Ignorance is Not Bliss: America Must Prioritize Geographic Literacy | Teen Ink

Ignorance is Not Bliss: America Must Prioritize Geographic Literacy

September 25, 2023
By grucinskas BRONZE, Oakton, Virginia
grucinskas BRONZE, Oakton, Virginia
2 articles 1 photo 0 comments

“Oh is that Russian?” asked a classmate who overheard me talking on the phone with my mom. I sigh and say “No it’s actually Lithuanian” as I prepare myself to start a lesson on what Lithuania is. Yes, it does exist, and yes, it has its own language. How could someone who excels in courses like AP World History not know anything about countries outside of their own? My whole life, these feelings of annoyance and disappointment have followed every time this topic gets brought up. 

America is facing a crisis of geographic illiteracy. Study after study is being conducted and the results are the same: Americans lack basic knowledge of geography, foreign policy, and the world beyond their borders.

In a survey conducted by the Council on Foreign Relations and National Geographic in 2016, only 17% (18 million) of young adults from the United States could locate Afghanistan on a map, illustrating we aren’t aware of where our soldiers fought in an almost 20-year war. Another study by the American Association of Geographers found that only 16% of Americans could locate Ukraine on a map, a country most recently invaded and destroyed by war. This points to a larger problem: The American education system doesn’t stress the importance of geographical literacy.

Yet this geographical knowledge we seem to lack isn’t just for America’s bragging rights, this ignorance has real-world political implications. Today’s young adults will become future politicians, and, most importantly, voters. Their future decisions will have far-reaching consequences, and they must be based on a solid understanding of the world around them. When policymakers lack this knowledge, they are more likely to make decisions that are misguided or even dangerous. Thus, our future depends on the education of our children.

Beyond the practical implications, there is also a moral imperative to educate the public about the world. We live in an interconnected world and we must be able to understand its diversity of people and cultures. This means investing in education, encouraging Americans to travel and experience other cultures, and promoting the study of foreign languages and history. Without geographic literacy, we risk becoming a nation that is insular and ignorant.

For years, The New York Times has been recommending sources to educators on promoting geography. They are encouraging innovative techniques, such as virtual field trips and interactive maps, to engage students and make learning more fun and engaging. However, this work is limited, and it must be expanded so more students reap the benefits. 

Ignorance is not bliss. It is time for America to take action and prioritize geographic literacy. We owe it to ourselves to become more informed and engaged citizens of the world. 

The author's comments:

This piece is inspired by the emotions first-generation Americans feel. 

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