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The Student News Site of Van Nuys High School

The Mirror

The Student News Site of Van Nuys High School

The Mirror

Lost on the map: The state of geography in America

The United States is lacking in geography education in comparison to other more developed countries, as mocked by online videos.
“We ask dumb Americans geography questions,” numerous videos exist online where content creators challenge people with trivia questions about geography.

Comments mock and ridicule the interviewees, with some stating, “The American school system has failed us,” or “This is some rare footage of smart Americans.” 

As defined by World Atlas, geography is the scientific study that observes the physical and biological aspects of the Earth’s surface as well as the interactions between humans and the environment.

As a social science, geography can connect and be applied to other academic subjects such as history, environmental science and economics, among others.  

Being one of the most developed countries in the world, one would expect its population to possess an excellent academic curriculum, allowing students to gain the skills that make it a notable country. However, this is not the case, as is shown by the interviewees who embarrass themselves on camera. 

The 2018 Nation’s Report Card, proctored by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), revealed that eighth-grade students received lower average test scores compared to eighth-grade students from 2014. 

Furthermore, the assessment affirmed that one-quarter of eighth-grade students continue to perform at or above “NAEP Proficient” on the geography assessment since the last report card was conducted.

As of 2022, test scores for eighth-grade students in history and civics have been declining since 2014 with 40 percent of students scoring “below basic” proficiency in history. 

This illustrates that American students and the general public in the U.S. are not up to standards in basic geographical knowledge, something that would come with ease to students from other countries such as Austria, France and Norway, where students are required to take a geography course every year before they graduate from secondary school.

This is far from the standard in the U.S., where, as of 2015, only 13 states have mandated a geography course, whether it be a semester or full year in middle school, high school or both. 

The lack of education in geography shown in these videos, whether they are satire or not, is also noted by former AP Human Geography (AP HuG) and AP World History teacher, Mr. James Neer. 

“I think it’s a mistake because most other developed countries put more emphasis on geography education because they see the importance of it,” Mr. Neer said. “People in the US understand the importance of geography, the reason that The National Geographic Society works to expand geography education.”

Still, he understands that the lack of knowledge in geography comes from standards not being in place, leading academic focus to other subjects. 

“So much emphasis on other things and unfortunately, social sciences have taken a back seat,” he said. “There is an emphasis on everyone passing Algebra 2 and there are some kids who can’t and don’t want to. They also might not need it and there can be room in peoples’ schedules but it’s just the system forces everyone to take the same courses.”

He remarks that the courses students take can be altered to fit more of what they are interested in rather than taking a course that they won’t need for their intended career. 

Due to the rigid standards of the courses required to graduate and the lack of options for many students to take geography, Neer says that many students enter his class with little to no prior knowledge of geography.

“Only a few came in with prior knowledge in geography] because of early interest in it,” he said. “Those were the kids who really liked maps. It was always one or two of those but most kids have other interests these days.”

Mr. Neer would embed geography into his AP HuG course through the study of political maps throughout the year. He later quizzed students on their knowledge at the end of the year through a 100-question test assessing topological features, oceans and political states (countries). 

The significance of geography goes beyond the borders of the classroom, having knowledge of geography enables a person to be more socially aware of their surroundings, and possess a strong sense of direction and current events of the world.

He commented on the importance of teaching students geography as it is needed to acknowledge the relationships between themselves and the world. He remarks that without knowledge of geography, people aren’t able to accurately understand their place in the world. 

“I think if you don’t have a good understanding of geography, you don’t know your place on this Earth,” Mr. Neer said. “It gives us a lot of context for understanding today’s problems, history and to understand the new. If we don’t have that understanding, we don’t have the context and we won’t be able to make these informed decisions.”

With that being said, how skilled are you in geography? Test your knowledge with this semi-short quiz.

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About the Contributors
Skylie Molina
Skylie Molina, Staff
From catching a wave alongside a dolphin to studying for the next exam, my days are packed with a little bit of everything. I am a junior in my first year of journalism. Passionate about conservation and climate change, I am the founder and president of the VNHS Environmental Club. Involved in many other activities, I am a 3rd year varsity cheerleader, and found love for surfing. Outside of school, you can find me reading, spending time with friends or family, or doing math homework, and listening to some pop music.
Delmis Vaquerano
As a deep inquirer and keen observer, I am enthralled by the world around me and the subtleties that lie beyond the surface. From deconstructing metaphors to noticing my heart-shaped nostrils, I scour the planet and the internet for answers that exist behind behaviors and occurrences. As a new addition to The Mirror, I strive to translate the perplexities that propagate our social world. Outside of spectating my environment, you could find me visiting beaches, exploring national parks, or hiking on mountain trails.
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    MichaelMay 25, 2024 at 2:47 pm

    I thought Greenland was a territory of Denmark not a independent country. Isn’t the Mississippi River the third longest in the world after the Nile and Amazon ?