrible responses! The third outlined only the U.S. states, for them to label as many states as they could, and place specific major cities on the maps (Washington, DC; New York; Miami; Los Angeles; Chicago; etc.). Pathetic responses! I asked how many of them had geography in high school - only 3 or 4 out of 30 students. Unbelievable! (I couldn't help but wonder if they knew where they lived.)

I guess that maybe I shouldn't be too surprised, or even concerned. I had lived in D.C. working for the government, and when I told the bureaucrats that I was leaving to live in Iowa, they kept asking: " You mean Ohio?"; "You mean Idaho?" "Where is Iowa?" I had to explain that you go to Missouri and hang a right. That didn't help (most weren't sure where Missouri is). I also had to explain that, yes, we still have Indians, but the only ones we need to fear might be in the legislature. They thought that South Dakota was on the Gulf Coast (y'know-- South?). Well, since bureaucrats like that can run the country, I guess maybe our students can make it in life after all. At least they have maps, GPS, and Google. So, I should worry?