Don't know much about geography ... (Thanks to the singer Sam Cooke for a line from his 1960 hit "Wonderful World.")
Let’s begin with a quiz (answers at the end … don’t peek!)
- Name the capital of the only country in the Middle East that borders the Caspian Sea.
- The fertile floodplain of the Chao Phraya River is the chief rice-growing region in what country?
- The Merrimack River, formed by the junction of the Pemigewasset and Winnipesaukee Rivers, empties into what major body of water?
- The Tarim Basin, which is one of the world’s largest lowland areas that does not drain into an ocean, is found in which country?
I found these questions at the “Take the Quiz” page of the National Geographic Bee website. The annual event, for students in grades 4 to 8, will be held in late May. The Quiz gives multiple choice options, but I figured that adults wouldn’t sweat on these questions.
Or would you? OK, so these are pretty hard, but we Americans are pretty sucky at geography. In a 2006 survey of the geographic literacy of 18- to 24-year-olds, over half of them couldn’t find New York State on a map and nearly two-thirds couldn’t find Iraq (where U.S. troops had been stationed for three years). More recently (and hilariously), the website Buzzfeed asked its readers to write in the names of the countries on a blank map of Europe). The results are pretty pathetic once participants get past England, France and Italy.
Can you find Ukraine on that map of Europe? What about Oso, Washington? What about what happened on that slope before it took out the town?
We can just check Google Maps, right? It doesn’t really matter that we don’t know our geography? Yes, actually it does. Because it’s not just about the maps anymore. Our world is deeply interconnected, nearly everything that we do has global implications. We cannot afford (economically, technologically, environmentally) to not know what is going on on the other side of the planet. We need context, and geography can provide it. How can our companies do business in Asia if they aren’t aware of its cultural differences (and similarities) or what’s going on ecologically or politically? How can immigrants from Asia become part of our community if we don’t know enough about their culture to connect with them?
You might think it’s not important to know that Thailand’s chief rice-growing region is the floodplain of the Chao Phraya River, but what if you need to know if the rice you eat was grown in pesticide-free waters? Or if a Chinese or Mexican restaurant’s supply of rice will remain consistent throughout next year? What if you needed this information in 2005, six months after the Indian Ocean tsunami? Would it have been important then to know where the Chao Phraya was?
Could you use a refresher on geography? Check out the books on this list.
Answers to the quiz:
- Tehran, Iran
- Atlantic Ocean