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Bennett Complains About Lack Of Grasp Of Geography

October 29, 1987

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Education Secretary William J. Bennett complained Thursday that American students have ″a woeful lack of grasp″ of geography and recommended to a congressional panel that the subject be taught alongside history and civics.

Bennett, along with Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., cited a series of recent surveys all showing basically the same results - that American students know little about the geography of their own country and even less about the land and people of other countri not identify the country immediately to the south of the United States.

″Geography,″ Bennett told the Senate subcommittee on education, arts and humanities, ″was something of a casualty of educational innovation. It is largely a field that requires a grasp of facts, and the study of facts took a beating during the cultural revolution of the sixties.

″It’s not a bad thing to know your facts and to know where things are,″ Bennett added.

He suggested to the subcommittee that ″social studies be reconstructed to include history, geography and civics″ and that it be taught ″every year of elementary school.″

The hearing, which was held at the National Geographic headquarters in Washington, comes about two weeks before ″Geography Awareness Week,″ Nov. 15-21.

Bradley, who introduced the resolution designating the week, said he hoped it would ″draw attention to our need to insure that both we and our children know our world in all its complexity and diversity.″

″We are a nation of worldwide investments,″ Bradley said, ″whose global influence and responsibilities demand an understanding of the lands and cultures of the world.″

Former Chief Justice Warren E. Burger said he has discovered since he became chairman of the Commission on the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution about two years ago that American students have an ″appalling″ lack of knowledge of both history and geography. ″The two are so close, they can’t be separated,″ he said.

Magda Marshall, a junior at Edina High School in Edina, Minn., told the subcommittee she lived in Panama until she was 12 and was ″taught the continents and how they are attached as early as when I learned my ABCs. It was surprising to me,″ she said, ″to find out that students in the United States could not recognize the shape of their own country.″

Jeremy Gruenwald, a sixth-grader at Bells School in Turnersville, N.J., read an essay he had written on the significance of geography.

″How can we learn about places if we can’t even get to them?″ he wrote. ″Also, there are mountains, rivers, lakes and canyons we wouldn’t know about without geography.″

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