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January 1, 2007 » 5:22 pm

Standards of Education

Last November, Sunlight Foundation organized a meeting in San Francisco centered around Open Data / Open Government (dubbed “ODOG”). As what might be expected at a gathering of excellent people facilitated by Allen Gunn, it was a terrific event. While we covered tons of interesting ground, the thing that stood out for me the most was something that Salim Ismail said.    (LMP)

Salim suggested that the two prerequisites for an effective democracy were access to information and educated citizens. He then noted that he had lived a third of his life in the U.S., a third in India, and a third in Europe, and of all three locations, the U.S. had the least educated citizenry.    (LMQ)

I found myself citing Salim a week later in a spirited conversation about the state of the world with a friend, who challenged me to define exactly what I meant by an educated citizenry. I thought for a moment, then responded, “I will consider our citizenry educated when over 90 percent of Americans can identify the U.S. on a world map.”    (LMR)

I don’t know what the exact metric should be, but the essence of the metric should be clear. Last year, the National Geographic Society sponsored a study of geographic literacy in this country. The results?    (LMS)

  • 63 percent of Americans aged 18 to 24 could not identify Iraq on a map of the Middle East.    (LMT)
  • 50 percent could not identify New York on a map of the United States.    (LMU)

A few years ago, I learned of another horrifying stat. 52 percent of Japanese primary and secondary students have never seen a sunset or a sunrise. That’s up from an equally horrifying 41 percent in 1991.    (LMV)

Folks in my business like to draw distinctions between information and knowledge, or knowledge and wisdom. Whatever you call the ends of the spectrum, the pattern is the same. As you move towards knowledge and wisdom, the secret sauce is context, meaning, and actionability.    (LMW)

Context is a funny creature. I can use all sorts of data and rhetoric to justify or oppose war, but the fact that my grandfather was kidnapped and killed by North Koreans during the Korean War certainly colors my judgement. I don’t claim any moral superiority in my opinions, but I certainly have context that not everyone has, and the essence of that context is very human.    (LMX)

I’d like people to have at least some human context before making judgements of import. At minimum, I think people should be able to identify a country on a map before expressing opposition or support for attacking it. At maximum, I think people should know others from that country, or even better, have spent time there themselves. I think people should experience at least one sunset or sunrise before expressing judgement about environment policy.    (LMY)

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