Losing sight of the subject

Yesterday I was at the University of Brighton talking to PGCE students about the ways teachers use educational research. At the end of the session I showed them my own 10 year challenge; a lesson I taught ten years ago and a lesson I taught now.

These lessons are ones I have discussed here before. The lesson from a decade ago was one looking at crime. The main part of the lesson involved pupils reading an account of a mugging and considering the sentence given from the point of view of the mugger and the victim and other people affected. The aim, I think was to consider that different people have different views on the same issue.

I was reminded of this lesson again this morning when I woke up to find this tweet filling my time line.

For the third time in less than a year I am sharing a worksheet on migration handed out in a school in England. This was given to Year 9 Geography students. The exercise looks at the impacts of migration, singling out Polish EU citizens. Let’s have a closer look. 1/ pic.twitter.com/FCjXPS4SWG— Prof Tanja Bueltmann (@cliodiaspora) February 5, 2019

In it we see a resource used to teach a Year 9 geography lesson on the impacts of migration. The problems about the way the issues of migration are presented is discussed in detail in Professor Bueltmann’s thread but I would like to draw attention to something else.

There is no geography here.

Geography might well concern itself with the impacts of migration but it does it by looking at the evidence. Where are the sources for these claims? Where are the newspaper articles? Maps? Photographs? Figures? There is nothing geographical going on here. What we seem to have here is a third-rate citizenship lesson where pupils discuss what unidentified people might think about an issue.

This is similar to the lesson I discussed at the university yesterday. It is a lesson about an issue but is devoid of any real subject knowledge and it happens a lot in geography; we are not alone. I have seen it in English lessons where a text is just a jumping off point to discuss a contemporary problem (not the writer’s portrayal or it or the reader’s reaction) and history lessons where the aim seems to be to draw unconvincing parallels between an event in the past and and a topical issue today.

There are meaningful things to teach about the geography of crime and the geography of migration. We can use data to identify patterns. Look at the views of specific groups. Study the impacts over time on economic, social, environmental and political factors. What we can’t do is scribble down some things people might think about it and then ask pupils to respond. That is not geography.

I’m afraid that lessons like the ones we see shared on twitter this morning are the result of taking the knowledge out of the subject and deciding what we want to do is simply explore our reaction to something based on existing experience.

I don’t know which individual created it or which individuals are teaching it but I know the culture it came from and it is one where the we have lost sight of our subjects.

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3 thoughts on “Losing sight of the subject

  1. I taught geography in Australia for 14 years and loved it but became increasingly dissatisfied with the way the “science” was replaced by “social”. By the time I gave up teaching it and moved into education is was a pale shadow and senior secondary students turned away from the subject in droves. Inteacher rducation I was appalled at the students’ lack of understanding of basic geographical knowledge and understanding and introduced an elective in the primary program in an attempt to remedy this but only a minority chose this (but they loved it – “why wasn’t this taught to us in school?” was a common response. To all intents and purposes the subject is dead at all levels and has been replaced with social soup. History has suffered similarly and often the two are combined. Such a pity.

    Liked by 1 person

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