Is Geography Reducible to Country Names and Locations?

Africa Quiz from the Christian Science Monitor

Africa Quiz from the Christian Science MonitorThe Christian Science Monitor asks its readers, “Think you know Africa? Take our geography quiz.” In the quiz, 16 of 20 questions merely ask for the name of a country indicated on a map. One question asks the name of a mountain range, and two ask for the names of cities shown in photographs. The final question is a bit more complicated, asking for the identification of the only African country that is not a member of the African Union (Morocco).

Although I am happy to see a major publication quizzing its reader’s grasp of the political map of Africa, I am frustrated by the underlying assumption that geographical knowledge can be reduced to place-name identification. I find it telling testimony to the sorry state of geographical education that mastering such elementary information would be considered evidence of adequate geographical comprehension.

That said, the quiz does provide some interesting information. Had I been asked, for example, “what country in the world has the highest lowest elevation,” I would probably have been stymied, yet the Monitor provides the correct answer: “Completely surrounded by South Africa, Lesotho is, by some measures, the highest country in the world. Its lowest point is at an elevation of 4,593 feet, higher than that of any other country.”

Tomorrow’s GeoNote will give a brief sample of how I test my own students’ knowledge of Africa in multiple-choice exams.