The time-honored geography contest GeoBee is now history. National Geographic, which has sponsored the event for more than three decades, has decided to “permanently discontinue” the bee, citing issues about equitable participation.
According to the outlet’s website, the National Geographic Society decided to cancel the contest after 33 years “to make way for new, transformative, and innovative geography education opportunities in which students around the globe can more equitably participate.” It is unclear when the official decision was made.
The last GeoBee was held in 2019. The GeoBee was suspended in 2020-2021 during the government shutdowns for COVID-19, and National Geographic claimed that the pause for COVID gave NGS members the opportunity to reimagine geographic education “entirely.” The reimagined curriculum apparently did not include competition, as the GeoBee never returned.
Critics of the bee’s cancellation suggest that the move may have been racially or ethnically motivated, as young males of Asian descent seemed to dominate the competition for more than a decade. National Geographic’s new emphasis on helping students “more equitably participate” has only fueled such claims.
In addition, National Geographic has also attempted to shift focus away from friendly competition among Americans toward global activism. The outlet claimed it wants to establish a new generation of “solution-seekers” from around the world who can “confront our century’s most pressing challenges,” including COVID-19 and “racial injustice.” National Geographic even alluded to environmental activism and perhaps so-called climate change when it claimed that such “solution-seekers” could ultimately “help protect our planet.”
The GeoBee first began in 1989 and quickly became a popular niche competition on account of Alex Trebek, the beloved late host of “Jeopardy!,” who likewise hosted the bee until 2014. In 2012, President Barack Obama presented one of the questions during the bee and also discussed the importance of geographical knowledge.
Competition for the bee was fierce, compelling participants to memorize arcane information found in encyclopedias, almanacs, atlases, and other such resources. Nihar Janga, an eighth-grader from Texas, became the last GeoBee winner by correctly answering the following question from the 2019 competition, hosted by comedian Mo Rocca: “One-third of Norway’s northernmost county is located on what plateau?” The runner-up, Atreya Mallanna, a sixth-grader from Massachusetts, answered the question incorrectly.
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