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Curriculum Studies, Selected Works

Learning, Curriculum and Life Politics: the selected works of Ivor F. Goodson

Becoming a School Subject

The advances in university geography after the Second World War partly aided the acceptance of geography as a subject suitable for the most able children, but problems remained. In 1967 Marchant noted: 'Geography is at last attaining to intellectual respectability in the academic streams of our secondary schools. But the battle is not quite over'. He instanced the continuing problem: 'May I quote from just two reports written in 1964, one of a girls' grammar school and the other on a well-known boys' independent school. First, 'geography is at present... an alternative to Latin, which means that a number of girls cease to take it at the end of the third year... there is no work available at A level'. Or second, perhaps a more intriguing situation: 'In the ‘O’ level forms, the subject is taken only by those who are neither classicists, nor modern linguists, nor scientists. The sixth form is then drawn from this rather restricted group with the addition of a few scientists who failed to live up to expectations'

To seal its acceptance by the universities and high status sixth forms, geography had to embrace new paradigms and associated rhetoric.  The supreme paradox is that the crisis in school geography in the late 1960s led not to change which might have involved more school pupils but to changes in the opposite direction in pursuit of total academic acceptance. This push for university status centred around the 'new geography', which moved away from regional geography to more quantitative data and model building. The battle for new geography represented a major clash between those traditions in geography representing more pedagogic and utilitarian traditions (notably the fieldwork geographers and some regionalists) and those pushing for total academic acceptance.

'New Geography' as an Academic Discipline

At the Madingley Lectures in 1963, which effectively launched the era of 'new geography', E.A. Wrigley contended: 'What we have seen is a concept overtaken by the course of historical change. 'Regional' geography in the great mould has been as much a victim of the industrial revolution as the peasant, landed society, the horse and the village community, and for the same reason'. To this problem Chorley and Haggett proposed an 'immediate solution' through 'building up the neglected geometrical side of the discipline'. They noted:

Research is already swinging strongly into this field and the problem of implementation may be more acute in the schools than in the universities. Here we are continually impressed by the vigour and reforming zeal of 'ginger groups' like the School Mathematics Association which have shared in fundamental review of mathematics teaching in schools. There the inertia problems - established textbooks, syllabuses, examinations - are being successfully overcome and a new wave of interest is sweeping through the schools. The need in geography is just as great and we see no good reason why changes here should not yield results equally rewarding.
  1. Marchant, E.C. (1965) 'Some responsibilities of the teacher of geography', Geography, 3, p. 133.
  2. Wrigley, E.A. (1967) 'Changes in the philosophy of geography', in R. Chorley and P. Haggett (Eds) Frontiers in Geographical Teaching, London: Methuen, p. 13.
  3. Chorley, R. and Haggett, P. (1900) Frontier Movements and the Geographical Tradition, p. 377.
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  • Date of publication: 15/09/2005
  • Number of pages (as Word doc): 272
  • Publisher: Routledge
  • Subject:
    Curriculum Studies, Narrative Theory
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  • Appears in:
    Learning, Curriculum and Life Politics: the selected works of Ivor F. Goodson
  • Number of editions: 1
  • Paperback
  • Price of book: £27.99
  • ISBN: 978-0-415-35220-8
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