Feb. 20, 2003, Gazette
The Global Village is everyones
new favourite catchphrase. Every social science course talks about its
importance to economics, political science and sociology. There is an
increasing level of interconnectedness that is bringing the worlds
population together at a remarkable speed. Advances in communication and
transportation are opening territorial boundaries, putting us at risk
to transsoverign problems, which is proving to be problematic for the
administrations of some of the worlds most powerful countries. There
is cultural leveling, with Feng Shui being found in the most contemporary
homes across Canada. Our world is getting technologically smaller, but
is this increasing the amount of accurate knowledge that we have about
Its not news that the majority of people are ignorant about geography.
Stats Canada has done work on this; Jay Leno shows his own peoples
ignorance through his segment Jay-Walking; and who can forget Rick Mercers
Talking to Americans. Its not even complicated issues such as the
capital of Kazakhstan or the location of the Tanggula Mountains that are
being studied, rather they are being tested on such matters as the location
of Russia and the United States.
Maybe I am over-exaggerating, after all its only 11 per cent of
Americans who cant find their own country on a map (this according
to National GeographicRoper 2002 Global Geographic Literacy Survey).
Wait now, 11 per cent of people dont know where they live? However,
Canada did not fare well either in the survey, with less than half of
18-24 years olds being surveyed passing the test.
I am being critical, though, and it is likely that some of the answers
are skewed due to surveying problems, but there are still a lot of people
who could help to be educated a little more from the atlas.
Geography literacy is important. In high school students choose, in most
cases, geography or history to fulfill their social studies requirement.
Geography is the easier option or so you are told, while history is the
realm of the academic elite. This distinction needs to be abolished as
both go hand in hand. You cannot understand what happened if you dont
know the location. The Warsaw Pact and NATO make little sense if you have
no clue where Poland and the United Kingdom are. I have actually met people
who think Hawaii is in the Caribbean.
In a country where students are taught about countries that no longer
exist yes Zaire is no longer a country for all those students learning
about it in Grade Four it is no surprise that people cannot pick
out Afghanistan or Iraq on a map. In a time where we are experiencing
a war on terrorism and an impending war or Iraq you think the ignorant
among us would pull out a map and check the location of their targets.
Without a basic understanding of geography it must make reading newspaper
headlines or watching the evening news very difficult. Perhaps the real
crux of the problem is that people have existed for so long without these
basic skills that they arent even aware that they are missing them.
People know all about the Cold War, the Vietnam War and the Fall of the
Berlin Wall, yet this historical information isnt backed by the
most basic of geography. Perhaps this is due to the dedication of Hollywood
film directors to provide us with epic historical movies, think Schindlers
List. Yet how many people know Auschwitz is in Poland and not Germany?
There needs to be a greater social conscience for such things. People
need to stop thinking that El Nino is a little Mexican boy and Kashmir
is a nice, expensive sweater. Pick up an atlas, skim through it, if you
dont understand a headline look up the country it is talking about.
I too have geographic faults; we are all prone to them occasionally. The
education system needs to place more emphasis on geography. History teachers
should always be equipped with a map; it should never be assumed that
people know where in the world they are learning about. It is such assumptions
that help to perpetuate the ignorance.
Marshall McLuhan was correct about the Global Village, now we need to
step up to the plate and educate ourselves on our new community.
Oh and by the way the capital of Kazakhstan is Astana and the Tanggula
Mountains are in China. My Geo-Safari has served me well.