It's one of those *homework assignments* that's sort of fallen out of fashion these days in the Education world (yes, that was a big 'E'), and, by extension, the rest of society. Somehow, someone got it in his or her head that "old-school" teaching methods involving memorization were bad, and then out went the proverbial baby with the bathwater.
What did we get as a result?
A more ignorant society, for one. Of course, education should force people to think critically and to develop higher-level thinking skills. It shouldn't be all about mindless recitation or memorization. But guess what? Those two things aren't mutually exclusive. Think about how much we laugh when Jay Leno does "Jaywalking" and shows how few people can identify Canada on a map, or name the Prime Minister of the UK. Yet at the same time, many in Education resist any teaching method that would require students to identify those things in a straightforward way. They say that Education should be all about deep thinking instead.
Here's a major problem with that: People are always thinking. They don't necessarily require a school, or even a teacher, to help them with this. Sometimes, "just knowing stuff" provides a pretty good foundation for that thinking. That's why I was pretty thrilled when I was home on pass and saw my 1st-grade cousins starting to be able to pick out some states, including Massachusetts, on a U.S. map. It may not be worthy of Rousseau and Descartes, but having a clue where they are in relation to everything else is a great first step.
When we stray too far from valuing knowledge, I think we're in trouble.