geographic illiteracy

Image: Ylanite Koppens


In the middle of the era of instantaneous communication and information, there is still a lack of geographic knowledge among the population

In the 1970s, the expression “geographical illiteracy” was coined in the United States (geographic illiteracy) to designate the lack of geographic knowledge present among the population in general, and in high school students, in particular. This means that, at the time, a considerable percentage of Americans were unaware of basic geography concepts, such as the geographic location, language or capital of other important countries in the global geopolitical scenario, such as, for example, Brazil. In this sense, the cases of people from the land of Uncle Sam who think that Buenos Aires is the Brazilian capital or that we Brazilians speak Spanish are emblematic.

Decades later, in the midst of instantaneous communication and information, not even a former president of the greatest economic power on the planet is immune to geographic illiteracy. Donald Trump is an ardent critic of “global warming”, a scientific hypothesis that assumes that some human activities are responsible for modifying the planetary climate.

Evidently, as long as he has plausible arguments, Donald Trump, like every citizen, has the right to question scientific knowledge. However, in a post on Twitter, the former US president, when commenting on the intense cold in the midwest of the country during the winter, asked: “where is global warming?”.

Now, as any sixth grader knows, “weather” – the momentary state of the atmosphere – and “climate” – the usual succession of types of weather – are different concepts. Therefore, there is no way to use a cold day (related to “weather”) as a justification for denying climate change. In the same line of thought, it is not uncommon to come across statements such as “the weather is rainy today” or “the weather in São Paulo should change over the weekend”.

In addition to Trump, another example of geographic illiteracy by an American public person was Joey Ramone, lead singer of the band Ramones. In December, in a telephone interview for a Brazilian magazine, Joey Ramone asked the interviewer if Rio de Janeiro was also cold like New York.

Once again, referring to sixth year classes, we know that, due to the Earth's translational movement and the inclination of our planet in relation to its axis, in the last month of the year, while in the Northern Hemisphere (where New York is located) it is winter, in the Southern Hemisphere (where the capital of Rio de Janeiro is located) is summer.

Over the years, soccer players have also been the protagonists of unusual cases of geographic illiteracy. Claudiomiro, a former Porto Alegre international, upon arriving in Belém, the capital of Pará, to play a match against Paysandu, for the 1972 Brazilian Championship, declared: “I am most proud to play in the land where Jesus Christ was born”.

In a SporTv program, Denílson, world champion in 2002 for Brazil, said that, when he played for São Paulo, his club colleagues suggested that, on vacation, everyone travel to Cancún, a famous tourist destination on the Mexican coast. Promptly, Denílson replied to his companions: “Gee, what to do in Cancún? I want beach".

In turn, the former player of the Brazilian national team, Amaral, when asked during a live appearance on the National Journal on the problem of Apartheid in South Africa, he replied: “if he [Apartheid] is a dangerous player, I will mark him”.

In conclusion, it is possible to state that the examples cited above demonstrate that Geography classes in basic education may not be responsible for forming geographers or considered “boring” by some students. But, certainly, they are important to, in the future, at least avoid embarrassment in interviews, on national television or in internet postings.

*Francisco Fernandes Ladeira is a doctoral student in geography at the State University of Campinas (Unicamp). Author, among other books, of The ideology of international news (ed. CRV).

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