Young people educated at U.S. universities lack basic knowledge about international affairs and are ill prepared to compete in a globalized economy, according to a new poll.

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By Nelson Graves

More than 4,400 Americans have been killed in Iraq since 2003. But most young people educated at U.S. universities and colleges cannot find Iraq on a map of the Middle East.

Fewer than one third of the respondents in a poll of young people correctly identified which branch of the U.S. government has the constitutional authority to declare war — the legislative.

And fewer than one in five knew that the United States is bound by a treaty to protect Turkey if it were attacked.

Try your hand at some of the survey questions by completing the sample quiz below.  

Those are some of the results of a recent survey commissioned by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and the National Geographic Society.

The Global Literacy Survey was conducted in May by ARC Research among 1,203 young people aged 18 to 26 and educated at U.S. colleges and universities. It gauged what they know about geography, the environment, demographics, U.S. foreign policy, recent international events and economics.

“Our survey results are evidence that most young people educated in the United States are not where they need to be,” CFR President Richard Haass and National Geographic President Gary Knell said in the report.

CFR said the survey revealed that few students possess important knowledge about the world and the United States’ role in it, including which countries are U.S. allies and where U.S. troops are stationed overseas.

  • Most of the respondents did not know that the United States is bound by treaty to defend Canada, Japan, South Korea and Turkey if any of them are attacked.
  • While two-thirds of the respondents knew that more than 3,000 U.S. troops are stationed in Iraq, most did not know that at least that many troops are also in Germany, Japan and South Korea.
  • Asked which language is spoken by the most people in the world as their primary language, 44 percent said English, while 49 percent gave the correct answer — Mandarin Chinese.
  • But asked which country — China or the United States — has a larger economy, two thirds answered incorrectly (China) and only 29 percent correctly (United States).

Adverse consequences

“College graduates step into a world characterized by enormous cross-border flows of people, services, currency, energy, entertainment, technology, disease, drugs, weapons, ideas and much more,” Haass said in a statement.

“These findings suggest that many students simply are not prepared to understand the world they will enter. This will have adverse consequences for their individual prosperity and for the country’s economic competitiveness, national security and democracy,” he said.

Still, there were a few bright spots in the survey.

Most respondents indicated it is important that they be knowledgeable about geography, world history, foreign cultures and world events, and nearly three quarters — 72 percent — said these topics are becoming more important to them.

Respondents were relatively knowledgeable about the environment. Most knew that fossil fuels are a non-renewable resource and that the increase in greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere is considered by scientists to be one of the causes of climate change.

Navigating as global citizens and professionals

Still, there were some disquieting results:

  • Only one third knew that over the past five years, the number of Mexicans leaving the United States and returning to Mexico has been greater than the number of Mexicans entering the United States.
  • Facebook was by far the leading source of information on national and international issues, and a higher percentage of respondents said they get national and international news from comedy programs than from CBS News, NBC News, NPR, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal or the Washington Post.
  • The average score on the survey’s knowledge questions was only 55 percent correct, and just 29 percent of respondents earned a minimal pass — 66 percent correct or better.

Haas and Knell said few U.S. colleges or universities require graduates to be globally literate.

“Given the widespread gaps in knowledge identified in this survey, this informal approach cannot be relied upon to provide students with the knowledge they need to navigate successfully as citizens and professionals,” they said.

I’d like to think that News-Decoder could help.

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U.S. students ill informed about the world

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