If we apply Dr. Janzen's idea to geography, then being geo-illiterate would mean that we are unable to fully comprehend or understand the world: what's in it, where things are connected, and how it all works together. Geographer Charles Gritzner touches on this in his article, Why Geography, writing, "To individuals lacking a well-developed 'mental map' of the Earth's surface and its varied mosaic of physical and human conditions--the very heart and soul of geographic knowledge--the globe must appear as a fragmented and confusing hodgepodge of meaningless and unrelated phenomena." By being geo-illiterate, we don't understand why drought in California affects tomato prices in Iowa, what the Strait of Hormuz has to do with the price of gas in Indiana, or what the island nation of Kiribati wants with Fiji.
What Is Geo-literacy?The National Geographic Society defines geographic literacy as the understanding of human and natural systems and geographic and systematic decision-making. More specifically, it means being equipped to better understand the complexity of the world, how our decisions affect others (and vice versa), and the interconnectedness of this rich, diverse, and not-so-large world. This understanding of interconnectedness is very important, but quite often we don't think about it.
Every year National Geographic facilitates Geography Awareness Week during the third week of November. The goal of this week is to educate people through outreach activities and impress upon them the idea that we are all connected to the rest of the world through the decisions we make on a daily basis, including what foods we eat and the things we buy. There's a new theme every year and, coincidentally, the theme in 2012 was "declare your interdependence."
Making the Case for Geo-literacy?The purpose of geo-literacy, according to Dr. Daniel Edelson of the National Geographic Society, is to empower people to "make decisions in real-world contexts." This empowerment means being fully aware of what decisions we are making and what the effects of our decisions will be. People, especially in the developed world, make decisions every day that are far-reaching and affect more than just the locality in which they reside. Their decisions may appear small in scale, at least initially. But, as Dr. Edelson reminds us, if you multiply individual decision making times a few million (or even a few billion), "the cumulative impacts can be enormous." Professor Harm de Blij, author of Why Geography Matters agrees with Dr. Edelson and writes, "As the democratic nation that elects representatives whose decisions affect not just America but the entire world, we Americans have an obligation to be well-informed about our small and functionally-shrinking planet."
Through advances in technology, economic development, and international trade, the world in which we live is becoming relatively smaller and smaller every day - a phenomenon known as globalization. This process increases the interconnectedness of the peoples, cultures, and systems, which makes geo-literacy more important than ever. Dr. Edelson sees this as a good reason to make the case for increased learning about geography, noting that, "Having a geo-literate populace is critical for, among many things, maintaining economic competitiveness, quality of life, and national security in our modern, interconnected world." Understanding geography is the key to understanding interconnectedness.
Around the world, countries have recognized the importance of geo-literacy and a sound geographic education. According to Dr. Gritzner, many developed (and even some less developed) countries have put geography at the core of their social science curriculum. In the United States in the past, we've struggled with geography's place in education. "What's worse, Dr. Gritzner laments, "our interest and curiosity seem to be lacking as well." But recently we seem to be making some headway, especially because of new geography tools like Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Remote Sensing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that geography jobs will grow 35% from 2010 - 2020, a much faster rate than the average career. But, because the total number of geography jobs is currently quite small, there's still much work to do.