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One of my coworkers stopped me recently and asked, “Kate, what is the MU setting for people from India?” Now our system has the basics: 

A. Caucasian
B. African American
C. Hispanic
D. Native American
E. Asian
F. Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander

“It’s Pacific Islander, right?”

I was going to laugh but then I realized that (one) she was serious and (two) that it would hurt her feelings. So I danced my tact dance as if my feet were ablaze.

“Well, technically no. It’s a part of southern Asia. It sticks out in the Indian ocean, China is to the northeast.”

The poor woman gave me a look of horror as I bit back my laughter. “I couldn’t visualize it, I wasn’t thinking.. I thought Asian meant Chinese… Oh God.”

“Well, you might have been thinking Indonesia. It’s a nation made up mostly of islands and it is in the Pacific.”

“That’s right, Pacific Islander would be like… Japan.”

I twisted my face up a bit at that one, I’ll admit.

“Well, no. Japan is technically a part of Asia too, but I see where you’re going with that. The logic is there, but it’s a part of Asia.”

Thoroughly exasperated, she waved me off with a muttered “I hate geography.”

Now, I’m not sharing this to make fun of my coworker. She is very smart. This was an off day on a “brain fart” moment. But it did give me an opportunity to start thinking about a problem that I feel needs to be addressed by the American culture and education system.

We suck at geography and we suck at it because we really don’t care. If that seems harsh it is because it is. We are probably the last ones that have caught on to our ineptitude, but the world has been laughing at us for quite some time. Google “World Map According to Americans” if you doubt the above statement.  

This is our education system according to the rest of the world:

Elementary School

1. Introduction to American Geography

Elementary Geography

2. Introduction to World Geography

But where's Danaerys Targaryen?

Middle School

3. Intermediate American Geography

USA Intermediate

4. Intermediate World Geography

Grade School. Basic Elementary stuff.

High School

5. Advanced American Geography

Advanced American Geography

6. Advanced World Geography

Advanced Geography

Things to Know

7. Geography During Election Years

Election Years

8. Map According to Texans

Texan Map

Insightful Commentary

It would be more hilarious if it weren’t true. How many people that you know would be able to put a finger on Crete, Zimbabwe, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, or what used to be Czechoslovakia? The fact is that we need to start putting a lot more emphasis on geography because it can tell us things. Not only where our stuff comes from, but the people who live there, what they do, who lives near them… These are all good things to know, especially in a globalized society like the one we have today.

I mean, we need to know where India is, most call centers for all of our companies are located there! Try calling HP if you don’t believe me. But more importantly, India is also an up and coming power player in the next era of the world. They are moving forward and investing in science, medicine, computers, engineering, education… Knowing where they are is a good thing because brilliant people are coming from there!

Something needs to happen, and soon. What, I’m not sure. I was taught my geography at home and I can’t speak for what is taught in public or private schools. I learned from my Dad and from the maps that my grandfather kept. Is that the answer?

At least until we find that answer we’ll have plenty of brightly colored maps to agonize over.