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Posted at 1:38 PM ET, 04/ 1/2010

Where in the world is...?

By Valerie Strauss

Since we can’t count on public schools to teach geography--after all, there is no mandatory standardized test on the subject--it’s a good thing that the National Geographic Society entices some kids to get interested in the subject.

The organization does it with its annual National Geographic Bee, a contest held in schools for students in grades 4 through 8.

Next Friday, geography whizzes in each state, as well as in the U.S. territories, the District of Columbia and the Department of Defense Dependents Schools around the world, will participate in contests. State-level winners will come to the nation's capital in May to compete in the national competition.

Geography is more than just learning about where places are on a map. It looks at how people, places and environments are connected, vital concepts in a world with a global economy and growing environmental problems that affect the entire planet.

Americans have long been lousy at geography, and, apparently, still are.

After Hurricane Katrina, one-third of Americans aged 18-24 could not locate Louisiana on a map, and almost half couldn’t find Mississippi. More than 60 percent couldn’t find Iraq years after the U.S. military went in to topple Saddam Hussein.

These were the results of a National Geographic-Roper Public Affairs geography literacy study taken in 2006--and there is no reason to think that the situation has improved.

In this era of high-stakes standardized testing in which teachers concentrate on those subjects that are tested (reading and math)--a lot of subjects have been given short shrift or simply dropped in many schools. Geography is one of them.

Geography was actually considered a core academic subject under the No Child Left Behind law, but no money was ever designated to support the teaching of geography. Many states don’t require that kids take geography to graduate from high school, and many teachers don’t understand it well enough to teach it anyway.

The National Geographic Society developed the National Geographic Bee in 1989 in response to concern about the lack of geographic knowledge among young people in the United States.

The first prize is a $25,000 college scholarship and an all-expense paid trip to the Galapagos Islands.

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By Valerie Strauss  | April 1, 2010; 1:38 PM ET
Categories:  No Child Left Behind  | Tags:  geography, no child left behind  
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Next: James McPherson on Texas history curriculum


Some parents tried to start a Geography Bee in our school a couple years ago. They were willing to volunteer their time to run the program after school.

All the school needed to do was allow parents and students a place to meet.

The schools said "No."

Posted by: EduCrazy | April 2, 2010 6:07 AM | Report abuse

One of my relatives taught at an elementary school in which the sixth-graders all had a study hall during the last period. By chance, one of her colleagues ended up with an exceptional group that always had their homework done within half the period. The students discovered that the teacher was studying Spanish and began asking questions about it. She began teaching them basic Spanish when they all had finished their homework. The school informed her no student was to be given any instruction that was not available to all.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | April 3, 2010 8:33 AM | Report abuse

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