Our member, Lauren Hammond (University of Edinburgh, UK), and her co-editors Mary Biddulph (formerly University of Nottingham, UK), Simon Catling (Oxford Brookes University, UK), and John H. McKendrick (Glasgow Caledonian University, UK), talk about their edited collection, Children, Education and Geography: Rethinking Intersections (Routledge, 2022).
Education (both formal and informal) is a fundamental part of most societies. Educational institutions, spaces, and practices shape, and are shaped by, children and (young) people. From the everyday rhythms and routines of commuting to school, to the complexities of finding people and places in an institution that you connect with or feel safe in, to international migration (forced or by choice) to study in another country, education is inherently geographical. Education occurs in place, and it is affective and embodied. Education is also shaped by an entanglement of multi-scalar processes and interactions, which influence the experiences, imaginations, and futures of those who study and work within educational spaces, and the communities and places that surround and/or support them.
The edited collection Children, Education and Geography: Rethinking Intersections brings together authors working in, and across, children’s geographies, geographies of education, and geography education. The book is organised through three interrelated sections:
As colleagues working in, and across, geography and education in different ways, we are interested in the different communities and histories of the fields of children’s geographies, geographies of education, and geography education. Our motivation for editing this book was to bring together colleagues working across these fields, to explore how drawing on the ideas, methods and knowledges of different communities can shed new light on work in other areas.
Further impetus behind rethinking the intersections between children, education and geography lies in children themselves. As the reason why many educators choose their careers and why societies educate, children and young people are central to educational policies, practices, spaces, and experiences. Despite this, children and young people have sometimes been marginalised in, and through, both education and society. The edited collection therefore examines the complex relationships between children and young people (from birth to around 25 years of age), education, and geography. A major aim of the book is therefore to consider how educators can truly engage with young people’s experiences and perspectives, and to consider how they can be best supported and empowered in, and through, education.
‘Just as we might learn about geography through education in lessons in schools or lectures at university, because education is a fundamental part of most societies, it ‘has something to say about how the world works – its human geographies’ (Brooks and Waters, 2017: p. 4). Over recent years, there has been increasing research interest into the relationships between geography and education. Significantly, both geography and education are exemplars of what Brock (2016: p. 10) terms composite and integrative disciplines, with their identities resting ‘on a particular array of contributing subjects and disciplines’. Brock is clear to point out that this does not deprive either discipline of a ‘distinctive character or essence’ (Ibid.) and significantly that education is both a discipline and phenomena (i.e., actual teaching and learning).
This means that the (potential) relationships between geography and education are complex and multi-scalar, varying from examinations of lived experiences and micro-geographies of schooling, to macro-analyses of the globalisation of higher education (Taylor, 2009). In the discipline of geography, the fields that most directly engage with education are children’s geographies (Horton et al., 2008; Aitken, 2018b) and geographies of education (Pini et al., 2017; Waters, 2018), both of which have developed since the 1960s. Both children’s geographies and geographies of education are rich and diverse methodologically and substantively, and research in these fields can help us to better understand education and its relationships with, and to, everyday life and society. As Kraftl et al. (2021: p. 15–16) explain when considering the evolution of research in geographies of education:
‘Geographers have made a distinct contribution to studying the spatialities of education through key geographical tropes such as space, place, and The child & their (geographical) education scale: from a focus on spatial science and quantitative approaches to mapping school access or segregation, to an examination of identities and processes played out in education spaces.’
Equally, research in the subdiscipline of children’s geographies has the power and potential to enable us to better understand children’s experiences and imaginations of education from their own perspectives. The value of this ultimately lies in having ‘concern for education’s future impacts, encouraging us to engage with young people as knowledgeable actors whose current and future life worlds are worthy of investigation’ (Holloway et al., 2010: p. 294).
Education is also a fundamental part of how geography as a discipline is reproduced as students are inducted into its ideas, methods, and ways of thinking through educational programmes, curricula, teaching, and assessment. As such, there is both research and practical interest into how best to teach students geography in universities, including through the field of pedagogic research (Finn et al., 2021). Geographers working in other subdisciplines may also be keen to share their research with teachers and young people, and to inform and support practice in schools and student transition to university (Tate and Hopkins, 2019).
In the discipline of education, geography is most often considered as part of the field of geography education. Geography education expanded as a field of research and teaching in the UK after 1945 (Butt, 2019), with research in the field often focusing on school geography (how geography is constructed, represented, taught, learnt, and assessed in schools) and/or (initial) teacher education. One significant area of debate in the field which focuses on the intersections between geography and education is active consideration of causes, impacts, and nature of ‘the gap’ (Butt, 2019) between geography as an academic discipline and school subject. Here, research has also examined if and how the school subject connects to and represents children’s everyday geographies and considered how the construction of ‘the child’ in schooling is often divergent from disciplinary debate in geography (Catling and Martin, 2011), in which the child is recognised and celebrated as being, becoming, and doing (Aitken, 2018a).
Research in geography education is often conducted by those working in teacher education in universities, and increasingly also by those working in schools and other educational settings. Research in the field has an important role to play in better understanding the nature of school geography, supporting and empowering teachers in their practice, informing policy and debate, and advocating for change in geography education (Lambert, 2010), which includes recognising children as geographers (Catling, 1988; Catling and Willy, 2018). However, geography education as a field of research has been described as relatively small scale, regularly self- or un-funded, and piecemeal (Lambert, 2010; Butt, 2019). The educational and market agendas of the state, performativity regimes (for example, Ofsted in the English Context), and neoliberalism also directly influence how school geography is constructed and experienced, and who can study and teach geography. Significantly, beyond research and teaching in geography education, geography is not consistently recognised in disciplinary discussions or teaching modules in faculties of education in the same way as sociology, psychology, or history (Brock, 2016). This, we argue, is a significant omission and one of the main reasons for rethinking the intersections between children, education, and geography.
Due to the different heritages, histories, and disciplinary backgrounds, geography education, geographies of education, and children’s geographies might each be considered examples of what Lave and Wenger (1991) term ‘communities of practice’ (Finn et al., 2021). This conceptualisation is helpful in considering the different barriers individuals and communities might face when engaging with one another, and the impacts this has on research and teaching (Ibid.). For example, a person studying geography education as part of their initial teacher education programme may never be taught about geographies of education. This may lead to them being under-informed about the social and spatial injustices children, young people, and communities face and how these impact on teaching, learning, and day-to-day life in their placement school. However, over recent years, exciting and significant new connections between geography and education have evolved (Puttick, 2022).