Malcolm's Musings


Is Geography Sexy?

I watched with interest this week the 'Government Inspector' on Channel 4, not because I wanted further evidence of the workings of government, but because I have been involved in my own 'sexed' up controversy. Alistair Campbell isn't involved in this account, nor is a dossier of dodgy intelligence. My crime was to suggest that within fifty minutes, weapons of mass interest could be deployed within the Geography lesson.

Mistakenly (?), within a year 11 Geography lesson, I had implied that Geography was inherently sexy, apparently, upsetting the parent's of a year 11 student. My use of this innocent phrase, goes back a long time, in fact it helped me secure my first teaching position. One manager still recounts the time, when during my interview lesson, a student stated that Geography was boring, only for me to reply in horror, that how could they find such a sexy subject boring.

Perhaps my language was mistaken, I no way intended to sexualise the actual content of Geography, though University Geographers have made great strives in their understanding of gender and its relation to geographical thinking, but to convey my own passion in a simplistic term for students to understand. A brief look through my thesaurus confirms my thoughts. 'Sexy'; is defined as being 'provocative', as the Oxford English Dictionary states 'serving or tending to provoke, excite, or stimulate; stimulating discussion or exciting controversy'. Perhaps the term provocative would have been more suitable?

As for me, Geography has been my secret mistress for a long time, behind the normal exterior of a teacher, is a being that is slave to a consuming passion. I value our time together, I'm jealous when others know more about her, I become ignited by the gentle mention of her name, I see her in all places. Her beauty engenders feelings of warmth and longing.

Fundamentally, I am calling for all teachers of Geography to 'sex up' their lessons. Geography should no longer be constrained within a turgid and uncompromising curriculum; it's time for her to break out from the restraining curriculum chrysalis, so that all can observe her full beauty. The signs are good, there seems to be a renaissance in the subject, supported by forward thinking and creative individuals. It seems that even the Government Inspector of Schools supports this process, and recent mutterings from Whitehall suggest an easing of the constraints placed upon the curriculum.

Often at this time, Geographers are justifiably worried about the loss of potential Geographers to other subjects, often seen as 'sexy' by students. But what these subjects offer is relevance, though not always justified. We cannot expect students to be converts to Geography through just good teaching of traditional concepts, we must put the contemporary, challenging and controversial back into the subject. We should seek to enlighten and challenge at the same time. It is often stated, as recently as this week in the TES, that teachers lack the confidence to tackle controversial issues. But why teach Geography if you are unwilling to tackle the controversial?

Sex and gender has its place within the Geography curriculum. Try to convince me that sex doesn't matter in order to gain an understanding of the HIV pandemic in Africa, and that gender is of no importance to a female child in China or India.

My story ends on a happier note than that of the 'Government Inspector'. Apparently the parents' of the year 11 student weren't upset about my use of the term 'sexy', but just amused. The student subsequently went on to study the subject at A-level and recently went to Newcastle University to read Geography. Often, they report with excitement, the new concepts and areas of development within the subject, enthused by the all-encompassing nature of the discipline. Sadly, it seems that the older sister is more attractive, overshadowing her younger sibling.

The problem for Geography teachers is how to take Cinderella and make her more attractive for the ball, a provocative makeover. When we achieve this, she'll outshine the rest, for her beauty is not only skin deep.


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