How many children today are able to find a major city on a map, let alone even comprehend reading a map? If that isn’t enough food for thought, perhaps the thought of how many adults are incapable of fulfilling these same tasks may seem indigestible! Much has been made leading up to the last Presidential election and to date, that so many millennials are relying on “fake news”, information that is segmented on social media sites. There is no doubt that this appears to be a growing trend, their lack of time spent reading and researching fact-based literature. Perhaps this is what has led to the demise in the value of learning American geography across America.
During the span of just over one year, the New York City-based Roper Public Affairs conducted a very intriguing survey for the National Geographic Society (National Geographic Society, 2006). Between December 2005 and January 2006, they carried out interviews with the hopes of examining how proficient Americans were in their abilities to read and understand maps. Basically, they wanted to see if folks could actually identify and find larger cities across the USA. It was then that something very profound came about…50% of Americans could not even find the state of New York on the map of the United States (National Geographic Society, 2006). What?
Has the value of learning American geography really deteriorated this much? If this is the case, have the school systems stopped teaching geography, or has interest in it just waned? Furthermore, could it be that people in general are relying too much on APPS, if and when they need to ‘find’ locations or points of interest? Good question! The purpose of the National Geographic Society’s study was to examine the map-finding skills of young adults, those aged 18 to 24, the first of the millennial generation. If their generation is lacking the skills in reading maps, what are the possible outcomes for those coming after them?
Perhaps the most disturbing findings were those that came to locating places on the map, most notably parts of the USA that had been heavily covered in the news leading up to the National Geographic Society’s study. If something is in the news often, then you would surmise individuals are most likely to identify those places more readily because they either hear about them, read about them, or see them on TV, or online often. Did you know that 18 to 24 years old Americans were at a loss in their ability to find these places on a map? Roughly one third of those in the study could not find the state of Louisiana on a USA map, and 48% could not locate Mississippi on the map either (National Geographic Society, 2006), really? This occurred right after the clean-up in the southeastern states when Hurricane Katrina ripped the hearts out of many districts (Hurricane Katrina was the biggest USA story in 2005).
Previous studies had found that young Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 had poor geography knowledge. Four years later this had not changed, perhaps had even grown worse! Douglas Richardson, Executive Director of the Association of American Geographers in Washington, D.C. believes that overall, many young American in general lack basic map-reading skills. Is it any wonder that they can’t find New York State on a map of America?
Resources: National Geographic-Roper Public Affairs 2006 Geographic Literacy Study (2006)