Thursday, May 11, 2006

What young Americans know (or don't know) of the world

Recently, National Geographic completed a survey of young Americans (between the ages of 18-24), that assess their knowledge of geography and culture. Here are some of the results:
  • 63% cannot find Iraq on a map of the Middle East (despite the fact that America is fighting a war there)
  • 75% cannot find Indonesia on a map.
  • 75% do not know that a majority of Indonesia's population is Muslim (making it the largest Muslim country in the world)
  • 74% believe English is the most commonly spoken native language in the world(It is not. The right answer is Mandarin)
  • 50% cannot identify state of NY on a map (even though it is the third most populous state in the union, after California and Texas).
  • 75% cannot find Iran or Israel on a map.
  • 88% cannot find Afghanistan on a map of Asia. (Hard to believe!!)
  • 70% cannot find North Korea on a map.
  • 48% say Muslims are in the majority in India.
For Indians like me who have been in the US for some time now, this is not surprising. Americans are notoriously ignorant about the outside world. In fact awareness about India has only recently started increasing, after outsourcing gained main stream coverage by the media.

Outgoing links:
PDF: National Geographic Survey


Anonymous said...

I agree with you. I'm a well-educated young American with a significantly above average knowledge of world events. I am also below average in geographical knowledge (I was in school-time extracurriculars that made me miss geography class).

But, while this lack of knowledge is dissapointing, it is not wholely unreasonable. Unless you live in a big city, seeing a foreigner is an uncommon thing. Many Americans only leave the country once or twice in their lifetimes on vacation. Fact is, America is far less international than any other country that I am aware of. We see no reason to believe that what happens outside our nation is beyond the realm of "intersting" for the most part, so there is little motivation to learn about it.

Similar is the "Americans are the most monolingual people around" idea. True, but even traveling abroad, there is very little cause to learn anything but English. I personally believe that learning other languages is wonderful (I know a few, want to know many more) and I think more of us should learn outside our cultures, but we have less incentive than almost any other nation in the world to be genuinely international.

Anonymous said...

I can totally relate with your sentiments. If you think its hard being an Indian in the U.S., try being Sri Lankan. Nearly everyone I met pre-tsunami never heard of Sri Lanka. Now after the tsunami, people still tend to think Sri Lankans are the same as Indians. I had one woman approach me once and ask me why people in my country wear scarves around their heads. I told her that I'm the wrong person to ask, since only a very small percentage of Sri Lankans are muslim and therefore most do not wear it. She gave me the most confused look I ever seen on a person and then asked me the question again! (slight rephrased).

The media didn't help when it reported on a Sri Lankan butcher who was caught for having his knives in his luggage. He had the common Christian Sri Lankan last name of Almeida, yet on CNN they showed it as "Al Meida."

I believe the media is greatly to blame of the ignorance of Americans. More and more media outlets are owed by fewer companies who seem to only care about Neilson ratings. They dumb down their reporting to cater to a lager audience, who increasinly demand more sensational and less educational news.

Ever watched the movie Office Space? The brown guy in the movie is an American-born actor of Indian descent. Yet, in the movie he is portrayed as a Saudi Arabian (who are typically light skinned) with an Indian name!! No wonder Americans are confused!

Prem said...

hey AJ..
cool blog dude..

Keep the posts comin in

Prem said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Sumeet Maru said...

I agree . One of the undergrads here once came upto to me and said "Isnt India inside Afghanistan ?" :(( Couldnt tell him anything !!

Jason H. Bowden said...

One thing to note --

America spends more money per student than Japan, UK, Germany, Italy, and France. Thanks to the teacher unions, we have this collosal, rigid socialist system that can't meet the needs of individual students. We have a system set up where funding is tied to standardized tests, so if the location of India is not on the government test, there is no incentive for school districts to cover it.

One can't push for decentralization and local control without being accused of hating children, which is quite frustrating.

Anonymous said...

This one takes the cake, really!
Americans are less aware about other countries, fine. But they should really know that the Sahara Desert is NOT in Colorado. This comes from my fellow American, MS in Comp Science, class-mate at University of New Orleans.