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Most young Americans can't find Iraq on map
The Dallas Morning News
WASHINGTON — Nearly two-thirds of young adults surveyed cannot find Iraq on a map even after three years of war and more than 2,400 U.S. deaths. And after months of continuing news coverage of Gulf Coast hurricanes, one-third cannot locate Louisiana.
Those were among the findings of a Roper poll released Tuesday by the National Geographic Society. The survey of 510 people, ages 18 to 24, shows young Americans cannot find many countries prominently featured in the news. And their knowledge gap goes beyond locating nations on a map. Many show little interest in critical geographic knowledge and relationships about global politics, economics and language.
The results raised fresh questions about prospects for young Americans to prosper and be secure in a shrinking world, National Geographic officials said. And they underscored the challenges facing the United States if its citizens do not understand the forces shaping global activity, such as trade, natural disasters and armed conflict.
"We are no longer an isolated nation," said Pat Hardy, who taught high-school geography for 30 years in Fort Worth, Texas, and is now social-studies coordinator for the Weatherford (Texas) Independent School District. "It is frightening that people are giving up their lives to fight in another country and there are people here who do not even know where they are going."
The survey follows a similar National Geographic poll in 2002 in which Americans scored second to last on overall geographic knowledge, behind Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Japan and Sweden.
"Geographic illiteracy impacts our economic well-being, our relationships with other nations and the environment and isolates us from our world," said John Fahey, National Geographic's chief executive. "Geography is what helps us make sense of our world by showing the connections between people and places."
He urged more education and greater public awareness of geographic literacy.
The latest poll was conducted last December and January. The survey, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points, was conducted in the homes of respondents and each lasted nearly a half-hour.
"Young Americans are alarmingly ignorant of the relationships between places that give context to world events," the National Geographic Society concluded.
For instance, 71 percent surveyed do not know that the United States is the world's largest exporter of goods and services. And 74 percent believe English is the primary language spoken by the most people in the world. It is actually Mandarin Chinese, although English is the principal global language of commerce.
If there was one hopeful result, the poll found two-thirds of respondents had an understanding of map features and could use one to navigate.
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company