May 2, 2006

Study Finds Young Americans Ignorant of Geography


(Washington, DC) A poll conducted by Roper for National Geographic finds that Americans 18-24 demonstrate an appalling lack of geographical knowledge.

Some of the most disturbing findings: 6 in 10 Americans between 18 and 24 cannot find Iraq on a map, while almost one-third could not find Louisiana. Nearly one-half or respondents could not identify Mississippi on the map.

Some other findings:

* Less than 30% of those polled believe that it is necessary to be able to locate countries in the news on a map.

* 20% of young Americans think Sudan is in Asia (It is actually the largest country on the Africa continent).

* 75% could not locate Israel on a map of the Middle East.

* Half of young Americans cannot find the state of New York on a map.

* 40 %of young Americans believe the religious affiliation of the majority of citizens in India is Muslim ("Hindu" would be the correct answer, Alex).

* 47% of respondents could not find India on a map.

And yet the same uninformed individuals bear the responsibility of making choices in the voting booth. At the risk of sounding like a smug elitist, I find these statistics alarming.

As a historian, I should be promoting my discipline, but I think that basic geography skills are at least as imperative to understanding the world as historical knowledge.

But hey - at least we know who the remaining contestants on "American Idol" are, right?


Lisa Renee said...

And we wonder why those polled confuse Phil with Bill Copeland....


historymike said...


At least Bill and Phil share a name and a bald head.

Dariush said...


I wish I could say that any of this is shocking, or even surprising, but it's just not.

The ignorance that we see in our schools, and as a result in our general population, is both willful and the result of decades of socially engineered dumbing down of American society. A dumb population is much more docile, and much more likely to uncritically accept what it is told.

I moved to the States (North Carolina to be exact) with my folks when I was nine years old. Even then, I had a passion for history, but I considered it vital that I know something about the land we were making our new home. In the six, seven months before I first went to school I pored over encyclopedias like "The New Book of Knowledge" (don't think it's published anymore) and children's history books, flash cards and things of that nature -- and I ended up with a better grasp of American history than I ever got in school... with the exception of a couple of classes in H.S., which were unusual for their effectiveness, for the fact that the teachers actually did what their job title implies.

Our first history lesson about the Revolutionary War, the teacher turned on the overhead projector, grabbed his pen and proceeded to write "the revolutionary war lasted two years". From that point on, I had no respect for the man.

I came from a culture where

a) teachers were practically venerated

b) Academic excellence and intelligence were considered to be good and positive things.

I was shocked to discover that it was just the opposite in the U.S. That even if you're not dumb, you have to act dumb to be respected by your peers. That teachers are ignored, derided and ridiculed (often justifiably, however).

P.S. - I don't remember the exact question, but a few months ago the NY Times published the results of a survey which discovered that 20% of the American population couldn't answer some "is the earth round or flat?" type question correctly.

That's the shape we're in.

Dariush said...

I found the article online.

Here's the money quote, the one you should sear into your head:

"Dr. Miller's data reveal some yawning gaps in basic knowledge. American adults in general do not understand what molecules are (other than that they are really small). Fewer than a third can identify DNA as a key to heredity. Only about 10 percent know what radiation is. One adult American in five thinks the Sun revolves around the Earth, an idea science had abandoned by the 17th century."

Hooda Thunkit said...

The future leaders of America couldn't find find their way to the bathroom without Googling bathroom first.

Computer literate? Maybe.

Stupid? Oh, yes.

Thank God for the highly educated immigrants amongst them.

Anonymous said...

I have a sister-in-Law who recieved a 4.0 at BGSU in Biology. In conversation one day I was utterly amazed when she popped up in all seriouness and asked...

"NYC, that's on the Pacific Ocean coast...right?"

Name withheld to protect the guilty said...

I wish we had similar statistics from 1900 on. I'm willing to bet this isn't a new fact. Sad, yes, but not new.

Yet so many of these underinformed youths complain about the "power elite that controls this country"--can't do much about it if you haven't got yourself educated, can you?

liberal_dem said...

It is no wonder that this fact exists; what is more troubling is that it will surely get worse in the next few years.

The reason, sadly, is that geography is both mis-taught as well as not taught. The situation reminds me of many older elementary teachers who 'teach' mathematics the way they were taught in school in the 50's and 60's. They 'teach' arithmetic believing that they are teaching mathematics.

Further complicating the geography issue is the fact that social studies gets less and less attention in the curriculum because of the NCLB Act that puts increased emphasis on reading and math. Elementary teachers have been told to increase the math and reading time and thus social studies gets chopped.

This all smacks of the usual: politicians messing with a field of study of which they are fairly ignorant.

But then, what's new?

Dariush said...

Kurt Nimmo's post from today is a perfect complement to this one by Mike.

coco said...

guys, I am from Europe. I dont wanna sound like the tipical snobish antiamerican guy but I have to say your educational system really sucks. It is more important to know about patriotism and your flag than history, art and good nice stuff. I think politicians try to make people dumber to control them better. But also I believe people deserves the government which gets.
More about what I think in

liberal_dem said...

Coco: Während Ihre Ideen zutreffend sein können, erfordert Ihr Englisch Verbesserung.


Hooda Thunkit said...


Yeah, what liberal_dem said...