LOST….One of my all-time favorite tropes is the periodic survey demonstrating that x% of U.S. teenagers (where x = “dismal”) aren’t able to find y on a map (where y = “a country you should know about”). The latest entrant in this parade comes from National Geographic, which included a question on its latest survey about the location of the television show CSI. Why? So they could breathlessly announce, “More know where the TV show CSI is set than can find Iraq on a map.”

That is disturbing, isn’t it? Predictably, Associated Press headlined their video, “U.S. Youth Get Failing Grade in Geography.” And that’s fair enough, I suppose, although I’ll bet most AP reporters would fail too. In fact, that’s my main gripe with these periodic reports: they never tell us how adults do.

I think it would be great if more people knew that Rwanda is in Africa. But until you can demonstrate that kids actually do significantly worse on this kind of thing than adults, please spare me the “report card” nonsense. I know we’re all supposed to be in a perpetual state of tut-tutting horror at the miserable ignorance of kids today, but I’d like to see some actual evidence that our twentysomethings are really any more ignorant than our supposedly well-educated fiftysomethings before I start feeling too superior. Anybody know where I can find some?

In the meantime, you can take an abbreviated online version of the test here. The full National Geographic report is here. Note that on every question that had been asked previously, today’s kids did better than those of 1988 and 2002 ? though that fact is mysteriously missing from AP’s report.

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