WASHINGTON (March 2, 2010)—The National Geographic Education Foundation announced today that four key Congressional leaders have won its “Geography Legislator of the Year” award for 2009. Recognized for their commitment to promoting improved geographic literacy among American K-12 students are Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.) and Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.).
The award celebrates legislative leadership in ensuring that young Americans receive an education that prepares them to succeed in an international future by understanding the geographic realities that underlie a global economy, geopolitical instability, environmental decision-making, cultural diversity and active citizenship. Presented by the vice chairman of the National Geographic Education Foundation, Patrick F. Noonan, the award is in the form of a compelling National Geographic photograph from the recipient’s state or district along with a citation.
“It is heartening to see key leaders in Congress stepping forward to ensure that American students have the opportunity to become what we call ‘geo-literate,'” said Noonan. “These legislators are making a vital difference in our nation’s ability to succeed in a global future by working to make high-quality geography education available for all K-12 students.”
Each of this year’s recipients is a co-sponsor of the Teaching Geography Is Fundamental Act (TGIF). TGIF would help to rectify the absence of dedicated federal funding for geography education by authorizing competitive grants to improve K-12 geography curriculum, teacher training and instructional materials. Geography is the only core K-12 subject under No Child Left Behind (NCLB) not to have received designated federal funding since NCLB went into effect in 2002.
Mikulski, a four-term incumbent, serves as chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies. Mikulski has found creative ways for federal agencies to support geography education and is a co-sponsor of TGIF, introduced as S. 749 in the Senate.
Murkowski, a co-sponsor of TGIF in both the 110th and 111th Congresses, serves on the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee’s Subcommittee on Children and Families. As someone who cares deeply about education policy (she publishes a weekly Education Newsletter on her Web site), Murkowski has been an important voice in support of TGIF and the promotion of geographic literacy.
Ehlers, an original co-sponsor of TGIF, introduced as H.R. 1240 in the House, has provided leading support for the bill. A former physics teacher and chairman of the physics department at his alma mater, Calvin College, Ehlers serves on the Education and Labor Committee’s Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education. Ehlers’ stature as a leader in education policy has helped H.R. 1240 to garner a bipartisan group of 95 cosponsors.
Davis, a co-sponsor of TGIF in both the 110th and 111th Congresses, serves on the Education and Labor Committee’s Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education. Prior to entering Congress she served for nine years on the San Diego School Board, including roles as president and vice president.
In previous years the Geography Legislator of the Year award has been presented to Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Rep. Tim Walz (R-Minn.) and then-Rep. (now Sen.) Roger Wicker (R-Miss.).
A 2006 Roper Public Affairs-National Geographic study on geographic literacy found that a significant number of Americans ages 18-24 lack basic global knowledge. Only 40 percent of the respondents polled were able to point out Iraq on a map of the Middle East, and almost half could not locate India on a map of Asia. On a map of the United States, fewer than half could identify Mississippi or New York, even after Hurricane Katrina and the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
The National Geographic Education Foundation was established by the National Geographic Society in 1988 and pursues a mission of “teaching people how to care for the planet, its resources, and all of its inhabitants.” The Foundation supports a national network of state-based teacher training programs called Geography Alliances. It awards some $5 million a year in innovative geography education programs, including a public-engagement campaign called MyWonderfulWorld.org to support geographic learning at home, in school and in the community.