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we often do not realize the importance of these events in our daily lives. . . . We must accept the fact that we are as dependent on other nations as they are on us, and we must begin to understand our global neighbors. . . . The problem is that we often do not teach geography in this country, and when we do, it is frequently taught poorly.1 (Southern Governors' Association, Cornerstone of Competition, November 1986)
I was disturbed by a new survey that shows most Americans don't know where to find the major trouble spots of the world. . . . Before we can figure out how to stop people from stealing our jobs or sending us their illegal drugs, we at least had better find out where they are. (Clarence Page, Chicago Tribune, July 31, 1988)
The United States is not well-prepared for international trade. . . . How are we to open overseas markets when other cultures are only dimly understood? The imperatives are clear: It is time to learn languages. It is time to learn geography. It is time to change our thinking about the world around us. For we cannot compete in a world that is a mystery beyond our borders. (National Governors' Association, America in Transition: The International Frontier, 1989)
Geographic information is critical to promote economic development, improve our stewardship of natural resources, and protect the environment. (Presidential Executive Order, Coordinating Geographic Data Acquisition and Access: The National Spatial Data Infrastructure, April 11, 1994)
Behind these calls for increased attention to geographic illiteracy in a very broad sense is a growing public recognition that our national well-being is related to global markets and international political developments, the continued prominence of environmental issues in social discourse, and the emergence of computer and telecommunications technologies that emphasize graphic images such as maps and other spatial diagrams.
One result of this increased attention is a rediscovery of the importance of geography education in the United States. Geography is identified as a core subject for American schools, on a par with science and mathematics, in a series of recent policy statements and legislative proposals for national education reform. These include the report of the Charlottesville summit convened by the 50 state governors and President Bush in October 1989; education reform plans of both the Bush and the Clinton administrations; and Goals 2000: The Educate America Act,2 passed by Congress in March 1994.
Geography has also been rediscovered by students. In the period 1986/1987 to 1993/1994, the number of undergraduate majors in geography grew by an estimated 47 percent nationwide and by 60 percent in Ph.D.-granting departments.
In 1987 only 15 percent of high school graduates had completed a course in world geography (National Center for Education Statistics, 1993), and other sources indicate that many of the courses were taught by instructors with little or no training in geography.