WASHINGTON, D.C. – Americans lack the necessary geographic literacy to fully thrive in a globalized world. In a 2006 poll commissioned by the National Geographic Society, most Americans between the ages of 18 to 24 were found to have a limited understanding of the world. While more recent polls have not been released, a new bill introduced in Congress suggests the results have not changed much.
On February 14, 2013, the Teaching Geography is Fundamental Act (TGIF) was introduced in the 113th Congress as Senate Bill 370 and House Resolution 822. TGIF is federal legislation that would establish a geography education grant program where universities and nonprofit organizations can receive grants for programs that improve geographic literacy and improve the teaching of geography in grades K-12.
To date, geography is the only core subject that has not received funding through federal education legislation. A public campaign called “Speak up for Geography” is calling on American citizens to send in letters of support for TGIF. The campaign stresses, “Our nation is facing a crisis in geographic literacy that is jeopardizing our global competitiveness, our position of diplomatic leadership, and out ability to fill and retain over 500,000 high-wage jobs in geospatial technology in the next decade.”
Another group advocating for this cause is the National Geographic Education Foundation and its Network of Alliances for Global Education, where partnerships are formed between university faculty and K-12 educators. The alliances gather on Capitol Hill each spring to advocate to members of Congress and their staff for geography education and in support of TGIF.
Gilbert M. Gosvenor, Chairman Emeritus of the National Geographic Society, says, “As the world grows smaller and more interdependent daily, our country’s future absolutely depends on our ability to see the connections between ourselves and our global neighbors.” Strong geographic awareness is believed to be critical in areas of international competitiveness, jobs, and national security.
Another proponent of geo-literacy is Alex Trebek, the well-known host of the game show Jeopardy! He happens to be a self-proclaimed “geography lover” who has spent the past 25 years as the host of the National Geographic Bee. In a recent interview on MSNBC following his final National Geographic Bee, Trebek explained how students can use methods of geography not just to memorize factoids, but to better understand the world.
Every year during the third week of November, the National Geographic Education Programs organizes Geography Awareness Week (GeoWeek). GeoWeek was established more than 25 years ago through a presidential proclamation and serves as a public awareness campaign for the importance of geographic education. Supporters include partner organizations, institutions, societies, and corporations around the world. GeoWeek is also used to mount campaigns that target policy makers and advocate for federal funding for geography and teacher education.
– Rifk Ebeid
Sources: National Geographic, Speak Up for Geography, National Geographic: Policy Initiative, Directions Mag, National Geographic: Geography Awareness Week
Photo: Daily Mail