Concepts as the Grammar of Geography: A Reflection, pp. 3 of 4

This question can be further extended to the arguments about teaching holistic geography. While geographical concepts can connect seemingly unrelated matters, at what point does it get too confusing for students? For instance, the Oxfam case study in Jackson’s paper began with examining the effectiveness of a charity campaign but Jackson has explored the links to environmental degradation and the ethical dilemmas of charity organisations (Jackson P. , 2006). Examples of further extensions of the issue may be the historical factors for poverty in the receiving countries or the long-term climate of sub-Saharan countries. While these discussions may be fascinating for academics, its numerous possible linkages present a nightmare for syllabus makers, teachers and students. It is therefore important to seek a balance between geographical vocabulary and grammar at each stage of learning.

Implications for geography in Singapore

Jackson’s passionate defense of geography being more than just a “Trivial Pursuit” subject is certainly relevant in the Singapore context, where geography is still commonly seen as a content-heavy subject. For instance, Jackson’s (2006) list of geographical concepts spans a broad range of geographical questions and fits well into the latest MOE Geography syllabus for lower secondary students, in which each chapter is divided into four Key Questions. The concepts of space and place may fit well with the first Key Question focusing on the distribution and characteristics of a phenomenon. The concept of scale and connection are relevant to the question as well. The later Key Questions deal more with human geography content like the impacts of deforestation and water shortage and the measures to counter deforestation and water shortage. These are natural fits to the proximity and distance and relational thinking geographical concepts in Jackson’s argument. Hence, the current lower secondary geography syllabus can be a good platform to explore Jackson’s thesis. The move towards a holistic geography education with an emphasis on geographical concepts not only empowers geography students with a unique set of lenses in problem-solving (Lambert, 2004; Jackson, 2006), it also prepares students for their future employment (Lambert, 2004).

It is undeniable that there are challenges in this conceptual approach towards teaching geography. The problems of trying to achieve a balance between geographical volcabulary and grammar remains as an unresolved issue. Nonetheless, both academic authors and syllabus planners seem to agree on the need to emphasize geography’s grammar.

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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