Follow Appalachian Magazine on Facebook:
I have always heard that Americans by and large are absolute imbeciles when it comes to geography. This is something that has been well documented over the past quarter-century — not only did a 2006 survey find that nine out of ten young Americans could not find Afghanistan on a map of Asia, it also revealed the fact that as a nation we trail every other industrial country in geography.
Speaking about this terrible disparity, National Geographic Society’s David Rutherford stated, “Young Americans just don’t seem to have much interest in the world outside of the U.S.”
Though sad, Rutherford’s commentary is probably far more accurate than we realize, but at least Americans know American geography, right?
There was a time I probably would have answered the above mentioned question in the affirmative, but that time has long since passed.
For me, the realization that Americans are geographic dimwits came in my freshmen year of college in South Carolina.
A proud West Virginian, I was astonished to learn how many people seemed to have no clue that West Virginia and Virginia are even separate states.
On a personal level, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “and yet the nation has the nerve to say that we’re the stupid ones…” each time I would encounter some guy who would take a look at my driver’s license and make a comment like, “Huh, that’s strange. I never knew that was a state.”
I specifically remember a conversation that went something like this:
Random +45-year-old man: So where are you from?
Me: West Virginia.
Random +45-year-old man: I love Virginia. Have family in Norfolk.
Me: Well, I’m from West Virginia.
Random +45-year-old man: Oh, okay. I believe that Norfolk is on the other side of the state, isn’t it?
Me: [Exhausted of even trying] Yeah… You think the West Virginia Tech Hokies can win the Big East championship this year?
Random +45-year-old man: I don’t know, they looked good against Miami!
At first, I thought the above conversation was an anomaly, a simple interaction with someone not firing on all eight, but over the next four years, I realized that people in the Dirty South simply don’t know anything about geography — as the dear teenage beauty queen from South Carolina so elegantly proved.
On more than one occasion I found myself — just trying to keep my own sanity — bragging about traveling to Charleston, Virginia, or Richmond, West Virginia. For most, it made no difference. West, East, North, South, Virginia was all the same, it simply did not matter — no one had a clue what or where you were talking about anyway.
Did these people sleep through their history class? Did they not have that pull down map at the front of the class like we did?
After talking with others, I have realized that I am not alone in this struggle and that the South is not alone in their ignorance. It seems that as soon as one gets away from a state that actually borders Virginia or West Virginia, the average person ceases to realize that the Old Dominion and the Mountain State had a bitter divorce some 150 years ago… and the Mountaineers won the custody battle for the two children, Berkeley and Jefferson!
Perhaps the folks lobbying in Wheeling for the name State of Kanawha were on to something!
The purpose of this article is very simple, to say in a loud and clear voice, “Hello… West Virginia and Virginia are two totally different states!”
If you’ve ever ran into someone who doesn’t seem to get it, click the LIKE button to remind your Facebook friends that two states are different!