I’ve written before of my addiction to the game show, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. My true addiction is to games of trivia. Jeopardy sits at the top of the food chain, all others pale in comparison. But, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire offers a unique glimpse into American society. For a glimpse into yet another segment of American society watch Repo Games, and weep.
To qualify for Millionaire the contestant has 15 minutes to complete, and pass a general knowledge test of 30 questions. Eighty percent or more do not pass. It seems fair to surmise that the test is difficult. Yet, watching the show you would not be faulted for believing no test was required, and that one need only audition and be perky. And, if you are a woman over 5’3” you need not apply. Apparently no woman may be taller than Meredith Vieira.
This illustration was crafted by my friend, Susan, over at superearthling.blogspot.com. Sometimes watching Millionaire gets me to thinking along these lines.
Without exception Geography stumps everyone. U.S. and international geography send the contestants into paroxysms of panic, the EXIT sign lights up! What river forms the border between the U.S. and Mexico? Where is Mammoth Cave? Vail, Colorado resides in what mountain range? On what continent do you find Senegal? How many continents are there?
Less than 30% of Americans hold passports. That number climbed only recently due to stricter rules for reentering the U.S. from Canada and Mexico. Our xenophobia knows no bounds these days. Compare that to 75% of citizens who hold passports in Germany and Britain.
Europeans, of course, have the luxury of boarding a train in one country and disembarking two hours later in a new country. Flights are long and sometimes cost prohibitive from the U.S. to Europe, Australia and Asia. Americans are entitled to an absurdly short vacation span. Are these valid excuses for our lack of geographical knowledge? Globalization has become a buzzword, and we have difficulty locating Minnesota on a map.
The other day in a restaurant I overhead (oh yes, eavesdropping is my forte) a young woman tell a friend she was being sent to Spain for work. She inquired of her friend, “Do you know where Spain is?” Her friend, to her credit, was incredulous. “You don’t know where Spain is?” Now embarrassed, as she should be, the young woman admitted that she did not. “Somewhere in Europe?”
Schools focus on their students passing tests in science, math, and reading. Social studies, geography, and foreign language get shelved. Literacy programs are slashed under the guise of reducing the deficit. Conspiracy theorists might believe our government has visions of dumbed down complacent citizens. Non-conspiracy theorists might believe in our government’s shortsightedness, and intent on gridlock. Either way we lose.
Meg Healy graduated with top honors from the academically rigorous International Baccalaureate program at her high school. Her curriculum focused on a global perspective.
She says, “I felt like I had been learning about the world for four years, but hadn’t been in it.”
She signed on with Global Citizen Year, a San Francisco based organization that places high school graduates in developing countries for their “gap year” between high school graduation and college. The students are linked up with a host family and provided meals, but are not paid.
Meg took up residence with a single mom and her two kids in Salvador, Brazil. She lived in one of the poverty-stricken neighborhoods, referred to as “favelas,” where homes, more like shacks, are jammed up against each other. Meg admits it took a little getting used to.
But, get used to it she did. She helped establish a library, helped the kids with their homework, and tutored a group of neighborhood kids in English.
Travel changes lives. Our perspective is forever altered. Maybe travel is out of reach. Did you know that learning a new language increases our brain’s capacity for critical thinking, and helps us focus?
I contribute to a training program for the betterment of a woman in Nigeria. I’ve never traveled to Nigeria, but I can locate it on a map. Among other things, I learned that the country is located on the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa. In this way I acquired a smidgeon of knowledge of a country and its culture. It’s a big world out there.
There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign. -Robert Louis Stevenson-
Is there a country you feel drawn to?
Thanks for listening!