World Geography, American-style

So this morning, my sister learned at work that Egypt is NEAR Africa. This came as quite a shock of course, because her entire life, she had thought the country was IN Africa. Needless to say, her boss was also unable to point out Afghanistan on a map. I wonder what would have happened if he was asked to also point out the United States.

Americans are not dumb. We are a country known for Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Sam Walton, and of course, Henry Ford. But when it comes to the world, particularly geography, we are incomparably ignorant.

Why? We don’t have maps in our schools. I recall taking political science courses in undergrad for three years in a building that did not have a single map. So of course whenever we discussed far-flung places like Mogadishu or Tehran, professors couldn’t just point to the map on the wall, reminding us of where Somalia and Iran are located.

What about Smartboards? Of course the technology makes calling up Google Maps quite simple. But with professors wedded to PowerPoint, this would require them to divorce themselves from their beloved technology for a few moments. That would be outright sinful.

Considering our ignorance, the uprisings in NORTH AFRICA over the last several weeks have led to a lot of chatter (both around the office and on the 24-hour news cycle) about instability in the MIDDLE EAST.

I’ll leave you with this classic viral video:


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3 Replies to “World Geography, American-style”

  1. I remember taking a class in that same Political Science building and only like 20% of the people could point out Iraq and Afghanistan on the exam!

    It never ceases to amaze me how judgmental we can be about countries we can’t even locate on a map.

    At the risk of making myself sound incredibly stupid, isn’t part of North Africa (Egypt) considered the ‘Middle East’? I always thought the Middle East was SW Asia and NE Africa.

    1. It really depends on who you ask as to whether the Middle East includes North Africa. That’s why we often see in print – “North Africa and the Middle East” so as to clarify that writers are referring to both regions. Personally, I prefer this diction. North Africa has a very different history from the Persian Gulf countries. It makes more sense to look at these two regions separately. But yes – you do have a point. To many scholars and policymakers, the Middle East includes North Africa, and some have even argued Sudan, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Eritrea, and Somalia should be included. While North Sudan (or whatever it will be called) fits the North Africa mold, I would argue strongly against including South Sudan, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Eritrea as part of North Africa or the “Middle East”.

  2. I got tired of correcting people.
    This morning in class I was taught that Southern Sudan has no resources and has a larger Muslim Population than Christian in the South.In another class a textbook said Sudan is officially a Muslim State. This is after Egypt was taken out of Africa and awarded to the middle East in almost every conversation to do with the Egyptian Revolution.Politically, North Africa and the Middle East are inseparable but when it comes to simple Geography what is in Africa is in Africa.
    I have no faith in the educational system anymore. Thank God my foundations were elsewhere.

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