The Case for More Loyola Geography Classes

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Students know woefully little about the world, and schools are to blame. As a nation, the U.S. has never prioritized geography as a subject, and it’s had a negative impact on American politics, culture and the public’s general knowledge.

To give some perspective, “woefully little” isn’t an exaggeration. The numbers below are of college graduates — not the public in general, not people who failed college, but college students and graduates themselves.

Less than half of those with a bachelor’s degree can identify North Korea on a map. 

Just 31 percent can find Israel given a map of the Middle East. 

Only 57 percent of college graduates could identify Sudan as a country in Africa. Not where in Africa, just that it’s in Africa. 

Perhaps most concerningly, just 67 percent know the U.S. has troops in Iraq and less than half can find the country on a map. The U.S. invaded Iraq during these people’s lifetimes. 

This is unacceptable. Those who haven’t gone to college — roughly two-thirds of the population — do even worse, with large numbers seemingly unable to find the Pacific Ocean or the United States. 

The United States is a developed country that puts 7.3 percent of gross domestic product toward education and yet, even most college graduates can’t give basic answers to geography questions.

This isn’t the fault of students, who routinely report wanting to know more about geography and world events. It’s the fault of those teaching them, who haven’t deemed geography important enough to give it the attention it deserves. 

Only 10 states require students to take a geography course before they graduate high school and Illinois isn’t one of them. If that’s not bad enough, only 29 percent of college graduates reported ever learning any physical geography in college at all.

In a world where over half of college graduates have never traveled outside of the country, most people’s primary knowledge of the world comes from either the internet or school, and right now this country is failing miserably about teaching students geography in school.

This has lead to a point where 84 percent of graduates report using the internet as their primary source for international knowledge, a source that’s proven, at times, to be unreliable. When this is the case among college graduates it’s no wonder many have massively skewed views of the rest of the world.

How can it be expected that people who’ve never, from kindergarten to college, even had a basic geography class, be able to cast an informed vote or talk sensibly about the world?

This isn’t to say there are no geography classes at Loyola. There are numerous classes in history, politics or theology where the professors require students to have a basic understanding of the regions being discussed, though this is far from universal. 

What Loyola needs is a concerted effort by the administration and individual departments to include more of this basic geography in classes that students are already taking, not only for all of the reasons mentioned above but also because basic geographic knowledge can make class concepts easier to understand. 

Even more practical than understanding their classes, there are down-to-earth considerations too. Namely, how can business students, or anyone for that matter, be expected to compete in their fields when it’s becoming increasingly easy to live and work across borders? 

If other countries teach their students geography then U.S. students are competing with a disadvantage. The same goes for anyone dealing with communications or social media or marketing themselves — in other words, everyone — as all of these parts of life are becoming increasingly global. 

The rest of the world has realized that globalization is happening and, whatever one thinks of that trend, the U.S. education system urgently needs to catch up. While changing public school curriculum has proved difficult to do, colleges, such as Loyola, have the chance to help their students be successful with this kind of small change that can have a substantial impact. 

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