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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 perceived problems encountered by school geography were used as an argument for change. The change then moved in those directions most likely to satisfy geography's aspiration for the full acceptance as a first rank academic discipline in universities and sixth forms. The changes emanating from universities were partly mediated through the Geographical Association to the schools. At stages where the gap between the two widened, the Association was always on hand to warn against too rapid redefinition and to exhort teachers to change and to encourage their re-training. In recent years fears about 'new geography' seem to have subsided and a period of consolidation has set in. Of the Cambridge base of Chorley and Haggett it was recently written, by David Walker, himself a protagonist: 'The academic revolution of quantification which has battered traditional scholarship in fields like economic history and linguistics has taken its toll in geography in recent years, but the Cambridge department which Professor Darby took over in 1966 remains on even keel. The tripos system continues to offer a fine balance of specialization and liberal education'.

Perceptions of the subject as being in crisis have considerably mellowed. A professor, who is on the Executive Committee and past holder of a number of positions in the Geographical Association stated: 'I see geography traditionally as a core to understand why places are as they are' but said of the present condition of geography: 'It isn't in flux... there is no end to the subject... of course the techniques by which you advance the subject will change... if the present emphasis on quantitative techniques helps our preciseness who could deny that it is an advance within the subject'.

Ultimately the reconciliation with new geography was closely linked with geography's long aspiration to be viewed as a scientific discipline. In a previous decade Professor Wooldridge had written a book on The Geographer as Scientist, but in 1970 Fitzgerald, reviewing the implications of new geography for teaching wrote: 'The change which many think is at the heart of geography is that towards the use of the scientific method in approaching problems'. Similarly, M. Yeates wrote: 'Geography can be regarded as a science concerned with the rational development and testing of theories that explain and predict the spatial distribution and location of various characteristics on the surface of the earth'.

At the twenty-first International Geographic Congress at New Delhi in 1968, Professor Norton Ginsburg identified social science as the 'fraternity' to aspire to. He saw: 'the beginnings of a new age for human geography as a fully-fledged member of the social science fraternity... the future of geography as a major research discipline will, I submit, be determined on the intellectual battlefields of the universities, where competition and conflict are intense; and where ideas are the hallmark of achievement'. He considered that 'research has moved rapidly, albeit erratically, towards the formulation of general propositions and theories of organization and behaviour and away from preoccupation with patterns per se. In this sense geography's internal organization and intellectual apparatus have come to resemble those of the social sciences, whereas formerly they were markedly at variance with them'. Hence by 1970, geography had finished its 'long march' to acceptance as an academic discipline; from now on its future would indeed be determined not in the school classroom but on 'the intellectual battlefields of the universities'.

  1. op. cit., Walker, p. 6.
  2. Interview Geography Professor, (14.12.78).
  3. Wooldridge, S.W. (1956) The Geographer as Scientist, London: Nelson.
  4. Fitzgerald, B.P. (1973) 'Scientific method, quantitative techniques and the teaching of geography', in Walford (Ed), op. cit., p. 85.
  5. Yeates, M.H. (1968) An Introduction to Quantitative Analysis in Economic Geography, New York: McGraw-Hill, p. 1.
  6. Ginsburg, N. (1969) 'Tasks of geography', Geography, 54, pp. 403-404.
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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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