Study of geography essential for comprehending connections

Geographic illiteracy by definition is not having geographical understanding. It is no secret that Americans rank poorly globally with knowledge of geography. There are many studies that show this difficulty in getting American students on par with other global school systems. Why, though?

Historically in the American school system geography is given a bad wrap, and many states don’t even require it in middle school and high school. According to the United States Government Accountability Office, in a 2018 study, about three-quarters of eighth grade students—the only grade for which trend data are available—were not “proficient” in geography in 2014, according to GAO’s analysis of nationally representative data from the Department of Education (Education). Specifically, these students had not demonstrated solid competence in the subject, and the proficiency levels of eighth grade students have shown no improvement since 1994.

Geography is often considered a soft subject, which means it is not seen as a subject that promotes employability because no one thought it would be useful for jobs in the future. The American system has some of the best stem programs in engineering, technology and mathematics. 

So how could they be bad at geography? So perhaps it’s the system to blame? Or the students’ passions and attitudes, or maybe a combination of both? On the other hand America itself is also not known for having the best geographers, this is all because geography was considered a soft subject at the time, and it still feels that way. Usually the study of geography is plunked within social studies in many schools, which are usually just one term.

Many leading geographic societies are bewildered by the gap of geographical interest from American students. A 2010 study conducted by the National Geographic Society found that the average US citizen knows far less about geography than the average European or Asian citizen. For example, only 4 percent of U.S. respondents knew that the Mediterranean Sea surrounded Europe, and only 6 percent could correctly identify the location of the United States on a map of the world.

The Royal Geography Society points out in an article from, with all these world wide topics of concern  like climate change, migrations and environmental degradation, shouldn’t we know exactly where these issues take place?


The University of Northern Iowa Department of Geography knows exactly why geography is important. Professor of geography Dr.Thomas Larsen replied to this question:

Why is geography an important subject to expand and highlight in high school curriculum?

“The high school curriculum needs geography for two reasons: 1) improving places through the geographic perspective and 2) improving students’ college and career readiness through geospatial technologies.  

“First, like a physician to a patient, geographers are interested in examining what makes places function and how to make them better. Places are not merely dots on a map.  They are complex systems of human-environment interaction. Understanding them matters because whatever happens at the local level can scale up to the regional and global levels.

“Second, geographers have high job placement because of their expertise in geospatial technology, which runs our phones’ GPS and is used by private businesses, local governments, non-profits, and federal agencies. By tying data to a location, geospatial technology helps geographers analyze patterns from place to place and make better social and environmental decisions.

“The study of geography should be a concern to people who care about the Earth. Geography is important because not only are dots on a map but the dots connect to understand the world we live in, how cultures connect together, how our living on the earth causes environmental changes, and how we need to be geographically literate to help the earth manage our expanding population.”

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