Last Friday’s fumble by the South Carolina contestant in the Miss Teen USA pageant prompted unrelenting jokes from late-night comedians plus a swarm of commentary on thousands of blogs. The video clip of her unintelligible answer has become People’s Exhibit No. 1 in arguments for everything from the basic intelligence of blondes to what’s wrong with beauty pageants.

To Miss South Carolina’s credit, hers wasn’t the only confused answer; she just took much longer than any of the others to sit down. But she has bounced back from this remarkably, and her unintended fame may ultimately work to her advantage.

Lauren Caitlin Upton has already made the rounds of television talk shows, and proven herself at least prepared — if not fully ready — for prime time. More than seven million viewers have managed to find her — map or no map — on the World Wide Web, and we can name numerous celebrities whose entire careers were founded on less substance than this.

But that still leaves the question originally posed unanswered: Exactly why can’t one-fifth of Americans locate the United States on a world map? Perhaps the reason is, it takes some time to overcome a generation of neglect.

For too many years, the subject of geography was lumped together in school with other “social studies” disciplines like history and civics. That may work for an isolationist society. But at a time when Texans must compete for jobs with residents of China and India as fiercely as they do people living in the next city or state, we ignore the world situation at our economic — if not political — peril.

Fortunately, geography is getting a higher priority in classes these days, even if Miss South Carolina’s response failed to prove it.

Geography Awareness Week has been held the third week of November since 1987, with the intent of promoting geographic education in schools and among the public. Sponsored by the National Geographic Society and other geographic organizations, the week has helped create a renewed appreciation for a subject that had previously been relegated to a status comparable to basket-weaving. Some states are now requiring a course in high school geography for admission.

If you’re a little rusty finding your way around the globe, that’s easily corrected. Somewhere in her babble, Upton had the essence of a solution: “Some people out there in our nation don’t have maps…” Or, they have them and don’t look at them.

Brownwood Bulletin