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Curriculum Studies, Selected Works

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

Becoming a School Subject

Layton's model warns against any monolithic explanation of subject and disciplines. It would seem that, far from being timeless statements of intrinsically worthwhile content, subjects and disciplines are in constant flux. Hence the study of knowledge in our society should move beyond the a-historical process of philosophical analysis towards a detailed historical investigation of the motives and actions behind the presentation and promotion of subjects and disciplines.

In examining the historical process of becoming a school subject the next section provides a brief case study of Geography. The subject's development is traced largely through the publications of the Geographical Association, which means that the focus of the study is on one aspect of the 'rhetoric' of subject promotion rather than on the 'reality' of curriculum practice. 'The elucidation of the relationship between 'rhetoric' and 'reality' remains one of the most profound challenges for future curriculum histories. (In one sense this relates to the broader problem of the historians' dependence on written and published documentary sources). This argues that subsequent studies are required to examine how far promotional activity effects the 'small print' of examination syllabuses and the content and practice of classrooms. Earlier work has, I think, evidenced that the promotional rhetoric employed by rural studies to validate its claims to be an academic discipline substantially modified the small print of an 'A' level syllabus.

The Establishment and Promotion of Geography

In the late nineteenth century geography was beginning to establish a place in the curricula of public, grammar and elementary schools. The subject was emerging from the initial birth pangs when it appears to have been little more than a dreary collection of geographical facts and figures which MacKinder contended 'adds an ever-increasing amount to be borne by the memory'. This early approach (which clearly precedes the somewhat idealised version of Layton's stage one), has been called the 'capes and bay' period. Very soon however the subject began to attract more inspired teachers, as a former pupil recalls: 'Later, however, in a London Secondary School 'capes and bays' were dramatically replaced by 'homes in many lands' and a new world opened to us, through our non-graduate 'specialist teacher''.

The non-graduate label was at this time inevitable as geography remained outside the universities. It was partly to answer this problem that one of the founding fathers of geography, H.T. MacKinder, posed the question in 1887 'How can geography be rendered a discipline?'  MacKinder was aware that the demand for an academic geography to be taught in universities could only be engendered by the establishment of a more credible position in schools. Essentially it was in the public and grammar schools that geography needed to establish its intellectual as well as pedagogical credibility.

  1. MacKinder, H.J. (1887) 'On the scope and methods of geography', Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society, 9.
  2. Garnett, A. (1969) 'Teaching geography: some reflections', Geography, 54, p. 36.
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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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