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 Challenging perspectives: The Geography (R)evolution
Forget your preconceptions of GEOGRAPHY! Tom Campbell, Head of Geography, at King Edward’s Witley, suggests that there is no subject that is more important to study in the World today...
We live in a world changing beyond previous recognition, at a rate which is almost incomprehensible to those witnessing it  rst-hand. On a rainy Friday evening, as I kick off my shoes and switch on the
Six O’Clock news, a plethora of stories – all of which directly affect our lives – are described articulately and emotively. The growing Spanish constitutional crisis, the potential impact of Brexit, the impacts of cultural hybridisation, migration rates, President Trump’s latest Twitter outburst and accusations
of North Korea’s involvement in
the notorious hacking of NHS computer systems. The descriptive nature of the reporting means that the critical analytical component explaining why these situations have come into fruition was missing. How are viewers meant to understand the processes affecting their very lives when their complex nature is not explored in the
news? And how are students to develop an understanding of their contemporary situation when there is no direct opportunity to do so explicitly in the traditional school curriculum?
As a Head of Geography my favourite question for parents, students, colleagues and governors is “what does Geography mean
to you?” I ask them to think back to their school days and identify their most pertinent memories of a subject viewed as a marginal part of the traditional school curriculum. The answers are nearly always uniform; “Capital Cities! Flags! Drumlins! Ox-Bow Lakes! Elbow Patches! Colouring in! ...Boring!” It is apparent that arguably, more than any other subject, Geography has been type-cast. A subject of physical processes which we struggle to
see in action, of endless facts and  gures which needed to be remembered and taught by a perceived breed of teacher which re ected the subject content. Being a “Geographer” came with excessive perceptive baggage and became a term associated with negative connotations, used as
a quick verbal rebuke of those engaging in the academia of our physical planet.
Once described as “a Cinderella subject” by the Guardian newspaper, Geography has evolved over the last 20 years from a “Princess” subject waiting for a chance to prove its value, into a fully realised academic powerhouse. Its newly found niche position in the modern school curriculum has made it a cutting-edge, boundary- pushing subject which has become fundamental for shaping students to ensure they are ready for the world they will face after education.
of the future, which has led to
a revolution in Geographical academia at all levels, from primary schools through to post-graduate university study. Importantly, Palin also identi ed that in order to identify and address the challenges of the future, an appreciation of the past and an understanding
of contemporary human, physical and environmental processes is vital. This ‘joined-up thinking,’ -understanding processes of the past, the conditions of the present and the potential challenges of
the future - prepares students so they can understand and critically analyse the stories and identify
the potential outcomes, when they turn on the Six O’Clock News.
It is the ful lment of this vital niche which makes Geography a critical element of any modern school curriculum. Geography’s traditional subject content is
now taught in a range of other subjects, but despite this, the
value of the subject has improved over the last 10 years. The key to understanding the present and understanding the challenges of the future is in being able to refer to a broad spectrum of knowledge. Geography students draw from
an understanding of different subjects and apply it academically to ultimately make sense of the world they live in. Geography is aligned with both the sciences and humanities, as well as traditional and “modern” topics, ranging from Politics, Economics and History,
to Media Studies, Art and Music
as well as Biology, Chemistry and Physics. Geography promotes the assimilation of knowledge and applies it in the context of modern global geographical processes, enabling students to make sense
of their world. This unique quality,
plugging a vital niche in modern school curriculums and providing students with the skills and knowledge they need to enter an environment and society changing quicker than ever before, makes Geography a truly invaluable asset to any student’s academic portfolio.
The changing position and importance of the subject in the school curriculum is re ected in
the content taught across all ages. At primary level changes in the National Curriculum are designed
to develop geographies of the imagination, as well as localised geographical knowledge and basic skills of investigation. Students arrive at secondary school with a better understanding of their world and the factors which affect their highly localised geographical awareness.
At secondary level, recent changes at A-level and IB have demanded change in provision; focusing on the future has brought to prominence the study of superpowers and development, as students focus on future patterns of global power and poverty, as well as the sovereign rights of states and the human rights of those who live under various different political structures. Increased media awareness and the exacerbated impacts of capitalism driven globalisation are investigated as a major driver of changing economic and socio-cultural changes. Increased migration, cultural exchange and the growing power of Trans-National companies are all factors which are pertinent
in explaining the major global geo-political and socio-economics changes we are experiencing today, and all will shape future characteristics of societies and environments in the future.
Importantly, Geography has not forgotten its physical roots. Whilst
  “Geography explains the past, illuminates the present
and prepares us for the future. What could be more important than that?” Michael Palin
Michael Palin, the former president of the Royal Geographical Society, identi ed a fundamental change in the focus of the subject towards understanding, analytically
and critically, the challenges
 40 Independent Schools Magazine
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