We?ll be honest: this is personal. One of us grew up in South Carolina and has a friend who knows the local Beauty caught in this opprobrium. The other of us grew up in New Mexico (USA, that is; just to clarify).
Growing up, we witnessed complete ignorance, both from within our own states and from those without. Regardless the origin, the ignorance was no laughing matter. Rather, such ignorance continues to shame us as a society, and speaks volumes for the sad state of our educational system.
The annual Miss Teen USA competition would have been just another beauty pageant for most Americans had the contestant from South Carolina never spoken. Many would have never even known of its existence. Miss Teen S.C., however, did respond to the question which resulted in weeks of national hysterics. The moderator asked her why Americans can?t find their own country on a world map.
To say she butchered the answer would be generous. Clearly nervous and unaware of a proper response, she noted that a lack of map-ownership in the United States restricted such education. Furthermore, she stated that the U.S. should work with countries like South Africa and ?the Iraq? to better our mutual understanding and education.
It pained us to watch, and instead of smiles or laughter, we cringed both for her and for our future. Our response is apparently a-typical. Every time this has come up in casual discussion, we have only seen smiles, heard laughter and listened to remarks like ?Wasn?t that hilarious?? or (smiling) ?Can you believe she is that stupid?? One YouTube post has garnered over 15.5 million views.
When discussing the event, excuses of her rambling have ranged from ?It?s okay, she?s from South Carolina? to ?What do you expect from a beauty pageant?? Yet never once did we hear the question, ?Why did her 18 years of public education fail her so miserably?? There was never a pitiful glance in her direction because two decades of her community?s taxes couldn?t produce a middle-school level response.
While this incident was frightening enough, what scares us more is how commonplace such geographical ignorance is. It?s bad enough when a beauty queen slips up while onstage and under stress; it?s quite another for ordinary people in ordinary situations to display that same lack of knowledge. This refers to numerous conversations with native Texans who seemed utterly ignorant that New Mexico, with which Texas has more than 500 miles of border, is actually a U.S. state and not part of Mexico. This misconception has forced New Mexicans in Texas to carry their passport when purchasing wine or beer ? the cashiers frequently refuse New Mexican driver?s licenses as proper ID (this, of course, brings up issues of Constitutionality ? full faith and credit anyone? ? but it becomes difficult to argue states rights with those who don?t even know the 50 states).
While this matter may seem amusing, it is only one of numerous encounters which reveals the lack of basic awareness. Another example: while walking by the senate offices in Washington D.C. a few years back, a badge-wearing official was overheard chatting on his cell phone: ?Oh good, I thought you were going to try and tell me New Mexico was a state!? Begrudgingly, one of us has started inserting USA into the address line and tries to feel flattered rather than dismayed when told they speak very good English.
Sadly, this problem may be a U.S. specialty. While traveling abroad, the New Mexican among us frequently was able to have informed discussions about her state with citizens of other countries who had never even visited. Not only were they familiar with their own country, but when it was stated that home for her was New Mexico, ?it?s just west of Texas,? they all looked slightly offended as if their intelligence had just been insulted.
It seems quite fashionable to bash U.S. schools these days, but we feel that much of this criticism is deserved. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, U.S. students lag a full year behind students in many other developed nations. Currently, the U.S. is ranked 24th in math and 15th in reading out of 29 countries. Clearly, something is wrong.
What bothers us is the shrugged-acceptance of such ignorance. Our society has placed ?understanding? and ?equality? so high on the list, that many times education itself has been brushed aside. This isn?t to say that these values aren?t important. Quite contrarily, they are essential. However, when others fail to grasp basic concepts, in this case geography, society teaches us to accept these difficulties as differences. The end result is a lacking education.
All in all, not being able to find America on a map or even New Mexico in America is embarrassing. This is not something to laugh about, or to shrug-off and ignore. Education will be a test for our generation. We?d better start studying now.