Tuesday, November 26, 2002

National Geographic has this survey on geographical knowledge that you might want to take. You really ought to get a perfect score if you're smart enough to read this blog, or any blog. We won't beat you too severely if you miss a couple. The fun part is that the survey was given to 300 18-24 year-olds in each of these countries, Canada, Mexico, Japan, Britain, France, Italy, Germany, and Sweden, and to 500 Americans in that age group, and you can compare your scores to theirs.

The disgraceful thing is not so much the Americans' lousy performance, which is pretty awful, worse than anyone except Mexico. Canada and Britain didn't do any better than America. It's everyone's lousy performance. People around the world are geographically illiterate. That doesn't mean you guys, it means the Great Unwashed out there.

We suppose the story is this. Most people retain information that is useful to them and forget information of marginal or zero utility. If you don't travel and have a typical office job, if you don't read much and watch a good bit of TV, if you don't keep up with a newspaper or use the Net to get the news, you don't need to know much geography except for that of your immediate area, no matter where you live. So you forget it and are never reminded of it again in your life until you see it on a goofy test like this one. It's like the necessity of knowing a foreign language; if you stay in your country, don't need a foreign language for your job, and don't read much, you'll never need to know a foreign language in your life, so you forget what little you learned in school. And I sure don't remember the quadratic theorem, not having used it since Math 101 in fall semester 1984, in which I got a B. About the most I can do mathematically is simple algebra, because that's the maximum I need to know--that and enough about statistics to have some idea of whether they're legit or not.

It's still pretty disgraceful that significant percentages of people got any of these geography questions wrong. Typical slackers.

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