Key quote from within:
"Geography is an inheritance of efforts to divide the world, to construct places in a static way, to name people and their regions, and, ultimately, to assign value to those people and places. Geography was, in short, a means of empire that was conceived as a bridge between the hard sciences and the humanities (Willinsky, 1998)."
by William Gaudelli & Elizabeth Heilman — 2009
Background: Geography education typically appears in school curricula in a didactic or disciplinary manner. Yet, both the didactic and the disciplinary approach to geography education lack a serious engagement with society, politics, and power, or democratic theory. We suggest, from Dewey, that most students, the social studies, and indeed society are not well served by these approaches, particularly as we confront global challenges that demand geographic knowledge and insight.
Purpose: We propose that geography can and should reflect the interests of students and society and thus be what Dewey calls psychologized through a democratic vision of global citizenship education (GCE). Toward that end, we develop a typology of global education to identify those types most congruent with democratic citizenship (cosmopolitan, environmental, and critical justice) and those less congruent (disciplinary, neoliberal, and human relations). Drawing on our typology, we show how GCE can be a point of synthesis in practice, bringing together global education and reconstituted geographic knowledge.
Research Design: The method of this article is a secondary analysis of literature in democratic theory, global citizenship education, and geography education that synthesizes points of overlap.
Conclusions: Based on this analysis, we recommend that geography curriculum should be remade within a vision similar to GCE so that space and place can be socially understood.
The new global contexts in which we all live and interact demand that we think in new ways about what our world most needs from its citizens. We live in a world in which our geopolitical, environmental, and economic fates are increasingly interconnected, yet fragile. People are fearful about the environment and climate, maintaining economic competitiveness, securing strategic military advantage, and assuring personal and national safety in the United States. The catastrophic events of 9-11 generated momentary goodwill toward the United States because the country was victimized by a heinous international crime. Rather than respond to these events as a violent episode that called for justice and structural reforms, the Bush administration chose a different path. They championed a transformative diplomacy founded in the belief that the world could be remade in the image of the United States, embodied in a free-market utopia in Iraq (Kohut & Stokes, 2006).
The missionlike zeal and “go-it-alone” hubris of the Bush administration in fighting simultaneous wars in southwest Asia has had serious repercussions, however. Notably, historical allies have grown distant, U.S. standing in the world has decreased, and outright hostility has emerged in once-friendly nations like Jordan and Turkey (Pew Global Attitudes Project, 2005). Despite this arguably bleak circumstance, we believe there now exists a unique opportunity to rethink curriculum in the United States in light of the current situation, one that opens up to possibilities of learning about the world rather than remaking it in our image. Although our global challenges are undeniable, they are also fascinating and even hopeful to many who see potential for an increasingly interconnected, interestingly diverse, and mutually enhancing global community.
The state of knowledge about the world among people in the United States, however, presents a serious obstacle to moving toward these larger aims. Many Americans seem to have little critical capacity to understand complex global issues, such as the roots of terrorism or policy options for sustainability, not to mention rudimentary knowledge about the world. The 2006 Geographic Literacy Survey, conducted among high school students by Roper Public Affairs for the National Geographic Education Foundation, showed that not only is conceptual understanding sorely lacking, but there is also a dearth of knowledge related to locations, demographics, economics, and cultural characteristics among U.S. adolescents. For example, a third of those surveyed could not find Louisiana, and 50% could not find New York City on a U.S. map; 20% could not locate the United States on a world map. Three quarters could not identify Iran or Israel, and 54% believed Sudan, the largest country in Africa, to be in Asia. About 45% said China’s population is twice that of the United States, rather than four times greater, and 74% thought English is the most commonly spoken language on the planet. These results are consistent with the results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and with the most recent National Geographic survey (GfK NOP, 2006). According to the National Geographic Society Global Geographic Literacy Survey, “Despite the threat of war in Iraq and the daily reports of suicide bombers in Israel, fewer than 15 percent of young U.S. citizens surveyed could locate either country and 58% of young Americans cannot locate Japan on a map” (Trivedi, 2002). Given the very real issues we face and the immense power of the United States on the global stage, such ignorance is disturbing and dangerous.
In this article, we argue that the very nature and value of geography and citizenship education need to be reexamined in light of the changing global scene and apparent U.S. apathy about it. We wish to highlight the interplay between seemingly disparate events on the national and global stage, which are linked with the ethics and politics of citizenship that shape citizenship education. Most broadly, we argue that our world faces challenges that are more social, human, civic, and ethical than scientific, mathematical, and technical, and because of this, we call for a new priority to be placed on social studies, geography, and citizenship education. The technical capacity to feed and provide health care for the 1.4 billion people on our planet who live on less than $2 a day exists. We have the technical capacity for green energy and for environmental sustainability, and the scientific wherewithal to assert that racism rests on no biological or genetic grounds. Yet, it is the quality of our politics and ethics, our ability to talk with each other across difference, and the tenuousness of our collective commitment to shared humanity that get in the way of achieving our best national and global possibilities. In the last century, we turned to science and disciplinary knowledge for progress. We suggest, from Dewey, that most students, the social studies, and indeed society are not well served by these approaches. In this century, we must turn to ethics and the qualities of citizenship to realize a better world.
As in other disciplines, there are several paradigmatic ways to approach geography teaching. The most common are didactic and disciplinary approaches. Didactic teachers emphasize memorization, recall, and learning by rote of spatial facts and identifications. A discipline-centered curriculum positions students as budding geographers who attempt to construct (or replicate) knowledge of a discipline to develop geography-informed thinking. These have been the most common forms in K–12 geography education. Didactic geography learning is hardly defensible in and of itself. Disciplinary approaches to teaching geography, although improving geographic learning for some and increasing Advanced Placement course offerings for a few, fail to adequately address the need to place geography in the service of citizenship.
A third and different approach to geography teaching, rare in most places, centers on democratic practice. We argue that this approach is most justifiable as citizenship education for a sustainable and ethical world. A democratic approach to geography education can be thought of through what Dewey describes in My Pedagogic Creed (1897a) as an education that attends to the “two sides”—the social and the psychological. He explains,
I believe that the psychological and social sides are organically related and that education cannot be regarded as a compromise between the two, or a superimposition of one upon the other. We are told that the psychological definition of education is barren and formal—that it gives us only the idea of a development of all the mental powers without giving us any idea of the use to which these powers are put. On the other hand, it is urged that the social definition of education, as getting adjusted to civilization, makes of it a forced and external process, and results in subordinating the freedom of the individual to a preconceived social and political status. (p. 75)
A democratic education honors the individual and attends to the personal characteristics, curiosities, and growth of students. Yet, “society is an organic union of individuals,” and all individual development occurs in contexts of families, various forms of communities, and nations. As Dewey (1897a) explains, “powers, interests, and habits must be continually interpreted—we must know what they mean. They must be translated into terms of their social equivalents—into terms of what they are capable of in the way of social service” (p. 77). Thus, learning worthy of its name must have meaningful social ends.
A Deweyan perspective of democratic theory suggests that subject matter education, like geography, needs to be taught in a way that contributes to both personal and social growth rather than solely for academic socialization. Disciplinary geographic thinking certainly has value, but geography for citizens is only justified in democratic theory to the extent that it contributes to personal development and to the extent that it serves as a “method of social progress and reform” (Dewey, 1897a, p. 77). The worth of geography is not rooted in the nature of the discipline, but instead by the use that we make of it in our lives and in society. In his essay, “The Psychological Aspect of the School Curriculum,” Dewey (1897b) explains the more specific implications of democratic education for school curriculum:
From the psychological standpoint, we are concerned with the study [a subject matter] as a mode or form of living individual experience. Geography is not only a set of facts and principles, which may be classified and discussed by themselves; it is also a way in which some actual individual feels and thinks the world. It must be the latter before it can be the former. It becomes the former only as the culmination or completed outgrowth of the latter. Only when the individual has passed through a certain amount of experience, which he vitally realizes on his own account, is he prepared to take the objective and logical point of view, capable of standing off and analyzing the facts and principles involved. (pp. 168–169)
We propose in this article that geography can and should use experience and be what Dewey calls psychologized through a democratic vision of global citizenship education (GCE). We begin by illustrating how both didactic and disciplinary approaches to geography education fail to seriously engage with society and politics, moving to consider how geography might engage both the personal and the social and political. We offer a typology of global education to identify those types most congruent with democratic citizenship, namely cosmopolitan, environmental, and critical justice, and those less congruent, such as disciplinary, neoliberal, and human relations global educations. We then explain how GCE can be a point of synthesis for global education that reconstitutes geographic thinking and knowledge in a manner that has great utility for students and society in an increasingly global world.
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