Editorials

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Badly lacking in worldly knowledge

When you look at the latest assessment of young people's knowledge of geography, you have to ask, what in the world are they thinking?

Sixty-three percent of Americans ages 18-24 could not identify Iraq on a map, even though we have been fighting a war there since 2003. Only one in 10 could find Afghanistan.

A huge hurricane devastated New Orleans last year. Yet more than a third could not point out Louisiana on the map.

In all, only about one-half of those surveyed could answer all questions correctly.

"Americans are far from alone in the world, but from the perspective of many young Americans, we might as well be. Most young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 demonstrate a limited understanding of the world, and they place insufficient importance on the basic geographic skills that might enhance their knowledge."

So conclude the authors of the 2006 National Geographic-Roper Survey of Geographic Literacy, released on Tuesday.

What makes the recent results even more disappointing is that they reveal little progress has been made since 2002, when the last similar assessment was reported by National Geographic and Roper. That survey showed 87 percent being unable to identify Iraq on a world map. It also showed that the U.S. trailed every country in its knowledge of geography, with the exception of Mexico.

Other reviews of geographic acumen are equally unflattering. A 2002 U.S. Department of Education report card on geography found one-third of fourth-graders befuddled when asked to point out the state, in which they live, on a map. …