The News We Don’t Know

Elizabeth Vierkant – 

In recent years, it has come to the attention of many Americans that they have a lack of knowledge about world news.

“I agree that this is a problem,” Maria Alm, Dean of the College of Arts, Communication, Humanities, and Social Sciences (CACHSS) program at UW–Stout, said. “Many of our students are mono-lingual, which means that they do not have direct access to news or information from non-English speaking countries.”

According to National Geographic, America’s lack of knowledge on world news was first noticed in 2016. Gary Johnson, a presidential candidate at the time, did not know what Aleppo, a large city in Syria, was.

Following this, a 2016 survey in the form of a test was conducted to test US citizens’ knowledge on global affairs. It revealed that most young Americans struggle to understand this concept. The average score was 55 percent.

“I don’t know if students know any less or more than the general public,” Kevin Anzzolin, Assistant Professor in the Communication Studies, Global Languages, and Performing Arts program at University of Wisconsin Stout said. “Rather, I assume that we’re all in the same pool, so to speak – whether professors or students, we have all been affected by Facebook algorithms, customized newsfeed, and political views tethered to the punch-drunk pace of social media.”

According to Anzzolin’s experiences living in Spain and Mexico, he has witnessed many Americans that lack cultural graces and awareness. While these behaviors can be forgiven, he fears that the lack of knowledge could turn into lack of empathy.

When asked why he believes Americans don’t know much about world news, Anzzolin said, “Not to be too simplistic, but I think a lot of it has to do with personal political economy. Why travel the world if at Disney World’s Epcot Center you can see Mexico, China, or Sweden all within an afternoon?”

Several students at UW–Stout also feel as though they don’t know much about news outside of the United States.

“The only thing I ever know about world news is when something really bad happens, like natural disasters.” Sophie Quandt, a junior in the special education program said.

“That’s all that the news channels report about world news,” Lia Spence, a sophomore majoring in applied social science, continued off of Sophie’s statement. “[American news] might do small segments, but there isn’t much. They’re usually more focused around where they are such as Wisconsin stations focusing on Wisconsin news.”

Anzzolin believes that understanding world news could be improved through simple curiosity. According to him, a non-judgemental outlook will help Americans learn more than they had in the past.

“Ignorance of how the rest of the world operates may indeed have a notable effect on everyday Americans,” Anzzolin concluded. “… the current debates about immigration policy along our southern border do suggest a marked ignorance of other countries, history, and, most generally, our place in the social world. We are currently seeing [these] very real and heartbreaking consequences of this lack of knowledge play out.”