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Young Americans Get D In Geography

Young Americans may soon have to fight a war in Iraq, but most of them can't even find that country on a map, the National Geographic Society said Wednesday.

The survey points to increasing geographic illiteracy, reports CBS News Correspondent Peter Maer. On a world map young Americans could find only seven of sixteen countries on a quiz. Many could not pinpoint specific states.

Only about one in seven — 13 percent — of Americans between the ages of 18 and 24, the prime age for military warriors, could find Iraq. The score was the same for Iran, an Iraqi neighbor.

Although the majority, 58 percent, of the young Americans surveyed knew that the Taliban and al Qaeda were based in Afghanistan, only 17 percent could find that country on a world map. A U.S.-led force attacked the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan in October 2001, and President Bush has said he is prepared to use force to rid Iraq of any chemical, nuclear or biological weapons programs.

"We were quite stunned to find out that these people did not know where Iraq was," Terry Garcia of National Geographic magazine told CBS radio station WBZ-AM. "It demonstrated to us not only a lack of basic geographic skills, but also a disengagement, a turning-inward, almost an isolationist tendency."

"Those results are stunning and in many ways discouraging," National Geographic Society president John Fahey told a Washington news conference, calling it an "apparent retreat by young people from a global society in an era that doesn't allow such a luxury.

"While Sept. 11th may have changed many things, it has not changed the insularity of our young people," he added.

The survey asked 56 geographic and current events questions of young people in nine countries and scored the results with traditional grades. The surveyed Americans got a "D," with an average of 23 correct answers. Mexico ranked last with an average score of 21, just three points from a failing grade.

Topping the scoring was Sweden, with an average of 40, followed by Germany and Italy, each with 38. None of the countries got an "A," which required average scores of 42 correct answers or better on the 56 questions.

National Geographic is convening an international panel of policy makers and business and media leaders to find ways to improve geographic education and to encourage interest in world affairs, the society said.

Cultural and media influences get the blame and the credit for geographic knowledge. Young people are more likely to locate CBS' "Survivor" island than can find Afghanistan, Iraq, or New Jersey. Experts researching new teaching methods say it could take years to close the knowledge gap.

The "Survivor" show's location was the Marquesas Islands in the eastern South Pacific.

Other findings from the survey:

  • When asked to find 10 specific states on a map of the United States, only California and Texas could be located by a large majority of those surveyed. Both states were correctly located by 89 percent of the participants. Only 51 percent could find New York, the nation's third most populous state.
  • On a world map, Americans could find on average only seven of 16 countries in the quiz. Only 89 percent of the Americans surveyed could find their own country on the map.
  • In the world map test, Swedes could find an average of 13 of the 16 countries. Germans and Italians were next, with an average of 12 each.
  • Only 71 percent of the surveyed Americans could locate on the map the Pacific Ocean, the world's largest body of water. Worldwide, three in 10 of those surveyed could not correctly locate the Pacific Ocean.
  • Although 81 percent of the surveyed Americans knew that the Middle East is the Earth's largest oil exporter, only 24 percent could find Saudi Arabia on the map.
The international survey was conducted for the National Geographic by RoperASW. The results are based on face-to-face interviews with at least 300 men and women aged 18 to 24 in Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Sweden, Britain and the United States.

The questionnaires were in the local language, but the content was universally the same.

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