Americans, young and old, are "illiterate" in a lot of ways and the field of geography seems to be one of our cultural and educational weaknesses.
A recent Roper poll indicated that nearly two-thirds of young adults cannot find Iraq on a map despite three years of war and more than 2,400 U.S. deaths there. Too many of us, regardless of age, are not conversant with the location of Louisiana, site of New Orleans and Baton Rouge, despite all the misery from hurricane damage.
There were 510 participants ages 18-24 in the Roper poll, which showed young Americans cannot find many countries prominently featured in the daily news. Even worse, many of those questioned showed little interest in gaining geographical knowledge and recognition about global politics, economics and language.
So what else is new, and why does this seem alarming to some? The beauty is there is time to remedy all this.
We hear so often about multilingual citizens in other countries and how marvelous it would be if Americans grew up learning such languages as Spanish, French, Arabic or even Mandarin Chinese along with English. But we haven't and we don't because we have not been forced to do so. While it would be much better for everyone if more of us were more curious and involved in world identifications and affairs, the world is not going to end if high schoolers and collegians are not totally familiar with the location of Iraq, Fiji, Chile, New Zealand and Myanmar. When there is a need to learn that, we often do, whether the cause is good or bad.
We would expect our educational system to be considerably more penetrating and lasting than it seems to be, but there's always the fact that "you can look it up," whether geography books, the Internet, dictionaries and similar reference materials are employed.
Ah, but there's the rub! Increasingly we are turning out youngsters and adults who cannot read or write well enough to do the research. Maybe they can play video games and can use keyboards for specific entertainment purposes, but can they write a decent sentence or paragraph - and read complicated text with any element of comprehension?
Reading and writing have always been the key to education for any field; that has not changed. Young people these days have a lot thrown at them in our schools, and often geography, art, music and other important elements of life get shortchanged, though they should not be.
But if they can read and write decently, they can fill in a lot of squares on their learning chart over a period of time. Even if they cannot find Iraq or Cape Horn right away, if they have literacy skills they can overcome that instantly. That is far, far more important than rote learning, which may win trivia contests and even television game shows but is not necessarily the essence of education.