Critical School Geography

Critical School Geography, Education for Global Citizenship

An introduction to a work in progress

(Go direct to contents page to download chapters and associated curriculum units)

Many years ago in the concluding chapter of Geographical Education: Reflection and Action I wrote

A genuinely socialist approach to geography in schools should stem from a recognition that education is a means of both reproducing and challenging existing social and human-environment relations. Geography lessons can not only sustain prevailing beliefs and attitudes but may also allow pupils and teachers to examine alternatives openly and critically. There is scope for committed work within schools and the current crisis of capitalism provides geography teachers with significant opportunities. . . . . . . Such work would represent an attempt to break the prevailing correspondence between schooling, culture and economy and requires politically aware geography teachers who recognize their role as agents of change. (p. 151)

The crisis I mentioned in 1983 has not gone away. The financial crisis of 2008 signalled the failure of neoliberal capitalism but a radical alternative has yet to gain widespread support. In the decades since 1980 the economic, social and political geography of the UK has been transformed in the interests of a rich and powerful elite and schooling in England has been reformed to sweep away the progressive and radical ideas of the 1960s and 1970s. The past decade has been one of austerity in which ordinary people have paid the price of bankers’ excesses. The stagnation of average living standards, the decline of public services, and the  impacts of migration have been exploited by rightwing populists to sow dissent and prompt the vote to leave the European Union. Together with the recession resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, this will bring a further restructuring of the UK’s geography.

Britain’s structural crisis remains unresolved yet its causes and possible solutions are now better understood. Green socialists maintain that democracy, in all spheres of social life at all geographical scales, is the key to harnessing new technologies and forms of governance to enable global sustainable development or a global green new deal. At a time when we seek the “next normal”, their views deserve consideration in geography classrooms alongside other views. Unesco’s guidance on education for sustainable development and global citizenship invites geography teachers to draw on advances in critical academic geography and critical education to develop a curriculum truly relevant to sustainable futures and the lives of today’s teenagers.

It was such thinking that led me to return to the topic of socialist or critical school geography. To my knowledge there is no text that argues for the reform of school geography from a leftwing perspective, yet there is an urgent need for one if the concerns and hopes of older school students are to be realistically addressed. The theory and practice of secondary school geography has improved immeasurably over the last four decades, but I hope to convince readers that its critical elements remain underdeveloped despite the resources that critical academic geographers and educationalists provide.

The following considerations continue to shape my writing of the book:

  • Critical social theory is key to understanding how the world works and how it might be changed for the better. It informs both critical academic geography and critical education and represents powerful knowledge which school students should consider in ways appropriate to their age, ability and interests.
  • Critical pedagogy seeks to counter false understandings (ideology), help people understand the causes of oppression and alienation, and offer liberating alternatives. Three forms of critical pedagogy are particularly relevant for school geogaphy: eco-pedagogy, the pedagogy of place, and post-colonial pedagogy.
  • Teenagers face a troubled and fast changing world. They have many concerns including school, jobs, housing, the environment, and their mental health. The curriculum units in this book seek to address these concerns.
  • Curriculum making. There is an urgent need for geography teachers to reclaim their professionalism and develop curriculum units in consultation with students and others. The curriculum units provide models of how this might be done.
  • There is value in geography teachers drawing on guidance developed by Unesco and developing global political literacy and citizenship.
  • Open source. Teachers do not have ready access to a university library. As far as possible the ebook makes reference to sources freely available on the internet. Membership of the Geographical Association and access to its journals is assumed.
  • Professional development. The book with its examples of curriculum making, many references and follow-up videos, provides a vehicle for the professional development of geography teachers.

I have now finished writing all nine chapters and associated curriculum units. Their contents are outlined on the contents page from which they can be freely downloaded.  I now intend to edit and update them before they are compiled into a single ebook that I hope to publish here in autumn 2020.

I would be interested to hear your comments and suggestions via the feedback page. Meanwhile if you find the chapters and units useful I would be grateful if you would recommend them to your colleagues and networks.

John Huckle

Bedford, September 2020