When lanky Bill Bradley was in his heyday as a professional basketball player, nobody was better at getting from here to there on a basketball court. Now, as a United States senator, he is trying to get his fellow Americans to move from here to there in a more serious arena: their knowledge of world geography. Currently most Americans are lacking in geographic knowledge, numerous surveys show, and they think it's boring.
Senator Bradley says it's important that Americans move from ignorance to knowledge, and from boredom to the joy that comes from stimulating teaching, at home as well as at school. There is, he says, a ``joy that comes from just understanding other cultures, other places.''
The issue is more than joy. It also means understanding world events, and being able to respond individually, and as a nation, to them.
``To understand the situation in the Persian Gulf,'' Gilbert Grosvenor, the president of the National Geographic Society, says, ``you have to understand'' the culture, economy, religion, and histories of the nations around the Gulf.
First, a person must know what those nations are, which is one kind of geography. In a roomful of reporters given a ``pop quiz'' by the Geographic Society, only four knew seven of the eight nations that border the Gulf.
None knew all eight.
The other kind of geography is equally important: understanding the flow of ideas back and forth among the eight nations - ideas of culture, economy, and religion - throughout the centuries.
Bradley is a strong supporter of the current wide-ranging efforts, spearheaded by the Geographic Society, to improve the knowledge of the issue, and the teaching of geography in American schools.
The society was instrumental in getting a Senate Labor subcommittee to hold a hearing on the subject today.
The society is also working with teachers, at summer training sessions it holds annually; with educators from elementary to college level in alliances in 15 states, as they get together to develop improved ways of teaching geography; and with high-tech companies to take advantage of the latest technologies in the teaching of geography. All Americans are not geographic ignoramuses, says Mr. Grosvenor, nor do all schools poorly prepare students.
He says that ``there are pockets of excellence,'' of schools that do an excellent job teaching geography; some are for the affluent, others are in ghettoes.
``We are convinced,'' Grosvenor says, ``that teacher education is a key.'' It is not a matter of money.