So you think you know about Britain?

That is the title of a new book by the geographer Danny Dorling, who last year published an important text called Injustice; why social inequality persists. In the opening pages, Dorling has somethings to say about geography teaching:

“The geography you may have been taught late on a Thursday afternoon at school is not the geography that is taught in universities today. When I was at school I was taught that an Ice Age was coming. I was taught things I might need to know if I were to rule West Africa: what crops grew there; what languages the people spoke; and how to dress to survive life in a desert (do not wear nylon in the Sahara, else the fabric will melt and stick to you). My teachers were enthusiastic and friendly but I  cannot remember much more than that. Geogrpahy then was about tea from Ceylon and rubber-tapping in the Amazon, about who we, the British, could exploit, about what they had, where they were, and how to rule them. The younger teachers told us that the textbooks were wrong but that we had to repeat such things to get good marks at A Level.”

He goes on to explain some of the ways in which the geography taught in schools has changed since then:

“the main concerns are how human life might be ending with climate catastrophe and the impact of the extinction of so many plant and animal species, and of how growing worldwide inequalities of resources unfairly shape all human life across the planet”.

Dorling’s book is supposed to be a ‘popular geography’, one that explains to the general reader why geography matters. His focus is on the changing human geography of Britain.

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2 Responses to “So you think you know about Britain?”


  1. 1 Anestis Kokkinidis March 22, 2011 at 2:43 pm

    It appears to be a reality that human geography of today has come to existence as a result of a need to address global problems, including social inequalities and the current financial crisis. In other words, human geography is needed for the future citizens – the students of today – to come to grips with such problems. Awareness and power to them is also needed in order to be able to cope with them. I do not think that an A level exclusively can be what is needed today in order to face current problems at global level. That’s why those ‘ younger teachers’ may need our praise, for making sense of how human geography can be utilised and why a levels were not the one and only useful aspect of the geography education.

    • 2 Charles Rawding March 28, 2012 at 3:42 pm

      Is it only about problems though ? if so we really risk turning kids off the subject – what about the awe and wonder of the world – Vegas may be a problem for some, the Grand Canyon was a wonder for me (but a bit of a problem for the native Americans who’d been turned into Disney characters). We need to strike the right balance in ‘writing the world’.


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