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November 21, 2002

"Globalization" and Education

Michael

As long as I'm on a roll about modern public-school education: what’s with the total indifference to geography? My kids go to what is widely considered the best public school system in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, and even they just figured out that California isn’t its own country about a year ago. At college we used to conduct an experiment (after having too much to drink) at how well we could draw a map of the 48 continental states—quickly concluding that the map’s accuracy declined in proportion to our sobriety. I tried it out the other day on my kids, and for a horrified second or two thought I was going to have to take them to the hospital to get their stomach pumped.

This is pretty much the reaction the National Geographic Society had after commissioning an international survey of geographic literacy. According to an A.P. story:

The society survey found that only about one in seven -- 13 percent -- of Americans between the age of 18 and 24, the prime age for military warriors, could find Iraq. The score was the same for Iran, an Iraqi neighbor.

So, you might say, that’s on the other side of the world. The more depressing news was that 70 percent cannot find New Jersey, 49 percent cannot find New York, and 11 percent cannot find the United States (hey, guys, a clue—that’s the part of the globe that you end up focusing on underneath the Universal Pictures logo at the movies.)

"Someone once said that war is God's way of teaching geography, but today, apparently war or even the threat of war cannot adequately teach geography," John Fahey, president of the National Geographic Society, said. "More American young people can tell you where an island that the Survivor TV series came from is located than can identify Afghanistan or Iraq. Ironically a TV show seems more real or at least more meaningful interesting or relevant [than] reality."

It occurred to me that all the controversy over “globalization” may not be because of the disruptive impact of international trade, but rather because it’s just dawning on a lot of people that they live on one. The most geographically literate country was Sweden, with an average of 40 correct answers out of 56, followed by Germany and Italy, each with 38. No country got an "A," which required an average scores of 42 correct answers or better. The U.S. got a “D”, with an average score of 23.

As the alert correspondent who forwarded this to me points out:

Notice the grading scale, which was apparently devised to keep the US from getting a failing grade:

A (42/56=75%)
D (23/56=41%)

It’s a sad day when a whole country needs, er, grade inflation to get by. But I guess the education industry has a lot of experience with that.

Cheers,

Friedrich

posted by Friedrich at November 21, 2002




Comments

It was Ambrose Bierce, and he said "War is God's way of teaching Americans geography."

Posted by: Aaron Haspel on November 21, 2002 8:56 PM






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