Mommy, Where’s French Indochina?

Absolutely astonishing report from the National Geographic Society on the state of geographical awareness among young people in the United States and elsewhere.

… fully 30 percent estimated the U.S. population to be a billion or more. … Worldwide, three in 10 couldn’t find the Pacific Ocean, which covers 33 percent of the earth. … Less than half the Americans could identify France, the United Kingdom or Japan on a world map. …

It goes on like that. Home schooling for Miles starts to sound like a better option all the time.

Music: cLOUDDEAD :: Apt. A Pt.2

11 Replies to “Mommy, Where’s French Indochina?”

  1. I don’t think home schooling is a replacement for attending an institution, public or private. Rather, its an integral and necessary suppliment. Parents need to be involved with their children’s learning experience, suppliment it with their own knowledge, and be willing to (re)learn things themselves; encourageing the development of an open mind. But, I’m just a punk 23 year old, what do I know :)

    Geography, the most scary of subjects. I think part of the problem is that our education still relies too heavily on the memorization-side of these kinds of subjects, which is fine, but how do you remember things in the long term if you don’t constantly use them (in social studies class, history class, science class, discussions of current events?) Its remember it and then forget it for short-term tests. The same can be said on foreign leadership — though, most of the time, we don’t even bother asking people to know that.

    Let’s not even go into the discussion about how different forms of democracy or government work and/or structured; something that can be critical in understanding world events… *sigh*

    Because of this, I like to frequent the Cia Factbook whenever I have a basic question about a country.

  2. I think it would be pretty rare to find parents with enough breadth and depth to substitute for a school full of professional educators, but it’s not too difficult to imagine neighborhood groups getting together in possies to educate their kids properly. I mean, I want public educational institutions to succeed as much as the next person, and it means a lot to me in principle that Miles be able to attend a public school – I think it’s an important part of civic comprehension, getting along with others, etc. But when you read a study like that and see the results, and realize what kids are not getting out of public education, it’s like you hit the tipping point, realize that things have gotten too far out of hand. Sure I’d like to supplement my kid’s public learning experience, but really what exactly are they getting out of school if not basic geography and things like U.S. population?

    Or is the problem not so much about what’s being taught, but what percentage of the students are paying any attention at all. Should we be blaming video games and MTV instead, for making Swiss cheese out of young brains? Or is it something in the water? ;)

    I don’t know. I only know this is out of hand, and it’s scary.

  3. I seem to remember reading recently in the NY Times that fewer than 20% of us could find Iraq on a map, but more than a third could locate the island in the Pacific where some season of “Survivor” took place. Me? I’m such a nerd I used to browse though world atlases and almanacs when I was a pubescent boy absorbing facts about the world.

  4. Now that you mention it, I think its the tapwater! (I avoid it at all costs)

    Yes, it is scary. But at the same time you mention getting together in small neihborhood groups… isn’t that essentially what public schooling is, only on a larger community scale? If public schools can’t provide the needed lessons, and individual parents cannot, how can a neihborhood?

    I agree with you that public schools are an important experience in civic development. I also agree with you about how scary, and inadequete, they can be — especially after seeing the data, and the antedotal stories. That’s one reason why I pushed to go to a private high school. I would never trade-in my grammer and middle school public educations, they were valuable experience in the “real” world. But, for high school I was ready to take greater control of my education, and had a strong desire to get away from the growing hatred and resentment that seemse to affect so many students in the later portions of public school. I would suggest thinking about looking at that option if the state of public education makes you nervous.

    If I may also be so bold, I went to George School in Newtown, Pa. Its a wonderful Quaker school where the community is amazingly strong and they work you to the bone, but at the same time really encourage intellectual, social, and civic development. Its not simply a place of education — its a community that changes lives. I suggest it, and Quaker schools in general, to anyone who asks — or doesn’t ask as the case may be :)

    But of course, I realize it is a LITTLE early to be thinking about such things… though I had made the decision that I wanted to go to George Shool when I was 5. It had that big of an impression on me.

  5. Problem with studies like this is that they only tell us “people don’t know”, they tell us not “why people don’t know”. Has geography never been taught to these people? Or has it, and they just didn’t listen?

    I agree with mrgrape that the parents have a crucial role in this even when the kids attend a school: they have to instill the child with the wish to learn even before it sets his first foot onto school grounds, and during schooling parents have to be appreciative of what their child learns, especially when it goes against and beyond their own knowledge.

  6. Standing in the departure loung of Philadelphia International, idly looking at the arrivals board. Two local girls standing in front of me. One turns to me and says “Do you know what country Berlin is in?”.


  7. Part of what astonishes me so much about this is that I think of myself as someone with no shelf in my brain for geographical information – I have a poor sense of direction and am terrible with maps.

    But the fricking Pacific Ocean??? This goes way beyond “I learned it but forgot it” or “I suck at geography.”

  8. I am awful with geography, I can navigate like there’s no tomorrow, but I couldn’t identify all 50 states if you gave me a blank map… And it’s not for trying, I try real hard to get better at geography but it never sinks in… It’s something I have always felt guilt and curious about (curious as to why it is such a difficult topic for me).

    All that said, I can find the god-damned pacific… =)


    “Homosapiens have outgrown their use” — David Bowie

  9. Is this the same study that said that 11% of 18-24yr old americans couldn’t find the united states on a world map? I would have guessed that maybe 1% couldn’t find the US, but 11%!! That’s huge!
    I’m not great at geography. I know where the Middle East is, but would probably get some of the individual countries mixed up. Same for the central US states. It’s one of those use it or lose it situations with me.

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