Magazine article The Spectator

Geography Is Bunk

Magazine article The Spectator

Geography Is Bunk

Article excerpt

BRITISH schoolchildren jetting off to compete in a mental Olympiad would be ill advised to choose geography as their specialist subject, or even to stray out of their teacher's sight. Should they get lost, they wouldn't have much hope of explaining to a stranger where they came from. According to a recent NOP survey, 13 per cent of eight to 16-year-olds cannot locate Britain on a map of Europe, and 53 per cent cannot place London on a map of the British Isles, with some of them selecting Aberdeenshire. Sixty per cent cannot name the language spoken in Tokyo, 82 per cent can't place the Acropolis in Greece, and 30 per cent don't know that the leaning tower of Pisa is in Italy.

But let no one say that these young people are not learning anything in their geography lessons. If you want to know why so many intelligent but impressionable British youths are to be found each May Day chanting against the evils of capitalism and lobbing bricks through the windows of their nearest McDonald's, you need look no further than the national curriculum for geography. Forget the notion that geography means long, boring hours spent naming the mountains of South America or the chief exports of Mozambique; what it means these days is a one-sided examination of the ethics of global capitalism. Take Unit 18, entitled `the global fashion industry'. Pupils, says the blurb, are expected to `investigate the interdependence between people, places and environments in this industry and through this study begin to understand the concept of globalisation, i.e., how what happens in one part of the world affects people everywhere'.

If the tone of the preamble doesn't raise suspicions about the nature of this unit, the sources of information around which students are expected to base their work certainly will. Of the six websites to which they are referred, not one of them puts any kind of case for the free market, or offers any kind of argument that Third World countries have anything to gain from free trade. One of them is the website of something called Tidec, a group of West Midlands teachers who have got together to produce what are known in the trade as `education resources'. For example, children have access to a case study called `Globalisation and the World Cup' containing all the snippets of information you need to scrawl a slogan on a banner and wave it outside your local Nike stockist. The stated aim of this unit is to promote 'empathy', of which plenty is on offer. Typical of the men and women who sew your Nikes together, we learn, is Sadisah, who earns, or rather used to earn before she was sacked for trade-union activism, 1.50 a day. That the sum of fl.50 in Indonesia buys you somewhat more than it does in Britain, and that if she hadn't had a job at Nike she would be earning less, isn't discussed. The only other information provided is her moaning: `if we make a mistake they call us dogs and prostitutes and sometimes they hit us', and `the only rest you get is when you collapse at your machine' and `to you these shoes have an image of freedom, to us they mean oppression'. End of lesson one: global capitalism is run exclusively by brutes.

Sadisah's lifestyle is then contrasted with that of Ben, a fictional Nike executive who earns millions a year and whose thoughts on the global economic system are limited to gloating over the size of his seven-bedroom house and the fact that a chauffeur picks him up every morning. …

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