WASHINGTON -- About 20 percent of American students identified Brazil as the United States on a world map and another 20 percent could not find the United States at all, two geography organizations reported today.
A report from the National Council for Geographic Education and the Association of American Geographers, both private groups, also said that among students in eight industrialized nations tested in geography, young Americans ranked fourth.
Association executive director Bob Aangeenbrug said the report appears to demonstrate 'widespread geography illiteracy' in the United States.
'There is a huge number of children and adults who haven't a clue about the relationship between geography and history or geography and anything else,' he said. 'We now have a generation that has a limited capacity to put those things together.'
Aangeenbrug said the report cites 1983 tests in geography, science and math that the Dallas Times-Herald administered to 12-year-olds in eight industrialized nations.
The tests, developed for the newspaper by four prominent educators including a Nobel Prize-winning scientist, were given to sixth graders in the Dallas area and to sixth graders in Australia, Canada, Britain, France, Japan, Sweden and Switzlerand.
The Swedish students were ranked first in the geography test.
American students ranked fourth among those taking the geography exam. Among one group of Americans, more than 20 percent could not locate the United States on a world map and another 20 percent identified Brazil as the United States.
In a recent college-level survey of global understanding by the Educational Testing Service of 3,000 American undergraduates, the median score was 42.9 out of a possible 101.
'Certainly, there are many reasons for this illiteracy,' Aangeenbrug said. 'But the main reason is simply that geography is just not taught in this country. This is the only major nation in the world where geography is not required in many curriculums.'
He said part of the problem is that teachers are not well educated in geography and, 'That is why we put together this report. This is to put ammunition in people's hands so that teaching institutions can start working to put geography in their own curriculums.'