Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. Archive

Americans score D on geography

Despite last year's war in Afghanistan, this year's turmoil in Israel and portents of war in Iraq, most young Americans can't find those countries on a map, the National Geographic Society said Wednesday.

In the society's nine-country quiz of 3,000 adults 18 to 24 years old, only 17 percent of the Americans could find Afghanistan on an unlabeled map of the world.

Young adults from other countries didn't do much better. Those answering correctly ranged from 40 percent in Sweden down to 12 percent in Mexico.

Scores were even lower when they were shown a map of the Middle East and Asia. Among the Americans, only 12 to 14 percent could find Afghanistan, Israel, Iraq and Iran on that map. Each country was found by between 19 and 23 percent of the respondents from other countries.

"Someone once said that war is God's way of teaching geography," said John Fahey, president of the Washington-based nonprofit educational organization.

"Today, even war or threat of war doesn't do it," he added. "Though Sept. 11 changed many things, it has not changed the insularity of our young people."

Closer to home, 89 percent of the Americans could find California and Texas on a U.S. map showing only state lines. Their next best showing came as 51 percent found New York, site of last year's World Trade Center attacks.

The attacks were directed by al-Qaida, which was harbored by the Taliban government. Just 58 percent of the Americans named Afghanistan as the base of those two movements. In other countries, the percentage giving the correct answer stretched from 84 percent in Sweden and Great Britain to 63 percent in Mexico.

Giving traditional grades based on 56 identical questions that were asked in all nine countries, the society said no country deserved an A or an F.

It awarded grades of B to Sweden, where the average number of correct answers was 40; Germany, 38, Italy, 38, and France, 34. Grades of C went to Japan, 31; Great Britain, 28, and Canada, 27. Grades of D went to the United States, 23, and Mexico, 21.

Some people in the society's auditorium giggled or snickered uncomfortably as briefers revealed embarrassing results, such as the fact that 11 percent of the Americans couldn't locate the United States on a world map.

"It's not funny at all," Fahey said. "If you don't care enough to learn enough, you can't make informed decisions. And if you can't make informed decisions, then the people who work for you _ legislators and policymakers _ will not."