U.S. Falters on Test of Geography

Article Tools
  • PrintPrinter-Friendly
  • EmailEmail Article
  • ReprintReprints
  • CommentsComments

American adults ranked near the bottom in an international test of geographic knowledge, and those 18 to 24 years old performed the poorest of all, a survey released last week by the National Geographic Society has found.

The survey of 10,820 adults from nine nations concluded that many Americans "appear to be lacking in basic geographic knowledge and skills,'' such as the ability to name the NATO countries or to locate England on a map of Europe.

It found, moreover, that the U.S. was the only country tested in which the youngest respondents did not outperform the oldest group, and the young adults scored lower than those in a similar survey conducted in 1947.

These results, said Gilbert M. Grosvenor, president of the society, suggest that the nation's level of geographic knowledge is declining at a time when it is most necessary.

"Our adult population, especially our young adults,'' he said, "do not understand the world at a time in our history when we face a critical economic need to understand foreign consumers, markets, customs, foreign strengths and weaknesses.''

The survey, conducted for the society by the Gallup organization, was based on responses from 1,611 Americans and adults from Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and West Germany.

Respondents were asked to locate 13 selected countries, Central America, the Pacific Ocean, and the Persian Gulf on an unmarked map.

Adults from Sweden--closely followed by those from Germany--performed best, identifying an average of 11.6 of the 16 sites correctly. Americans, with an average of 8.6 correct responses, outscored only those from Italy and Mexico.

American 18-to-24-year-olds had an average of 6.9 correct answers--fewer than the average of any other age group in any country.

Despite the recent media attention to global war zones, three-fourths of Americans could not locate the Persian Gulf, and 45 percent could not spot Central America. Fewer than half were able to identify England, France, South Africa, and Japan, and 14 percent--representing a projected 24 million Americans--could not identify the United States.

A separate 81-question test administered to the Americans found similar gaps in knowledge.

For example, only half knew the country in which the Sandinistas and Contras were fighting; 25 percent could name the countries that acknowledge having nuclear weapons; and only 15 percent could name the world's largest city.

The survey also found that Americans consider map-reading skills more important than the ability to write a business letter or use a computer. But less than two-fifths of Americans consider geographic knowledge "absolutely essential'' in order to be considered a "well-rounded individual.'' --RR

Vol. 07, Issue 39 Extra Edition

Notice: We recently upgraded our comments. (Learn more here.) If you are logged in as a subscriber or registered user and already have a Display Name on edweek.org, you can post comments. If you do not already have a Display Name, please create one here.
Ground Rules for Posting
We encourage lively debate, but please be respectful of others. Profanity and personal attacks are prohibited. By commenting, you are agreeing to abide by our user agreement.
All comments are public.

Back to Top Back to Top

Most Popular Stories





Sponsor Insights

Effective Ways to Support Students with Dyslexia

Stop cobbling together your EdTech

Integrate Science and ELA with Informational Text

To Address Chronic Absenteeism, Dig into the Data

Can self-efficacy impact growth for ELLs?

Disruptive Tech Integration for Meaningful Learning

5 Game-Changers in Today’s Digital Learning Platforms

Keep Your Schools Safe and Responsive to Real Challenges

Hiding in Plain Sight - 7 Common Signs of Dyslexia in the Classroom

The research: Reading Benchmark Assessments

Shifting Mindsets: A Guide for Training Paraeducators to Think Differently About Challenging Behavior

All Students Are Language Learners: The Imagine Learning Language Advantage™

Shifting Mindsets: A Guide for Training Paraeducators to Think Differently About Challenging Behavior

How to Support All Students with Equitable Pathways

2019 K-12 Digital Content Report

3-D Learning & Assessment for K–5 Science

Climate Change, LGBTQ Issues, Politics & Race: Instructional Materials for Teaching Complex Topics

Closing the Science Achievement Gap

Evidence-based Coaching: Key Driver(s) of Scalable Improvement District-Wide

Advancing Literacy with Large Print

Research Sheds New Light on the Reading Brain

3 Unique Learner Profiles for Emerging Bilinguals

Effective Questioning Practices to Spur Thinking

Empower Reading Teachers with Proven Literacy PD

Student Engagement Lessons from 3 Successful Districts

Response to Intervention Centered on Student Learning

The Nonnegotiable Attributes of Effective Feedback

SEE MORE Insights >