Some of my first memories include a slim book of maps that was published by General Motors’ AC-Delco division. It was kept near the family’s television so that dad could look up places that were mentioned on newscasts and other teevee programs. I remember often reading the atlas and studying the various pages of maps. This is the earliest form of geographical education I received.
One of my childhood wishes was to own one of those large classroom maps that were mounted above blackboards. The one in my sixth grade class at Merle Beattie school in Lincoln, Nebraska, had one with maps that our teacher pulled down in window shade fashion. To my dismay, she only used a few of the maps and then, only infrequently.
To this day, I love looking at maps. It doesn’t matter if the maps are in an antique atlas or if they’re on Google Maps. Each map opens an imaginary mental journey in my mind.
I find it difficult to grasp that a great number of people not only feel indifferent to geography, but actually have a dislike of the topic. A recent Washington Post article explained that a mere 16-percent of Americans could locate the nation of Ukraine on a world map. A significant number of respondents placed the country on the wrong continent.
A CNN poll of military age Americans showed that almost two-thirds of them cannot find Iraq on the map. Similar numbers show the same level of ignorance regarding Afghanistan and Pakistan.
When refering to maps that do not show national borders, but show geographical features only, a significant proportion of American high school students could not correctly point out the location of the United States. Amazingly, with US maps, on which the state borders are shown but the states are unnamed, about half of young Americans aged 18 to 24 could identify the outlines of New York or Ohio. One poll ranked Americans at second to last place regarding geographical knowledge.
On the other hand, about 70-percent of the Americans could correctly point to China, but about 45-percent thought that China’s population is only double that of the US. Actually, China is around four-times more populous than the United States.
With these sorry statistics in mind, the editors at National Geographic have instituted Geography Awareness Week. They hope to not only raise awareness of our deficiencies in knowledge, but to demonstrate how exciting and important geography can be in our daily lives.
National Geographic magazine defines geography as the study of places and relationships between humans and our many environments. It is the study of the physical properties of our planet’s surface and the societies that have grown up on it. Geographers work to further understand where landmarks are located, why they are in their locations, how things develop, and what changes over time.
Sometimes I ask children, I know, to choose a random place on the globe to investigate. One of my neighbor’s sons recently picked out Santiago, Chile. The search engine brought up not only aspects of this bustling city, but listed such things as Chilean national history, Chilean culture, and even Chilean variations of the Spanish language. He found a wealth of maps, graphs, and beautiful photographs. For hands-on learning about Santiago, there were several links to tourism organizations and airlines that serve South America.
By spurring our inate curiosity, Geography Awareness can expand our knowledge and enjoyment of the World around us.
The Blue Jay of Happiness enjoys this quip from football star Terry Bradshaw: “When Brian told me he grew up in New Mexico, I told him I thought it is cool that people from other countries play football. He corrected me on my geography and agreed to sit down with me anyway.”