Why write a book on geography education?

 Teaching Geography 11-18: a conceptual approach published by Open University Press, is an attempt to say why geography should be a formative subject and contribute to the education of all teenagers.

For years, books on 11-18 geography education in the UK have focused on classroom techniques, new pedagogic technologies and alternative modes of student assessment. Not this one. Teaching Geography 11-18 digs deep. It asks not only what geography is for, but bases its answer on a set of key concepts able to sustain an exciting and relevant curriculum. It also grounds its arguments in the latest geographical research, thus re-establishing the broken connection between geography teaching in schools and that in higher education.

Why we wrote it

Under pressure from ‘research assessment’ and the need to chase research funds, academics have less time for school geography. No longer do professors write school textbooks or act as chief examiners for A levels: with notable exceptions, they have not been engaged to geography in schools for many years. This matters, for since the school curriculum was ‘codified’ as the national curriculum statutory order the content of the curriculum has become somewhat ‘stuck’.

Furthermore, teachers in schools also seem to have had less time for the subject, coping with teaching strategies, assessment demands and high stakes accountability (and Ofsted).

Meanwhile, in the background we have an ‘information society’ in which the subject disciplines are said to be no longer important.

We think students have suffered as a result of all these pressures.

We also think that geography has enormous ‘promise’ and potential for education. For this to be realised, school teachers need to be engaged with the discipline in some way: with an understanding of what it is for, how it has evolved and changed, what are its key ideas.

Thus, we have tried to write a book about geography-in-education.

Who is this book for?

We have written this book for teachers of geography. It is a book for teachers of geography who have a serious moral interest in their work – that is, teachers who are interested in what they do and why they do it. They do not see themselves as ‘technicians’ delivering lessons, but as engaged teachers making the curriculum.

Readers of this book are encouraged to nurture their ‘passion’ for the subject: they think it has something to say. They understand that teaching is an intensely practical activity, but one that depends for its moral strength on its intellectual content.

Teachers who like this book are probably not scared of seeing themselves in some way as public intellectuals. Teachers are public intellectuals we feel. They are paid to think carefully and cautiously about how best to help prepare young people for their adult lives. For geography teachers the main intellectual resource they have at their disposal is … geography. They are public intellectuals whether they are among the tiny minority who work in selective fee-paying schools or the vastly greater number who work in the various kinds of comprehensive state schools.

It is not a practical ‘handbook’ with lots of exercises and checklists. It is a practical ‘thinkbook’.

It is especially for those who want to share in geography’s future as an element of the education of all young people.

Is the book a perfect answer to the question of geography’s future in school curricula?

No, the book is not even ‘complete’.

We are conscious that in selecting a range of concepts we may not have struck the right balance for some tastes. We have been very motivated to capture in some way the significant movements that have taken place in the discipline of geography in recent years. Geography is not an island. It influences other disciplines and has for example encouraged a spatial turn in the social sciences generally. Similarly it is influenced by other disciplines, notably in recent years by cultural studies.

But in doing so we may have disregarded to some extent what for some is the vital characteristic of the subject – its desire to keep the physical and human worlds together. We can claim to have achieved this in some ways, tackling ‘sustainable development’ for example, but for many readers there will be a lack of ‘physical geography’.

Maybe this is a future project. It is certainly a matter for debate.

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2 Responses to “Why write a book on geography education?”


  1. 1 John Lyon April 23, 2010 at 11:30 am

    I found Teaching Geograpghy 11-16 an excellent read. I’ve been going back to it and constantly reflecting on the ideas and challenges it poses. I’ve been a geography teacher for 30 years and of course a University student for four years before that. I knew I wanted to study geography from about 13 or 14 and I knew geography ‘lit my fire’. Lots of my students have been complimentary so I must have done something right, but along the way I must admit I’ve had some quite dark moments.None more so that dealing with the concept of ‘space’. For instance, I wish at the time I was studying (and teaching) locational modelling I could have articulated my personal disquiet about the value of locational models, first for me as a student exploring the notion of space and then as a teacher. However, I studied it and taught it without reflecting on why it seemed so arid and inappropriate, both for me and of course later, for the young people I taught, to help them to better undersand their world. I just got on with it – and is was on the spec after all. In teaching sometimes, especially in the busyness of it all time to stop and reflect on the ‘promise of geography’ is limited. The chapter on Space (and the whole book) challenges us all stop and reflect and see geography as the dynamic subect it is. I found the book inspirational – it reminded me of what the promise of geography could be. I think it should be read by all geography teachers who are responding to the challenge of teaching geography today. To pinch a very old phrase, ‘and by golly it’ll do you good’.


  1. 1 Geography education vs. geography learning « Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub Trackback on January 29, 2010 at 12:55 pm

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