Jerrod Rodnick expects to graduate from high school in a matter of weeks (May 2006) from a Long Island public school. Rodnick, 18, knows the exact locations of all 50 states, and he pinpoints Iraq, Afghanistan, Guatemala, Chile, and East Timor on a label-less, borderless map of the world.
However, Rodnick is unique in the United States -- his ability to recognize locations and speak some Chinese, German, and French, puts him far ahead of others his age...and his abilities place him in a fringe group of well-educated teenagers.
David Rutherford, geography education specialist for National Geographic Society, said, "Young [citizens in the United States] just don't seem to have much interest in the world outside..."
In a recent study by National Geographic, 63 percent of students could not locate war-torn Iraq -- on a specific map of only the Middle East. Half of the students could not locate India -- on a map of Asia's continent. And 75 percent of students could not locate Israel on a map of the Middle East.
Closer to home, 30 percent of high school students could not locate the state of Louisiana, when specifically asked where hurricane Katrina hit in August 2005. Forty-eight in 100 could not locate Louisiana's neighboring state Mississippi.
Rodnick doesn't attempt to explain why his age group can't locate states from their own country, but did have thoughts on why students do not recognize other nations.
"Maybe they were never taught where these states were located, I don't know, I only know I love geography," he said. Whenever a news item broke from a far away land, the Long Island youth would pull up his computerized world atlas and read-up on the country he'd heard about in the news.
"I can guess why they don't know where Iraq is, to be honest most of my friends are worried about it and would rather block it from their mind," Rodnick said. The operative word "worried" he explained was related to a rumored mandatory draft, although the White House has said they would not draft young men as of press time.
The Roper Public Affairs poll, which conducted the research for National Geographic, found that of those between ages 18 and 24 -- 72 percent of those students questioned did not find any relevance in recognizing other nations.
One in 10 said it was pointless to know or speak another language outside of English, and 74 percent said English is the world's most spoken language. (FYI: English is 'only' spoken by one-in-five citizens of the world.)
"Geographic illiteracy impacts our economic well-being, our relationships with other nations and the environment, and isolates us from the world," said John Fahey, National Geographic president. National Geographic launched a program to encourage businesses and not for profit groups to pick-up where the government fails to educate students to improve geography learning.
My Wonderful World is a five-year plan targeting those youngsters between ages 8 and 17 to motivate teachers, parents, and community leaders to learn about "our world."
Despite the recent immigration debate in the United States, one-third of teens answered that the most heavily fortified border in the world was between the United States and Mexico. (FYI: The border between North and South Korea would be the correct answer.)
Some groups joining National Geographic's program include; 4-H Club, American Federation of Teachers, The Asia Society, the Association of American Geographers, the NBA (National Basketball Association,) National Council of La Raza, National PTA (Parents/Teachers Association,) and the Smithsonian Institution.
Rodnick said, "Students do have to take some responsibility too. If they have no interest in our larger world, how can they really be interested in their small one?"
Other survey results:
Visit the program's website and learn about the world: http://www.mywonderfulworld.org/
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