This chapter, as befits its title, has asked some fundamental questions about who and what geography is for. It has done so at the teaching level because this is a vital, yet under-examined, element of the role the discipline plays in the wider society. The chapter has been written in the active voice because I've wanted to make you reflect on the two sides of the education coin, namely, what you're taught and what you choose to make of that teaching. My argument has been that since all geography teaching is political, it is vital for both university teachers and students to make well-justified choices as to the content and aims of a geographical education. By way of a conclusion, let me offer student readers a manifesto of sorts to guide your future reflections - and mine - on your undergraduate or postgraduate experience. The manifesto consists of a set of recommendations, as follows:
1 Never take what you're taught at face value; always scrutinize the choices your professors make in the content and manner of their teaching. This does not mean you should constantly challenge your professors! But it does mean that you should ask yourself what underlies the syllabus decisions made on your behalf by your teachers.
2 Routinely ask yourself what your higher education in general and your geography degree in particular are for. Aim to think clearly about the 'point' of the particular education you're getting, especially when you're invited to make choices about what kinds of course units to take (as opposed to those non-elective units that you must take).
3 Always remember that nothing is set in stone: the content of geography teaching is up for grabs when seen in the long term and you, as much as your teachers, have a responsibility to take it in directions that you feel are valuable ones. Though you can do little to alter things during your degree, your comments on course evaluations or those of your student representatives on faculty-student committees can make a difference in the longer term. The trick is to ensure these are considered comments about the substance of your education rather than more trivial things.
Tiring and difficult though it seems at first sight, following these recommendations might just enable you to become an active player in your education and in geography's evolution, rather than an unthinking buyer in the marketplace for degrees.
essay questions and further reading
1 What is the point of a geographical education? To answer this question, consult Castree (2000), Harvey (1996), Gould (1985), Pepper (1987), Pickles (1986), Powell (1985) and Scott (1982). As you compose your answer, reflect upon the balance of knowledges you've chosen to study and had to study during your degree - using Habermas's tripartite distinction. Has this balance been a good one for you and, if so, why?
2 What, in your view, are the prime purposes of higher education? The writings listed below by Gitlin, Graham, Harman, Hitchens, hooks, Illich and Slaughter are full of interesting ideas in relation to this question.
Castree, N. (2000) What kind of geography for what kind of politics? Environment and Planning A 32, 2091-2095.
Demeritt, D. (2001) The construction of global warming and the politics of science.
Annals of the Association of American Geographers 91, 307-337.
Gitlin, T. (1995) The Twilight of Common Dreams: Why America is Wracked by Culture Wars. Owl Books, San Francisco.
Gould, P. (1985) Will geographic self-reflection make you blind? In Johnston, R.J. (ed.) The Future of Geography. Methuen, London, pp. 276-290.
Graham, G. (2003) Universities: The Recovery of an Idea. Imprint Academic, Thorverton.
Habermas, J. (1978) Knowledge and Human Interests. Polity, Cambridge.
Harman, J. (2003) Whither geography? Professional Geographer 55, 415-421.
Harvey, D. (1996) On the history and present condition of geography. In Agnew, J., Livingstone, D. and Rogers, A. (eds) Human Geography: An Essential Anthology. Blackwell, Oxford, pp. 95-107.
Harvey, D. (2000) Spaces of Capital. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh.
Hitchens, C. (2002) Letters to a Young Contrarian. Basic Books, New York.
hooks, b. (1994) Teaching to Transgress. Routledge, London.
Illich, I. (1971) De-Schooling Society. Calder and Boyers, London.
Pepper, D. (1987) Physical and human integration: an educational perspective from British higher education. Progress in Human Geography 11, 379-404.
Pickles, J. (1986) Geographic theory and education for democracy. Antipode 18, 136-154.
Powell, J.M. (1985) Geography, culture and liberal education. In Johnston, R.J. (ed.) The Future of Geography. Methuen, London, pp. 307-325.
Rose, G. (1993) Feminism and Geography. Polity, Cambridge.
Scott, A. (1982) The meaning and social origins of discourse on the spatial foundations of society. In Gould, P. and Olsson, G. (eds) A Search for Common Ground. Pion, London, pp. 141-156.
Slaughter, S. (1997) Academic Capitalism. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, MD.
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