What's the capital of the Midwest state of Missouri?
What's the deepest sea?
These are the kinds of questions a lot of older Americans enjoyed answering in geography class in school. Sometimes it became a matter of pride just to know facts about the earth around us - not just isolated trivia like the state capitals, but also detailed knowledge about population trends, threats to the environment, and so forth.
The problem is, there is no geography class in thousands of U.S. schools any longer. Geography has been lumped into general social studies or eliminated entirely in favor of more reading and hard science courses or classes in cultural awareness.
This has led to some embarrassment for the nation. According to the latest surveys, 37 percent of young Americans cannot find Iraq on a map, even though the country has been fighting a war there for more than five years. And even after all the publicity about the terrible devastation of Hurricane Katrina three years ago, one in three young Americans cannot even pinpoint our own state of Louisiana.
No wonder this week - and the third week of every November - is Geography Awareness Week, sponsored by the National Geographic Society. This effort has many tentacles, including the offer of maps and lesson plans for teachers and a week's worth of geographical information for the general public online.
Reading it, perhaps more people will know that Jefferson City is the capital of Missouri. And that the deepest sea is the western Pacific, where the Mariana Trench is almost 11 thousand meters from surface to ocean floor. Of course, finding Missouri or the Mariana Trench on a map may take us awhile.
Read more of Ted's personal reflections and stories from the road on his blog, Ted Landphair's America.