Recent surveys indicate that geographical literacy among the nation's youth is in a pretty sorry state. But a geography bee at Cordley School this week painted a slightly different picture.
Ten students in grades four through six gave each other some pretty stiff competition Thursday in the final round of the school's geography bee, part of a nationwide contest being sponsored by the National Geographic Society.
The students were the cream of the Cordley crop, having out-answered about 115 other fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders in preliminary rounds held throughout the week.
Among the questions the students answered correctly on Thursday were:
Name one of two continents located entirely in the Southern Hemisphere. (Australia, Antarctica).
During the colonial period in the United States, all settlement occurred East of what mountain system? (Appalachian).
Name two advanced civilizations that thrived in Middle America before the arrival of Europeans. (Aztec, Maya).
FRANK HOFFMAN, who teaches social studies at the school, said that in addition to studying regional, national and world geography, the students also study current events. Perhaps that curriculum helped the students to answer these questions:
What communist country was the scene of martial demonstrations in the summer of 1989? (China).
What species of marine reptile are endangered because their nesting beaches are being disturbed by developers? (Sea turtle).
And perhaps watching "`Crocodile' Dundee" helped one student answer the following question: In what country do you find the dry desert region called the "outback"? (Australia).
The local students' geographical literacy seemed far better than one would expect from reading recent studies, which indicate, among other things, that some students in Texas don't even know what country lies south of them.
"I'M VERY skeptical of some of those geographical illiteracy studies," Hoffman said. "I would like to look at some of the research instruments that were used. I can't imagine the sixth-graders that we have being that illiterate."
According to Hoffman, fourth-graders at the school study Kansas history and hence learn mostly about the state's geography. Fifth-graders study the history of the United States since pre-Columbian times, so they learn a lot about national geography. Then at the sixth-grade level, students look at world history and thus learn about world geography.
That strong geography curriculum might help Curtis Zimmerman, the fourth-grade champion of the school bee, to win a $25,000 college scholarship.
BARBARA FALLON, spokesman for the National Geographic Society, said students in grades four through eight who win their school geography bee take a written test. The 100 students scoring best on the test advance to the state competition in Topeka.
The Kansas geography bee will be held March 30, and Gilbert Grosvenor, president and chairman of the National Geographic Society, will attend.
Winners of the state bees will then go on to the national bee in May. That competition will be moderated by Alex Trebek, host of the television game show "Jeopardy."
The first-place winner will be awarded a scholarship of $25,000, plus interest accrued on that amount until the student enrolls in college. The second-place prize will be a $15,000 scholarship, and the third-place winner will receive a $10,000 scholarship.
JACK STADDEN, an eighth-grader from Great Bend, won the national competition last year, which was the first time the National Geographic Society sponsored the bee.
Fallon said the bee was developed in response to growing reports that "children just weren't learning geography anymore. It's not their fault. It's just that geography wasn't being taught anymore."
The district's three junior high schools, West Junior High, South Junior High and Central Junior High, also are participating in the geography bee.