Behind the New National Geographic Family Atlas

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I was stunned by the results. It is surprising and sad to realize that less than 20 percent of our young people can locate such in-the-news countries like Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel.

Hopefully people will put the Family Reference Atlas on their coffee table rather than on their bookshelf. When Iraq is discussed on the evening news, they just might open the book and see where Iraq is located in the world.

Why do you think we should learn about geography, particularly maps and our place in the world?

Learning about a region and beginning to understand—it starts with the simple knowledge of where it is located. Understanding the political boundaries and seeing the physical features (that in many cases define those boundaries) starts the questioning and learning process. It all starts with the map. A map is a gateway to information and further learning.

If you look at Iraq, in the atlas, you will start to get general information about the country and the surrounding area. You will begin to learn about its population, the language, and the literacy rate. When you start to learn about this country, you may begin to understand more about the events that are currently in the news.

The thematic maps in this atlas address environmental stresses. The cumulative effect of population growth and density, waste and chemicals, overuse of limited resources and the burning of fossil fuel are impacting the world as never before. Young people everywhere must understand the issues that threaten the earth and the consequences of not responding.

Geography might be the most important subject taught in school. I think that our best chance to retain our quality of life is through education. Our voting population must be geographically literate. What better way to start that process than with an atlas.

What advice would you give to families who would like to improve their knowledge of geography and encourage their children to learn about the world?

Along with an atlas, people should have a map of the world on their wall. One project we've been working on is the publication of various sizes and styles of wall maps. These wall maps can be displayed easily in any home, office, or child's bedroom. We have world maps that are large enough to cover an entire wall or small enough to fit on a bulletin board. Everyone should have a map of the world.

I travel a lot with work. On a trip to a remote village in Alaska, I went into a subsistence hunter's home—it was a cabin, and the ceiling was so low that I couldn't stand up in it. He had four children living in this cabin with him, and his ceiling was completely covered with National Geographic maps. That's how he taught his children geography.

Some of his maps were quite old and worn, so I sent him a whole new set of laminated maps for his ceiling. What a wonderful example and creative way for him to teach his children. If he had an atlas, it would have been in a prominent, easy to access place. If he can have National Geographic maps on his ceiling, why shouldn't every home in the United States have a map of the world on their wall?

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