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Knowledge and the Geography Curriculum

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1 Knowledge and the Geography Curriculum
A Social Realist Approach Benjamin Major Knowledge and the Geography Curriculum: A Social Realist Approach Hello and thank you all for coming. I’m very happy to be here today to talk about my PhD research at the Institute of Education. First, just a little bit about myself. In many ways I am perhaps an unusual candidate to be researching geography education, for I don’t really consider myself to be either geographer nor educator. In fact, my first degree was in the history and philosophy of science! Somehow, I then found my way to an MA in Social and Cultural Geography. A couple of years later, having worked as an assistant website editor at the Geographical Association, it soon dawned on me that what united what could be viewed as a rather disjointed academic career was a continued interest in questions of knowledge; what is knowledge and how is it produced, reproduced or transformed in society? I became fascinated by the curriculum, and how knowledge figures, or sometimes fails to figure, in curricula. This has led me on a fascinating journey, a journey that is continuing in my present PhD, which I shall now introduce you to.

2 The Knowledge Turn? “The National Curriculum should set out clearly the core knowledge and understanding that all children should be expected to acquire in the course of their schooling. It must embody their cultural and scientific inheritance, the best that our past and present generations have to pass on to the next” (Department for Education, 2010: 41) We appear to be witnessing what has been termed a ‘knowledge turn’ in education (Lambert, 2011). After more than two decades of National Curriculum rewrites that have seen progressively more emphasis put on pedagogy, learning skills and on how children learn as opposed to what they learn, there now seems to be a clear move back towards knowledge. At the time of writing the new coalition government have just embarked upon a curriculum review in which they stress the need for a clearly stipulated core of essential knowledge to be obtained through the traditional subject disciplines. A recent White Paper stated that the new curriculum should specify “the core knowledge and understanding that all children should be expected to acquire in the course of their schooling” (Department for Education, 2010: 41). As one might expect, this move has been received with mixed views, with some commentators expressing concern that it signals a backwards step in education towards an antiquated and elitist ‘grammar school curriculum’ that is irrelevant for the modern world (Vasagar and Shepherd, 2011). Whatever view one may hold on this matter, it certainly seems that the question of knowledge is once again on the educational agenda. Certainly, as these debates loom so large the time seems ripe to reflect anew on the nature, purpose and value of subject knowledge and, perhaps, upon the very idea of curriculum itself.

3 The Ethical Turn Alex Standish: “The conclusion drawn here is that geography’s ethical turn with a focus on global perspectives itself serves to directly undermine the moral case for geography. It does this through its retreat from geography as an objective body of knowledge and seeker of truth and its replacement with personal geographies and truths. The outcome is to deny students the geographical knowledge and skills they need to make sense of the world around them.” (Standish, 2009: 4) In recent years there have indeed been numerous concerns raised about the status of knowledge in schools by critics such as Frank Furedi (2009) and, in the field of geography education, Alex Standish (2009). These critics have suggested that a shift away from knowledge towards the values, attitudes and skills of students has undermined the intellectual and moral basis of subjects such as geography and has increasingly seen them replaced with a form of indoctrination, the curriculum thus becoming little more than a vessel for pet political and social projects. Standish’s concerns about the anti-intellectual turn taken by the geography curriculum are not completely new, however. Goodson (1981) notes that in the 1920s and 30s many geographers were concerned that increasing utilitarian and pedagogic emphases were proving detrimental to the subject, causing it to become little more than a ‘world citizenship’ subject.

4 A Balanced Curriculum Marsden (1997) put forward the convincing thesis that there are in effect three components at play in curriculum planning that have to be kept in balance. These include the subject, educational and social components, and these can be represented as a triangle. The subject component refers to the amount of content present in the curriculum, the educational component to the emphasis put on teaching method and style, and the social component to contemporary issues or ‘good causes’ that might be included in the curriculum. In particular, if this third component holds sway then there is a danger that this will drive the geography out of geography education, leaving in its place the possibility of instruction or even indoctrination.

5 An Unbalanced Curriculum
“At the present time [1997], according to Marsden, the curriculum is out of balance again. As a result of the dominant debates and conflicts between the New Right and the progressive educational movement, links with academic geography had been neglected… In fact, because New Labour’s priorities are not subject-based, the danger is that the debates will gravitate even more strongly to this area, leaving subject content out of the action.” (Rawling, 2001: 143) Writing in the late 1990s, Marsden thought that the curriculum was out of balance and had gravitated too far towards the social and educational vertices of this triangle, severing its links with the academic discipline. Several years later Rawling (2001) reaffirmed this diagnosis and even foresaw that this course would continue. As she put it: “In fact, because New Labour’s priorities are not subject-based, the danger is that the debates will gravitate even more strongly to this area, leaving subject content out of the action.” (Rawling, 2001: 143) I suspect that Rawling’s prediction has indeed proven largely correct. As Lambert (2011) notes, teachers have been encouraged to turn away from knowledge and overinvest in pedagogy and learning at the expense of subject knowledge. At the same time, recent research (Hill and Jones, 2010) suggests that the divide between school and university geography has widened. The aforementioned ‘knowledge turn’ signalled by the new curriculum review may seem to provide us with an opportunity to readdress this balance. However, the highly conservative tone of the White Paper reminds us that it also carries with it the grave danger of propelling back too far towards the subject vertex. Furthermore, the somewhat static, conservative conception of knowledge assumed by this document would appear to constrain, rather than advance, any potential for renewed dialogue between the school and academic subject of geography.

6 Powerful Knowledge “Knowledge of the powerful is defined by who gets the knowledge in a society… Powerful knowledge refers to what the knowledge can do or what intellectual power it gives to those who have access to it. Powerful knowledge provides more reliable explanations and new ways of thinking about the world and acquiring it can provide learners with a language for engaging in political, moral, and other kinds of debates.” (Young, 2008: 14) Moving on, we will now see that these long standing debates within the geography education community parallel a similar concern with knowledge and curriculum that has been occupying many sociologists of education. These scholars, who call themselves social realists, have argued that much recent educational discourse has overlooked or ignored the question of knowledge. These writers refocus our attention on the need for epistemological access to powerful knowledge if students are to acquire a language for engaging in political and moral debates, to transcend the present to imagine the future, and to generally gain access to the realm of the ‘unthinkable’. Social realist sociologists of education such as Michael Young (2008) and Karl Maton (2006, 2007) have developed detailed theoretical frameworks, drawing upon the highly influential work of Basil Bernstein, which attempt to make knowledge visible as an object of study once more. It is to these frameworks, the conceptual toolkits that underpin my own PhD research, that I will now turn.

7 The Pedagogic Device “Pedagogic discourse is constructed by a recontextualising principle which selectively appropriates, relocates and relates other discourses to constitute its own order.” (Bernstein, 2000: 33) It was in his later writings that Bernstein (1990, 1996, 2000) developed the concept of the pedagogic device, which comprises three fields of activity: the field of production (research), the field of recontextualisation (curriculum development) and the field of reproduction (teaching practice). My research focuses on the field of recontextualisation and in particular at the shifting relations between this and the field of knowledge production. This recontextualising field, the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of a pedagogic discourse, is regulated by what Bernstein calls recontextualising rules. For Bernstein, pedagogic discourse has its own logic that is different to that of the knowledge discourses produced in the field of knowledge production. This is due to a ‘discursive gap’ that always occurs when knowledge is relocated from the field of production to the field of recontextualisation, a gap that provides a space for ideology to surface and which is often filled by the curriculum developer’s ideas around the purpose of education, notions of how learning occurs and beliefs about ideal moral and social orders. We begin to see a clear link here with Marsden and Standish’s concerns over the increasing politicisation of the geography curriculum.

8 Knowledge Structures Horizontal knowledge structures: “a series of specialised languages, each with its own specialised modes of interrogation and specialised criteria… with non-comparable principles of description based on different, often opposed, assumptions ” (Bernstein, 1996: 172-3) Hierarchical knowledge structures: “an explicit, coherent, systematically principled and hierarchical organisation of knowledge, which develops through the integration of knowledge at lower levels and across an expanding range of phenomena.” (Bernstein, 1996: 172-3) In his final works, Bernstein began to shift his focus more and more towards the structure of, or the ‘relations within’ knowledge and made a useful distinction between horizontal and hierarchical knowledge structures. Horizontal knowledge structures are those comprised of a series of segmented, strongly bounded languages, such as the humanities or sociology. Hierarchical knowledge structures, on the other hand, are coherent, systematically principled and hierarchical organisations of knowledge which develop through the integration of knowledge, as best displayed by natural sciences such as Physics. It is an interesting task, though beyond the scope of this presentation, to consider which kind of structure is possessed by geography, or if it may even combine elements of both.

9 The Epistemic Device The epistemic relation (ER) generates a knowledge structure – the relation between a knowledge claim and its object of study (this is a non-arbitrary, necessary relation intrinsic to the knowledge itself). The social relation (SR) generates a knower structure – the relation between the knowledge claim and the subject or knower (this is an arbitrary relation based on power relations and contextual contingencies). Karl Maton and others have extended Bernstein’s work on knowledge structures by introducing the corresponding concept of a knower structure to hold together the objective and subjective dimensions of knowledge. Maton has also introduced the concepts of the epistemic device and of legitimation codes. The epistemic device regulates how knowledge claims come to be viewed as legitimate on the basis of two analytically distinct relations: the epistemic and the social. It is the relative settings of these two relations that determines the legitimation code of a particular knowledge form. The epistemic relation (ER) generates a knowledge structure, that is, the relation between a knowledge claim and its object of study, a non-arbitrary relation intrinsic to knowledge itself. The social relation (SR) generates a knower structure, or the relation between the knowledge claim and the subject or knower, an arbitrary relation based on power relations and contextual contingencies. Maton claims that the humanities and sciences have contrasting legitimation codes. Whereas in science the hierarchical principle by means of which knowledge progresses lies, as we have seen, in its knowledge structure, in the humanities the hierarchical principle lies instead in its knower structure.

10 The Challenge The challenge is to view curriculum knowledge both as object and product (derived from a particular knowledge structure and object of study), and as subjective practice (the recontextualisation of disciplinary knowledge into a curriculum, informed by social interests and relations). Before I move on to my research questions, I want to try and tie together what we have learnt thus far. In the first part of my presentation I reviewed the changes undergone and currently underway in the geography curriculum and the contestation that surrounds these changes. I propose that the conceptual framework provided by Bernstein, Maton and their colleagues provides us with a highly instructive toolkit with which to fully explore these changes. This toolkit affords us a way to investigate the complex relationship between knowledge structure and curriculum structure, a relationship that, as Maton reminds us, is a rich area for further exploration. We know that one cannot simply read off curriculum structure from knowledge structure, due to the ‘discursive gap’ that Bernstein identifed. Furthermore, in his work on the ‘epistemic device’, Maton demonstrates that for every knowledge structure there is also a knower structure. Any analysis of curriculum knowledge must therefore take into account its objective and subjective dimensions, the challenge highlighted in this slide. Such an analysis needs to take into account knowlegde structure, knower structure and the social and cultural structures of its recontextualising context. At a theoretical level, I hope that my research will make a significant contribution to understanding these complex relationships and to the evolution of a rigorous, operationally feasible methodology for researching curriculum and knowledge based on this rich conceptual framework provided by Bernsteinian sociologists of education.

11 Research Questions How has the balance between the social, educational and subject components of the geography curriculum shifted since the arrival of the Geography National Curriculum and how will the new curriculum review once more effect this balance? What underlying causes and mechanisms have brought and are bringing these changes about? At the empirical level, and harking back to Marsden’s diagram and our discussion about the knowlegde turn, my overarching research focus then becomes as follows: How has the balance between the social, educational and subject components of the geography curriculum shifted since the arrival of the Geography National Curriculum and how will the new curriculum review once more effect this balance? What underlying causes and mechanisms have brought and are bringing these changes about?

12 Research Questions What changes have occurred in the ways that knowledge in the geography curriculum has been classified and legitimated? What recontextualising rules are at work in geography curriculum development? What internal, necessary constraints and enablements are imposed on the curriculum by the structure of the knowledge and its object of study? What external, contingent factors relating to context and social relations in the field also shape this curriculum? From a social realist standpoint, the question can be rephrased and enhanced as followed: What changes have occurred in the ways that knowledge in the geography curriculum has been classified and legitimated over this time period? At a still deeper level, what recontextualising rules are at work in geography curriculum development? That is, what internal, necessary constraints and enablements are imposed on the curriculum by the structure of the knowledge and its object of study? What external, contingent factors relating to context and social relations in the field also shape this curriculum?

13 Research Design Initial use of Systematic Review for general overview and to source key curriculum documentation Interviews with those who have been directly involved with shaping the national geography curriculum. Analysis of these key documents and interviews using Critical Discourse Analysis The first step in the research will be the utilisation of a systematic review to gain a general overview of curriculum developments over this period and to source key documents for further analysis and to identify key informants for interview. A particularly useful source for this review will be the back issues of the journal Geography recently made available through the Geographical Association website. I will be analysing a variety of texts including, but not limited to, curriculum policy documents, programmes of study and position statements by the Geographical Association such as their recent manifesto (2009). In addition I will be interviewing key figures in geography curriculum development over this period. In terms of analysis, I will be using a method known as Critical Discourse Analysis, which I will now move on to explain further.

14 Critical Discourse Analysis
“Critical Discourse Analysis starts from the perception of discourse (language but also other forms of semiosis, such as visual images) as an element of social practices, which constitutes other elements as well as being shaped by them. Social questions are therefore in part questions about discourse – for instance, the question of power in social class, gender and race relations is partly a question of discourse.” (Chouliaraki & Fairclough, 1999: vii) Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) is a central method in my research. CDA is an approach to analysing texts and other forms of semiosis that complements the social realist stance I am taking in this research. Both CDA and social realist sociology of education share an emphasis on the relationship between discourse and social practice and both have strong links with Systematic Functional Linguistics as developed by Michael Halliday. In a nutshell, CDA focuses on context as well as text, that is, on the relations between text and the other material or non-material social practices that are dialogically related to it. For critical discourse analysts one of the root sources of existing social arrangements (such as what we teach and learn in schools) is discourse, or the way people make meaning of the world. Critical discourse analysts believe that discourse helps to both construct and represent the social world, contributing to the maintenance, or the potential transformation of, current social structures.

15 Critical Discourse Analysis
“CDA is particularly appropriate for critical policy analysis because it allows a detailed investigation of the relationship of language to other social processes, and of how language works within power relations. CDA provides a framework for a systematic analysis – researchers can go beyond speculation and demonstrate how policy texts work.” (Taylor, 2004: 436) There are many varieties of CDA but in my research I shall be basing my analysis on the model presented by Fairclough (2003). As a critical realist, Fairclough believes that texts have casual effects, that is, that they have the power to bring about change in the social world. However, it should be recognised that Fairclough is not talking about a simple mechanical causality here. Fairclough believes that reality has ontological depth and that language is one of the abstract social structures which make up the real, or the realm of the actual and possible. Fairclough’s method attempts to explore the relationships between texts, discursive practices and wider social structures, relations and processes. Fairclough views the analysis of text as not only a matter of linguistic analysis then, but of what he calls ‘interdiscursive analysis’, a procedure in which one looks at the different discourses, genres and styles that a text draws upon. Genres are different ways of acting or interacting discoursally, such as interviews or policy documents. Discourses are ways of representing, and we can distinguish between different discourses in the way that they represent aspects of the world from differing perspectives. Finally, styles are the discoursal aspects of particular way of being, or particular social or personal identities. These three aspects of discourse provide a broad and systematic framework for CDA that I intend to follow in my own research, combining these with the rich conceptual framework that has emerged from social realist sociologists of education as previously discussed.

16 Significance of the Research
“… we would suggest that the specific pressures placed on geographical education researchers in the UK have tended to lead to “problem-solving” approaches to research. There is a focus on providing knowledge “useful” to teachers in schools. The prospects for a renewal of debate about the aims and purposes of geographical education, based on an engagement with a wider set of theoretical resources, seems remote.” (Morgan and Firth, 2010: 90) On a concluding note, let me comment upon the role of theory in my research. As this quote suggests, theory has too often been downplayed in educational research, and I hope that within the relative freedom offered by this three year PhD I will be able to offer something more than an exercise in ‘problem solving’ geared towards producing merely useful, short-termist ‘results’. Rather, I hope that I will contribute to this renewed debate about knowledge, curriculum and the aims and purposes of geography education in general. I see my research as being located in opposition to both the idea of a subject discipline as a ‘transmittable’ body of knowledge but also to the ‘debilitating anti-intellectualism’ (as Marsden, 1997, put it) that occurs when subject content is supplanted by a focus on educational processes and skills. To round off this presentation by circling back to where we started, I would add that it would seem that this research is very timely. The curriculum is yet again up for review, and it is important to respond to the awfully narrow and backwards-facing conceptions of curriculum as objective, timeless knowledge that are once more being touted without recourse to a brazen relativism that can end up doing more than harm than good. It is my belief that a social realist approach may present us with an altogether more nuanced account.

17 Any questions? References Bernstein, B. (1990) Class, codes and control, Volume IV: The structuring of pedagogic discourse. London: Routledge. Bernstein, B. (1996) Pedagogy, symbolic control and identity: Theory, research, critique. London: Taylor & Francis. Bernstein, B. (2000) Pedagogy, symbolic control and identity: Theory, research, critique. Revised ed. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield. Chouliaraki, L. and Fairclough, N. (1999) Discourse in Late Modernity: Rethinking Critical Discourse Analysis. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Department for Education (2010) The Importance of Teaching: The Schools White Paper London: The Stationary Office (TSO). Fairclough, N. (2003) Analysing Discourse: Textual Analysis for Social Research. New York and London: Routledge. Furedi, F. (2009) Wasted: Why Education isn’t Educating. London and New York: Continuum. Geographical Association (2009) A Different View. Sheffield: Geographical Association. Goodson, I. (1981) ‘Becoming an Academic Subject: patterns of explanation and evolution’, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 2, (2), Hill, J.L. and Jones, M. (2010) ‘‘Joined-up geography’: Connecting school level and university-level geographies, Geography, 95, 1, Lambert, D. (2011) ‘Reviewing the case for geography, and the ‘knowledge turn’ in the English National Curriculum’, The Curriculum Journal, 22, (2), Marsden, W. (1997) ‘On Taking the Geography out of Geographical Education: Some Historical Pointers’, Geography, 82, (3), Maton, K. (2006) ‘On knowledge structures and knower structures’, in R. Moore, M. Arnot, J. Beck and H. Daniels (eds.) Knowledge, power and educational reform: Applying the sociology of Basil Bernstein. London: Routledge Maton, K. (2007) Knowledge-knower structures in intellectual and educational fields, in F. Christie and J.R. Martin (eds.) Language, knowledge and pedagogy: Functional linguistic and sociological perspectives. London: Continuum Morgan, J. and Firth, R. (2010) ‘By our theories shall you know us: the role of theory in geographical education’, International Research in Geographical and Environmental Education, 19, 2, Rawling, E, M. (2001) Changing the Subject: The impact of national policy on school geography Sheffield: Geographical Association. Standish, A. (2009) Global Perspectives in the Geography Curriculum: Reviewing the Moral Case for Geography. London and New York: Routledge. Taylor, S. (2004) ‘Researching educational policy and change in ‘new times’ : using critical discourse analysis, Journal of Education Policy, 19, 4, Vasagar, J. and Shepherd, J. (2011) ‘National Curriculum review puts emphasis on facts’ Guardian [online] 20 January. Available at: Last accessed 16 August 2011. Young, M. (2008b) ‘From Constructivism to Realism in the Sociology of the Curriculum’, Review of Research in Education, 32, 1-28. Benjamin Major

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