The World Is Complex. Our Kids Need To Understand That. World Savvy Can Help

Need a brain break? Ready for some current event / world culture / global literacy questions to test your knowledge?

Of course, you do.

Six basic questions covering events of the day and an awareness of the world around you. (Be sure to check your work at the bottom of the post.)

1. In which of these countries is a majority of the population Muslim?
a. South Africa
b. Armenia
c. India
d. Indonesia

2. Which language is spoken by the most people in the world as their primary language?
a. Russian
b. Mandarin Chinese
c. English
d. Arabic

3. Which country is the largest trading partner of the United States, based on the total dollar value of goods and services?
a. Canada
b. China
c. Mexico
d. Saudi Arabia

4. Approximately what percentage of the United States federal budget is spent on foreign aid?
a. 1 percent
b. 5 percent
c. 12 percent
d .30 percent
e. 40 percent

5. Which countries is the United States bound by treaty to protect if they are attacked? (select all that apply)
a. Canada
b. China
c. Japan
d. Mexico
e. North Korea
f. Russia
g. South Korea
h. Turkey

6. True or False
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.

These six questions were part of a larger survey given to 1200 people between the ages of 18 – 26 by National Geographic and the Council for Foreign Relations. The questions ranged from geography, the environment, demographics, U.S. foreign policy, recent international events, and economics. (Get the full report here.)

And you can probably guess how well they did. Yup. Not well.

The average score was 55% correct.

And, yes, we’ve all seen similar types of doom and gloom stories. Using the results from some multiple choice history (or civics or geography or whatever) test, some conservative (or liberal or whatever) group is now claiming that the world is coming to an end because a bunch of 8th graders don’t know the capital of Delaware (or the primary export of Taiwan or whatever.)

At first glance, these questions do seem like the sort you’d find on a state level standards assessment. You know the ones I’m thinking about . . . low level, rote memory kinds of questions. But I do think that the questions – and answers – in this particular survey tell a different story than what we typically see.

A multiple choice question that asks a student to regurgitate the capital of Delaware or the date of Lincoln’s election is not always easily connected to deeper, more important topics. I can Google Dover and 1860 and I’m done. But if I’m a twenty-something (or 15 or 35 or 65 or whatever) US citizen and don’t know anything about the movement of people across borders or what we spend as a nation on foreign aid, how can I join the ongoing conversation about immigration?

Or if I incorrectly believe – as did 88% of those taking the survey – that we spend anywhere from 5% to 40% of the US budget on foreign aid instead of the actual 1%, why would I encourage federal politicians and officials that it’s a good idea to help support education for girls in Muslim countries?

The survey “revealed significant gaps between what young people understand about today’s world and what they need to know to successfully navigate and compete in it.”

Kathleen Schwille, vice president of education at the National Geographic Society is concerned:

Even people who’ve been through college are still not gaining this sort of basic level of understanding about the world and how things are connected to each other. (We) can’t ignore things that are happening on the other side of the world, because they do impact us.

Why is that a big deal?

  • The American and global economies are tied together. Kansas crops, airplanes, petroleum  – all part of the world beyond the state.
  • Climate change, financial markets, water rights, food security, disease, migration, terrorism are not country specific – these and other challenges don’t pay attention to international borders.
  • The US population is a collection of multiple ethnicities and cultures with connections to places around the world.

The good news?

A majority of those who took the survey said that it’s important for them “to be knowledgeable about geography, world history, foreign cultures, and world events” and 72% said these topics are becoming more important to them. Kids know this is important and want to learn more.

So what to do?

Dana Mortenson of the organization World Savvy has some answers. World Savvy is a group working with thousands of teachers to integrate global competence into their lessons.

What are the values, attitudes, skills and behaviors that must be cultivated if we’re going to live in a peaceful world? It’s an openness to new opportunities and ideas. It’s a desire to engage. It’s self-awareness about culture and respect for different perspectives. It’s comfort with ambiguity. It’s the skill to investigate the world through questions. Empathy and humility are big pieces of all of it.

World Savvy offers a variety of resources and tools that you can use to build global literacy skills in your students. You’ll find dozens of downloadable documents, lessons, professional learning activities, and student strategies.

So you’ve got a few months between now and next August. Plenty of time to put together some killer lessons that’ll throw your kids into the top percentile.

So . . . how did you do on your quiz? 

Correct answers (percentage of respondents who gave the correct answer)

1. D  (29 percent)
2. B  (49 percent)
3. A  (10 percent)
4. A  (12 percent)
5. A  (47 percent), C  (28 percent), G  (34 percent), H  (14 percent)
6. True  (34 percent)

cross posted at

Glenn Wiebe is an education and technology consultant with 15 years' experience teaching history and social studies. He is a curriculum consultant forESSDACK, an educational service center in Hutchinson, Kansas, blogs frequently at History Tech and maintains Social Studies Central, a repository of resources targeted at K-12 educators. Visit to learn more about his speaking and presentation on education technology, innovative instruction and social studies.