The National Geographic Education Foundation announced that four key Congressional leaders have won its "Geography Legislator of the Year" award for 2008. Recognized for their commitment to promoting improved geographic literacy among American K-12 students are:
- Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.)
- Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.)
- Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.)
- Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.)
Presented by National Geographic Chairman Gilbert Grosvenor, the award — in the form of a compelling photograph from the recipient’s state or district made by a National Geographic photographer, along with a citation — 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.
"It is heartening to see key leaders in Congress stepping forward to ensure that American students have the opportunity to acquire a world-class geography education," said Grosvenor. "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."
Kennedy, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, has taken a leadership role in promoting the Teaching Geography Is Fundamental Act (TGIF), introduced in the Senate as S. 727. 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. Kennedy and his staff have included the essentials of the TGIF legislation in their discussion draft for the reauthorization of NCLB.
Alexander, a former secretary of education under President George H.W. Bush and the ranking member on the HELP Committee’s Subcommittee on Children and Families is also a senate leader on geography education issues. Alexander was instrumental in advising National Geographic on the design and establishment of a grassroots, volunteer network of professors and K-12 educators that reaches teachers with innovative training and classroom materials on geography in each state. He is an original co-sponsor of the S. 727 bill and has been a vital advocate for including the legislation in the reauthorization of NCLB.
Walz, a former high school geography teacher in Mankato, Minn., and a member of the Minnesota Geographic Alliance, has fostered practical, hands-on global education for students, including promoting people-to-people ties between the United States and China. He has been effective in building broad support for the TGIF bill, introduced as H.R. 1228 in the House, personally collecting over a dozen co-sponsorships from his colleagues.
Blunt, the House Minority Whip, has provided leading support in the House for H.R. 1228. Blunt has expressed to National Geographic Chairman Grosvenor a strong personal interest in promoting geographic literacy. Blunt’s early co-sponsorship of H.R. 1228 and his work promoting the TGIF bill from his position in the House leadership have reflected that commitment.
In 2007, the inaugural Geography Legislator of the Year award was presented to Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and then-Rep. (now Sen.) Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), the four lead sponsors of the Teaching Geography Is Fundamental Act.
A 2006 Roper Public Affairs-National Geographic study on geographic literacy found that a significant number of Americans ages 18 to 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 the events of Sept. 11 and Hurricane Katrina.
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 My Wonderful World to support geographic learning at home, in school and in the community.