1. Education
Matt Rosenberg

The Latest in Geographic Illiteracy Fun

By November 28, 2013

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Geography StudentsThree recent opportunities to highlight widespread geographic illiteracy went viral. The first was a video filmed by the staff of the Harvard Crimson, who asked students at that prestigious university to name the capital of Canada, a country which is a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Cambridge. The answers varied wildly.

Then, Buzzfeed supplied us with two other gems. The first was a collection of blank maps of the United States including state boundaries that were apparently filled in by Buzzfeed's UK office. While the maps seem to indicate a lack of geographic knowledge from our British cousins, I was quite impressed with the results. I think the Brits did better than Americans could have and they dd far better than Americans could have done placing England, Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales on a blank outline map of the UK.

Not to be outdone, the Buzzfeed Americans attempted to fill in a blank maps of European countries. The results are as pathetic as you might expect but we can't compare the latter to the former since the latter are countries, full-fledged independent nation-states, not the internal divisions of the United States as the first collection shows. Overall, the Brits did a much better job than the Americans but this is certainly not a scientific study, it's just an effort by Buzzfeed to garner page views. Nonetheless, I do think it's important to memorize place names and where they fit on the map.

Comments

November 28, 2013 at 5:51 pm
(1) Michael Borger says:

I agree, Matt. It’s a shame the level of geographic literacy out there, especially here on the American homefront. Not knowing the capital of Canada — for Harvard or any other college student — is an outright embarrassment.

What do you think the answer is? Is it simply more or better geographic education in school? I have to think it goes beyond that. It seems there’s a level of apathy there despite advances in geographic education, and when apathy takes hold it becomes a monumental impediment. In an increasingly globalized world and workforce, you’d think this would become a diminishing problem and people would recognize the need for such knowledge and the benefits of having it.

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