Teaching Geography in Secondary Schools: A Reader

By Maggie Smith | Go to book overview

18

Towards a critical school Geography

John Huckle

In our working lives as geography teachers we should never forget or abandon those ideals which draw so many of us to the job in the first place. School Geography has the potential to develop young people's understanding of their 'place' in the world and so help form their identity. It can enable them to perceive the structures and processes which help and hinder their development, and can also foster the commitment to social justice and democracy, and the conserving, participatory and critical forms of citizenship, whereby they can seek to conserve or change those structures and processes and thereby help to create a better world. The International Charter on Geographical Education (IGU 1995) provides a comprehensive statement of such ideals and they are reflected in the aims, for Geography in the National Curriculum for England and Wales (DES 1990).

The reality is that such ideals are increasingly neglected or put to one side as geography teachers' work, along with that of other teachers, is deprofessionalized or proletarianized. Teachers are increasingly required to adopt the role of technicians who deliver prescribed and pre-packaged content, assess and stratify pupils by reference to standard norms, spend more and more time serving an educational bureaucracy, and cope with a growing minority of alienated and disruptive pupils. New working conditions and forms of accountability increase teachers' workloads and erode their professional, economic and political status (Harris 1994). Young geography teachers are therefore more likely to work with disillusioned and cynical older colleagues than they were ten or twenty years ago. They are more likely to be affected by the high levels of stress and low levels of morale which pervade some staffrooms and they are more likely to have inadequate resources, facilities or encouragement to teach Geography in an enlightened way. Schools and teachers are variously affected by recent attempts to redefine, restructure and repoliticize schooling, but in general it is becoming harder for geography teachers to work in ways which reflect progressive and radical ideals.

Nevertheless, this chapter urges geography teachers to cling to such ideals and seeks to introduce them to the theory and practice whereby they find contemporary expression. It traces the history of the radical or critical tradition in geographical education and suggests how it can be revived and updated using advances in academic geography and curriculum studies. It outlines the aims, content and pedagogy of a critical geography for a society undergoing profound change and

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