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This article briefly examines Michael Young’s concept of powerful knowledge and discusses two ways of interpreting its meaning. One focuses on the characteristics that make knowledge powerful, and the other on the power this knowledge gives those who possess it. Based on the second interpretation, the article then identifies and illustrates five types of geographical knowledge that constitute intellectually powerful ways of thinking, analysing, explaining and finding out. The article describes how each could contribute to thinking about the aims of a geographical education.
Geography Vol 101 Part 2 Summer 2016 © Geography 2016
What might
knowledge look
What might
knowledge look
Alaric Maude
ABSTRACT: This article briefly examines Michael
Young’s concept of powerful knowledge and
discusses two ways of interpreting its meaning. One
focuses on the characteristics that make knowledge
powerful, and the other on the power this knowledge
gives those who possess it. Based on the second
interpretation, the article then identifies and
illustrates five types of geographical knowledge that
constitute intellectually powerful ways of thinking,
analysing, explaining and finding out. The article
describes how each could contribute to thinking
about the aims of a geographical education.
The concept of ‘powerful knowledge’ was
introduced into educational debates within the last
decade by Michael Young (2009), a British
sociologist of education. The term is part of a
broader argument for the importance of subject
knowledge in the school curriculum, in opposition
to a focus on generic skills and learning outcomes
(see also Corbel, 2014). Young (2009) argues that
an emphasis on the latter does not enable young
people to gain the knowledge to understand and to
think beyond the limits of their own experience –
i.e. to develop a kind of knowledge that he
describes as ‘powerful’. Young also argues that
entitlement to this knowledge is a matter of social
justice, in that all students should have access to
it, and not just those from advantaged
backgrounds who go to more academically-oriented
schools (Young, 2013). Similar arguments have
been made by Leesa Wheelahan (2007) in relation
to vocational education, and by Elizabeth Rata
(2012) in relation to ethnic groups in the working
Geography educators have shown considerable
interest in Young’s ideas about knowledge, and
written about them in a number of articles and
book chapters (see, for example, Catling and
Martin, 2011; Firth, 2011, 2013; Morgan, 2011,
2015; and Roberts, 2014). However, this literature
has focused on questions of philosophy,
epistemology and pedagogy, and to date only two
articles have been published, both by David
Lambert, that contain discussion about specific
forms of geographical knowledge that might be
regarded as powerful. The first lists examples of
powerful geographical knowledge in an appendix,
but with no explanation of why they are powerful
(Lambert, 2011). The other proposes three types
of powerful geographical knowledge, but these are
derived via a capabilities approach to the
curriculum and not directly from the concept of
powerful knowledge itself (Lambert, 2014a).
This article attempts to add to Lambert’s work by
developing a way of identifying powerful
geographical knowledge derived directly from
Young’s concept. It starts by unpacking the
meaning of powerful knowledge, and then uses the
conclusions of the analysis to identify and describe
types of geographical knowledge that might be
considered powerful. The aim is to make the
concept sufficiently concrete for teachers to
recognise that some of what they already teach is
powerful knowledge, or to identify opportunities in
the curriculum to engage students with concepts in
ways they might not previously have considered.
The discussion below also provides a way to
explain to non-geographers the distinctive and
important contribution of the subject to the
education of young people. Due to limitations of
space the article does not discuss criticisms of
the concept; instead readers are referred to
articles by Beck (2013), Catling and Martin (2011),
Roberts (2014), and Zipin et al. (2015).
What might
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Geography Vol 101 Par t 2 Summer 2016
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What is powerful
Before establishing the presence of powerful
knowledge in geography we must clarify the
meaning of the concept. What exactly is meant by
the term ‘powerful knowledge’, and what makes
this knowledge ‘powerful’? An analysis of the
growing literature on the topic suggests that there
are two ways of explaining the concept. One
focuses on the characteristics that make
knowledge powerful, and the other on the power
this knowledge gives those who possess it.
The characteristics
The first way is illustrated by these statements:
‘For me powerful knowledge means, knowledge
that is reliable, fallible and potentially testable’
(Young, 2011, p. 182).
‘How can we characterise “powerful knowledge”?
In short it is knowledge that is created by
specialist communities or disciplines: all
knowledge is a human construction, but
powerful knowledge is made in accordance with
some rigorous and demanding procedures and
practices, put in place to test knowledge claims
potentially to destruction. These state of art
epistemic practices are established to ensure
that knowledge created is reliable and truthful:
indeed, that it is the best it can be’ (Lambert,
2014a, p. 7).
Both of these quotes define powerful knowledge as
knowledge that, because of the ways in which it
has been produced within disciplinary
communities, is as reliable as present
understanding permits – and therefore is
‘powerful’. They are statements about the
knowledge itself, rather than about the
consequences of that knowledge. It should be
noted that this is a social realist view of
knowledge, which contends that there is a reality
that is independent of the knower and that, while
our knowledge of that reality is a human construct
and can never be absolute, when developed within
disciplinary communities and subjected to
disciplinary critique it is more reliable than an
opinion or standpoint. This is in opposition to a
constructionist or relativist view of knowledge,
which argues that knowledge is socially produced
and subjective, and that it is not possible to say
that some knowledge is ‘the best it can be’ (Firth,
2013, 2014; Moore, 2014). John Morgan (2014)
believes that this relativist view of knowledge is
entrenched in Anglophone academic human
geography, which may lead those teachers who are
also geography graduates to reject the possibility
of powerful knowledge.
The second way of explaining powerful knowledge
describes what this knowledge enables young
people to do, as in these statements:
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 and can provide learners with a
language for engaging in political, moral, and
other kinds of debates’ (Young, 2008, p. 14).
‘Powerful knowledge is powerful because it
provides the best understanding of the natural
and social worlds that we have and helps us go
beyond our individual experiences’ (Young,
2013, p. 196).
‘Knowledge is “powerful” if it predicts, if it
explains, if it enables you to envisage
alternatives’ (Young, 2014b, p. 74).
‘Knowledge in the sense we are using the word
in this book allows those with access to it to
question it and the authority on which it is
based and gain the sense of freedom and
excitement that it can offer’ (Young, 2014c, p.
These two ways of describing powerful knowledge
are interrelated, in that the knowledge that gives
young people the powers described in the second
set of statements is likely to be derived from the
type of knowledge described in the first set,
because that knowledge is the best available at
present. However, I suggest that the first way is an
insufficient guide to the identification of powerful
knowledge in a school subject. This is partly
because of the meaning of the word ‘power’. This
implies an ability or capacity to do something that
has an effect or outcome; thus, to be powerful,
knowledge should have effects or outcomes that
can be described as powerful. While the knowledge
identified in the first set of statements can be
described as strong or robust, because of the ways
it has been produced, we cannot assume that all
of it will have powerful outcomes. Another criterion
is needed to guide the selection of powerful
knowledge, which is provided by the second group
of statements – these effectively shift the
definition of powerful knowledge from its
Geography Vol 101 Part 2 Summer 2016 © Geography 2016
What might
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characteristics to what it can achieve for those
who have it.
The other reason for not adopting the first way of
explaining powerful knowledge is because it
suggests that to be powerful, the geographical
knowledge that schools should be teaching must
be based on disciplinary geographical knowledge.
However, the relationship between academic
disciplines and school subjects is complex (Deng,
2007; Stengel, 1997), and there are limits to the
extent by which subject knowledge can be derived
from disciplinary knowledge. There is only space
here to make two points relevant to geographical
education. First, the school subject is a selection
of content from the discipline, with the selection
made by educational bureaucracies, curriculum
writers and teachers for social, ethical, political
and pedagogical reasons, not just academic ones.
The selected content is then transformed by
teachers into appropriate pedagogic forms for
young learners (Firth, 2011; Lambert, 2009).
Second, in human geography the academic subject
has often moved on from the study of those ideas
and content that may still be relevant to school
geography, as it pursues new approaches and new
areas of research. For example, the concept of
centrality, which is still fundamental to an
understanding of settlements and the location of
many economic activities, is not mentioned in a
popular university human geography textbook
(Daniels et al., 2012). The school subject is,
therefore, different from the academic discipline,
and while the former can learn from developments
within the latter, it has to select and simplify
knowledge in ways that may not mirror academic
Here, therefore, I will adopt the second view of
powerful knowledge, i.e. about the intellectual
powers that knowledge may give students. The
statements quoted above (Young, 2008, 2013,
2014a) to describe this view identify knowledge as
powerful if it enables young people to:
discover new ways of thinking
better explain and understand the natural and
social worlds
think about alternative futures and what they
could do to influence them
have some power over their own knowledge
be able to engage in current debates of
significance, and
go beyond the limits of their personal
Whether these abilities are powerful is a matter of
subjective judgement, because what one person
regards as powerful may not be seen as such by
another. Some abilities concern higher levels of
understanding, which may or may not be
considered to be powerful, while others are
concerned with the capacity to create change,
which ought to qualify as powerful. They can be
grouped into five types of knowledge, each of
which is discussed below.
Type 1: Knowledge that provides
students with ‘new ways of
thinking about the world’
Ways of thinking are powerful because they may
provide a student with new perceptions, values and
understandings, new questions to ask and new
explanations to explore, and may change their
behaviour. Geography’s ways of thinking are
embedded in its major concepts, of which the most
fundamental are place, space, environment and
interconnection. While these are not substantive
concepts like ‘city’ or ‘climate’, they can be
described as meta-concepts (or concepts about
concepts). Their role is ‘to generate, at the meta-
level, conceptual tools that inform the development
of concepts, substantive theories and explanatory
schemes, and that underpin the design of
empirical studies’ (Sibeon, 2004, p. 13).
Consequently, they are difficult to define in a single
sentence because they have more than one
Place is a particularly rich concept, which Creswell
describes as a way of ‘seeing, knowing and
understanding the world’ (2004, p. 11). There are
many dimensions to the concept, one of which is
summed up in the following statement:
‘Each place is unique in its characteristics.
Consequently, the outcomes of similar
environmental and socio-economic processes
may vary between places, and similar problems
may require different strategies in different
This statement says that each place is unique in
its environmental and human characteristics, and
therefore the outcomes of similar processes may
differ because of their interaction with the varying
characteristics of each place. It also says that
strategies to address similar problems need to
take account of the distinctive characteristics of a
place, which could be its environment, culture,
economy, leadership or past experience. This is the
core of geography’s contention that ‘place
matters’. Everything exists and every event
happens in a place. The varied characteristics of
these places influence what exists and what
happens. This fundamental part of thinking
What might
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Geography Vol 101 Par t 2 Summer 2016
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geographically is identified by David Lambert
(2014b) as part of geography’s powerful
knowledge. It is powerful because it influences
thinking about ways of explaining and ways of
addressing problems.
Type 2: Knowledge that provides
students with powerful ways to
analyse, explain and understand
the world
Michael Young argues that knowledge is powerful
when it enables students to better understand and
explain phenomena or events. He writes:
‘“Powerful knowledge” is powerful because it
provides the best understanding of the natural
and social worlds that we have and helps us go
beyond our individual experiences’ (Young,
2013, p. 196).
In geography I suggest there are three forms of
knowledge that can have this power. These are
concepts that have analytical power, concepts that
have explanatory power, and generalisations.
Analytical concepts
Geography’s concepts can be used analytically in
ways that are distinctive to the subject. Place is a
good example. A major report on geography in the
United States argues that ‘Places are natural
laboratories for the study of complex relationships
among processes and phenomena’ (Rediscovering
Geography Committee, 1997, p. 30). While
geographers generally cannot conduct experiments
to test for relationships, except in some areas of
physical geography, they can conduct controlled
comparisons of places to test relationships
between selected variables. Diamond and
Robinson (2010), writing largely about research in
history, describe this analytical technique as the
natural experiment or comparative method. In
geography teaching the method could be used to
identify the effects of a specific variable (such as
climate or culture) by comparing a number of
places that are similar in one of these
characteristics, but different in others. For
example, students could investigate the influence
of climate on ways of life by selecting several
places in the world with a similar climate, and
finding out whether the ways of life in these places
were similar because of the effects of climate, or
different because of the influence of other factors.
They might discover that semi-arid areas have ways
of life varying from a hunter-gatherer society to
commercial cattle raising, mining and tourism.
From this they might therefore conclude that
climate does not have a strong influence. Similarly,
students could investigate the factors affecting
crop yields by comparing places with different
wheat yields, and identifying the variables causing
the differences. These factors might include levels
of rainfall, types of soil, irrigation methods, access
to technology and distance to markets.
Explanatory concepts
The concept of interconnection is fundamental to
explanation in geography, because causal
relationships are about the connections between
causes and effects. These connections involve
processes or mechanisms that seek ‘to show how
– by what means, through which networks –
particular outcomes materialize’ (Gregory et al.,
2009, p. 586). For example, the physical and
chemical processes involved in weathering
describe the mechanisms (such as freeze-thaw)
that are the connection between weather and the
wearing down of rock; and the process of
urbanisation describes the mechanisms (such as
changes in the structure of the economy towards
secondary, tertiary and quaternary industries),
which explain why economic development results
in major changes in the spatial distribution of
Causal relationships between interconnected
phenomena may operate in both directions. For
example, within places climate has a major
influence on natural vegetation, while the removal
of this vegetation can affect the climate by
changing patterns of precipitation. In this way
climate and vegetation are interconnected.
Similarly, some of the characteristics of a town are
influenced by its economic role, so that
manufacturing and mining towns are different in
the characteristics of their populations from towns
in agricultural areas, or towns based on tourism.
These population characteristics can in turn
influence the economy of a place (e.g. the way that
the migration of young people out of country towns
can affect their economic development). Here, it
can be seen that the economies and populations
of places are interconnected.
Interconnections between places also produce
causal relationships. These interconnections
include environmental processes, the movement of
people, flows of trade and investment, the
purchase of goods and services, cultural
influences, the exchange of ideas and information,
political power, international agreements and other
relationships. They may be between places at the
same level of scale – such as the flows of water
within a river catchment, or of trade between two
cities – or between places at different levels of
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What might
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scale – as in the influence of national government
policies on individual manufacturing places. The
interconnections could be through the spread of
fashions in music or clothing from one country to
another, in which tastes in one place are
influenced by trends in other places. Or they could
be through the movement of people from one place
to another, such as the interconnections Australian
places have with the places from which migrant
groups have come. The significance of these
interconnections is that they change the places
that are connected. Thus, to explain what a place
is like, and especially why it is changing, one must
look at its interconnections with other places.
Generalisations are ‘a synthesis of factual
information that states a relationship between two
or more concepts’ (Mckinney and Edgington, 1997,
p. 2). They can be powerful for two reasons. One is
that they summarise lots of information, making it
easier to remember and understand. More
importantly, however, they ‘allow students to apply
what they have learned to new settings and to
transfer prior knowledge to new situations’
(Shiveley and Misco, 2009, p. 76). This enables
students to ask appropriate questions and make
sense of contexts beyond their experience.
Counsell, writing about the teaching of history,
argues that ‘As with other disciplines, only when
young people can generalise appropriately, find
explanatory power and challenge the grounds of
others’ generalisations can they hope to engage
with serious political discourse’ (2011, p. 202).
For example, through their study of natural hazards
students could develop this generalisation:
‘Each type of environment has its own natural
hazards. The impact of these hazards on people
is determined by both human and environmental
factors, and can be reduced but not eliminated
by prevention, mitigation and preparedness’.
This statement synthesises a lot of information
about different natural hazards around concepts
about their causes and ways of responding to
them, and tells students several important things.
The first is that all environments can have natural
hazards, even the inner urban areas of temperate
cities that do not experience tropical cyclones,
bushfires or drought. The second is that the
economic impact of natural hazards is the result of
human as well as environmental causes, thus,
when investigating an unfamiliar hazard, students
should look beyond the environmental causes of
damage. They may discover, for example, that flood
damage has been increased by vegetation
clearance, the draining of the wetlands that
previously absorbed flood waters, the straightening
of river channels or the expansion of settlements
on floodplains. The third is that there is a variety of
strategies that can be used to reduce the impact
of a hazard, so students should look beyond a
single answer. Students can use this
generalisation to investigate and understand any
natural hazard event, by asking appropriate
Generalisations can be especially powerful if they
contain explanatory mechanisms and, therefore,
they can be used to predict. This example is from
economic geography:
‘Because of the advantages of geographical
concentration, economic activities tend to
cluster in space unless tied to the location of
natural resources or dispersed customers’.
This statement is powerful, not only because it
synthesises our knowledge of the location of
primary, secondary, tertiary and quaternary
activities into one deceptively simple
generalisation, which should help student
understanding, but also (and perhaps more
importantly), because it adds a major explanatory
concept: that of geographical concentration.
Consequently, it can be applied to forecast the
future pattern of economic activity in a country,
using anticipated changes in the structure of the
economy. It is also a generalisation that students
may be able to challenge by finding examples that
do not fit, which is likely to be a valuable exercise
educationally and geographically.
Generalisations that can be used to forecast are
particularly powerful when they provide a ‘basis for
suggesting realistic alternatives’ (Beck, 2013, p.
179). Students may be able to use their knowledge
to forecast what might happen, and compare this
with what they would prefer. They can then think
about how their preferred future could be achieved,
given their understanding of the processes
influencing that future. Such an approach can
enable young people to identify ways of taking
actions to improve their own and others’ futures.
Type 3: Knowledge that gives
students some power over their
own knowledge
The idea for this type of powerful knowledge came
from thinking about this statement by Michael
What might
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Geography Vol 101 Par t 2 Summer 2016
© Geography 2016
‘Knowledge in the sense we are using the word
in this book allows those with access to it to
question it and the authority on which it is
based and gain the sense of freedom and
excitement that it can offer’ (2014c, p. 20).
I interpret Young’s statement to mean that one
type of powerful knowledge is knowledge that
teaches students how to evaluate claims about
knowledge itself, because this gives them the
opportunity to be independent thinkers able to be
critical of the opinions of others, including those of
people in positions of power. To do this, students
need to know something about the ways
knowledge is created, tested and evaluated within
geography, and therefore about geographical
reasoning. Firth makes a similar point when he
argues that ‘a crucial aspect of the learning of
school subjects is challenging or questioning
knowledge claims in the way the discipline does’
(2015, p. 63). This requires students to learn the
epistemic tools provided by the discipline to
construct knowledge. Also important in giving
young people some power over their own
knowledge is knowing how to find knowledge. This
does not just mean the ability to undertake an
academic research project, but also to find
information already available, and make sense of
it. This enables young people to be independent of
the dominant sources of information in society.
Type 4: Knowledge that enables
young people to follow and
participate in debates on
significant local, national and
global issues
The ability to follow and participate in public
debates is essential to full and equal participation
in society and its conversations about itself, and
without this ability young people lack power.
Wheelahan writes:
‘a capacity to use knowledge from the
humanities and social sciences provides
students with a way of assessing arguments in
politics and evaluating competing policy
proposals, while a broad understanding of the
scientific method provides at least some access
to debates about how humankind should shape
its relationship with the natural world, as
exemplified by debates about global warming’
(2010, p. 2).
This is a strong justification for using geography to
examine current issues, and capitalising on the
subject’s ability to integrate knowledge from the
natural and social sciences as well as the
Type 5: Knowledge of the world
If powerful knowledge is knowledge that takes
students beyond the limits of their own experience,
then a geography that teaches students about
places that are beyond their experience must be
regarded as powerful. This is knowledge about the
world’s diversity of environments, peoples, cultures
and economies, which may stimulate young
people’s curiosity as well as engendering wonder
and awe. It is also knowledge of their links with
other places and the interconnectedness of the
world, which may develop a sense of global
citizenship. It is more general knowledge than that
in Type 4, because it is not tied to a current event
or issue.
This article has explored the concept of powerful
knowledge and what it might mean for school
geography. It identified five types of geographical
knowledge that constitute intellectually powerful
ways of thinking, analysing, explaining and finding
out, and these could be applied to thinking about
the aims of a geographical education. However,
except perhaps for Type 5, the concept does not
lead to a list of content that must be taught, but
only to ways of thinking that should be developed
through whatever content is selected. Adopting this
approach to geographical education could also
help students to make more sense of the factual
content of the curriculum, by learning how to
synthesise information into generalisations or to
use explanatory concepts, and to see coherence in
what can often appear a somewhat disordered and
sprawling discipline. In addition, the concept of
powerful knowledge provides a way to
communicate geography to non-geographers, by
describing its ways of thinking, understanding and
explaining as well as its factual knowledge, and
demonstrating that these ways of thinking and
understanding are both educationally valuable and
not taught in any other subject. Given the lack of
understanding of our subject in the community and
among education administrators, this could be
powerful for geography.
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knowledge, curriculum knowledge”’, Cambridge Journal
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social justice. London: Bloomsbury Academic, pp. 41–
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Young, M. (2014c) ‘Knowledge, curriculum and the future
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Alaric Maude is a retired Associate Professor of
Geography in the School of Environment at
Flinders University, Adelaide, South Australia
... Acknowledgment of the diversities about the world Maude (2016) the global as a condition for understanding the world and the autonomous activity of individuals in the face of its contradictions. In contributing to this debate, Margaret Roberts (2014) drew attention to the fact that the geographical knowledge taught in schools needs to be relevant to the students, i.e., she emphasized that the significance of such knowledge resides in its ability to connect to the different realities of the individuals who attend the schools. ...
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Contexto: Refletir o papel do conhecimento geográfico na escola implica refletir o papel do conhecimento local nos currículos aplicados. Neste artigo, problematizaremos a questão do conhecimento poderoso (Michael Young) como estratégia de reconhecimento da cultura escolar e seus impactos na construção da autonomia e emancipação dos alunos. O conhecimento poderoso é reconhecido como uma estratégia antagônica ao conhecimento dos poderosos; pode ser aplicado como forma de compreender o conhecimento em suas múltiplas escalas nos currículos oficiais. Método: Essa discussão será dialogada com uma bibliografia brasileira para contextualizar o desenvolvimento do debate apresentado. Resultado: Diante disso, reforça-se que a aprendizagem da Geografia sempre estará relacionada a um processo de tomada de consciência das práticas espaciais envolvidas na relação dos indivíduos com seus lugares de vivência.
... Powerful knowledge enables students to understand and explain the social world, to discover other ways of thinking, to consider other experiences beyond their own, and to think about alternative futures [39][40][41]. According to Maude [42], one of the most valuable aspects of powerful geography knowledge is to provide and encourage new ways of thinking about the world, as students learn about other perceptions, values, cultures, environments, and people. In addition, with a multiperspective approach, students are able to understand how knowledge is created and learn to critically question the opinions of others as well as their own. ...
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This exploratory qualitative study reports student teachers’ knowledge of multiperspectivity as well as how student teachers consider multiperspectivity in lesson planning. The study was embedded in a project in which German and Dutch student teachers dealt with multiperspectivity for one semester. Based on the theoretical literature and the empirical results, we identified a set of criteria for multiperspectivity in geography lessons. These criteria were then applied to analyse the student teachers’ lesson plans and teaching materials as well as the student teachers’ answers in the qualitative questionnaires, which the student teachers answered at the beginning and at the end of the semester. The results of this study show that the professional knowledge of student teachers in terms of multiperspectivity was not extensively represented or apparent from the answers to either the pre- or the postquestionnaire. The analysis of the lesson plans and the teaching materials showed that the student teacher groups were able to form a multiperspective topic didactically. However, not all groups had considered promoting evaluation competence in lesson planning, and the reflection competence was hardly considered. Therefore, our developed criteria for multiperspectivity in geography lessons could help student teachers to better understand and consider multiperspectivity when planning lessons.
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This paper outlines the development of a comparative research framework in subject didactics and applies this in the process of analysing the transformations from academic disciplines across different school subjects. The theoretical framework builds on the concepts of ‘powerful knowledge’ and ‘transformation’ and ‘epistemic quality’ within which transformation processes from the classroom to the societal level are considered as ‘trajectories of powerful knowledge and epistemic quality”. The framework is used to analyse the findings from recent empirical studies across school subjects that have been reported on in publications arising from the Knowledge and Quality across School Subjects and Teacher Education (KOSS) network . The paper then focuses on analysing the transformations from disciplines across school subjects, given that the first boundary in defining powerful knowledge concerns knowledge that is specialized in both how it is produced and transmitted. To analyse this boundary the findings from the empirical studies are grouped into broad subject categories. These are then compared with the corresponding disciplines by using the widely cited Biglan classification scheme of academic disciplines in higher education. Finally, we consider the implications for curriculum planning and teacher education policy and reflect on the concept of subject-specific educational content knowledge (SSECK).
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Esta revisión teórica busca dar cuenta del análisis realizado sobre la discusión de la literatura que sustenta el enfoque conceptual identificado en su idioma original como “Powerful Knowledge Geography”, el cual aquí se trabaja como Conocimiento Geográfico Potente (CGP) para reconocer el nivel de desarrollo de dicho planteamiento y analizar su pertinencia en la educación geográfica. Se encontraron diversas posturas sobre lo que puede significar el CGP y un punto de encuentro en el que su enseñanza debe ser a través de un proceso de recontextualización, como parte de la reivindicación al acceso democrático de este conocimiento y como derecho de justicia social para los estudiantes. La indagación se realizó a partir de una búsqueda sistemática de la literatura publicada en diversas bases de datos entre los años 2007 y 2021. Se analizaron 80 resultados considerados pertinentes que dan cuenta del acervo teórico del tema. Este artículo refiere los aportes correspondientes al CGP, con respecto a su base teórica, el Conocimiento Poderoso (CP), para profundizar en la discusión de los trabajos que analizan el nivel de desarrollo de este enfoque. La investigación permite reconocer las fortalezas y áreas de oportunidad que este planteamiento aporta a la educación geográfica.
For decades, geography has claimed to be the school subject with a unique and powerful contribution to Environmental Education and, subsequently, Education for Sustainable Development. Empirical evidence seems to support this agenda showcasing that geographical knowledge, defined as human-environment interaction, can better equip students with the knowledge required in relation to ESD-topics and thus help to work towards a more sustainable future than any other school subject. However, despite the efforts of the last three decades, there is a clear gap between the claim and the reality of geography’s role in ESD. Therefore, using the case of Germany, this article discusses three dimensions of this gap to assist geography in making the meaningful contribution to young people’s lives that it has promised for decades.
GeoCapabilities is a distinctive approach to teacher professional development which foregrounds the educational potential of geographical knowledge. This paper examines the effect of GeoCapabilities on geography teachers’ expertise. First, the paper explores a problem of teacher training which privileges technique for classroom effectiveness over geographical thinking. We then introduce the GeoCapabilities 3 project, presenting and discussing findings through teachers’ reflections. We argue that GeoCapabilities 3 offers a model of teacher development, which supports teachers as leaders of curriculum change in an ‘activist profession’. This is needed if geography education is to equip young people with knowledge capabilities for their future.
Michael Young’s concept of “powerful knowledge” has received widespread attention from many in geographical education. I use the claims Young has made about powerful knowledge as a starting point for considering how pedagogic practices could contribute to making geographical education powerful. I present three sets of pedagogic practices: connecting everyday knowledge with school knowledge; practising geography and debating and discussing geography. Each set of each practices is illustrated with examples of activities all of which involve the active engagement of students and the interactive support of teachers. I outline ways in which the three pedagogic practices are powerful and suggest the kinds of classroom culture that supports them.
Spatial thinking is an integral skill for geography students to develop. Whilst many spatial competencies have been identified by researchers, and the merits of GIS seemingly ubiquitous in the published literature, little work has been done into how students’ spatial thinking skills can be assessed. Therefore, further investigation into the relationship between spatial thinking and performance and attainment is needed. This research investigates the impact using a geographic information system (GIS) has on students’ spatial thinking skills and attempts to assess the extent using a framework. This was done through the design and implementation of two GIS-based interventions. This small-scale evaluation used qualitative methods to investigate students’ and teachers’ views. Student work was also analysed using the framework developed for the assessment of spatial thinking skills. The findings suggest that the use of a GIS does enhance, and in most cases improves students’ spatial thinking skills, but, that spatial thinking is hard to quantify and difficult to measure progress in. Another benefit that using a GIS affords is the creation of engaging, contemporary and interactive lessons, using real data, from which students derive a lot of geographical value.
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Since the late 1990s, writers associated with what has come to be termed ‘social realism’ have challenged the idea, which has become influential in many educational systems, that knowledge should be seen as a ‘process’ rather than as an ‘object’ and that is it co-constructed in the interactions between teacher and students. At the risk of oversimplifying, social realism sets out to challenge the claim that ‘transmission’ — characterising any educational incident that has the learning of knowledge previously planned or defined by the teacher as the basic objective — is a questionable aim for teaching. The idea that knowledge is socially constructed, and therefore malleable and ‘arbitrary’, has profound implications for ‘curriculum’ — that body of knowledge which is to be taught in schools. Taken to the limit, the conceptualisation of knowledge as a social construction can lead to the adoption of a ‘ludic-rous’ curriculum, where knowledge is seen as playful and where the suggestion that there exists (or should exist) a common curriculum is, quite literally, viewed as ludicrous. The challenge that social realism poses for educators is to take knowledge seriously and to assert that knowledge has an existence independent of those who created it. Knowledge is a social product, of course, but cannot be reduced to the standpoint of those who created it.
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Since so much of the focus of Labour education policy over the previous 13 years was on the importance of learning, it is significant that the first White Paper on education produced by the present coalition government should be titled The Importance of Teaching (DfE, 2010). The focus on learning , so popular with Labour education ministers was signalled by the publication of texts such as The Learning Game, authored by New Labour's educational 'guru' Michael Barber, and the creation of numerous education 'strategies' where the emphasis was on generic 'learning', free from any sense of subject or disciplines. In response, a number of commentators such as Robert Whelan (2007), Frank Furedi (2009), Lyn Yates and Michael Young (2010), became concerned that, during the 'long decade' of New Labour government, schools and teachers had become so focused on the 'how' of learning that the question of what was to be learned had been neglected. It is against this backdrop that The Importance of Teaching makes its call for a return to a focus on subject-based teaching and within that a concern with the core knowledge that makes up the subjects. For many geography teachers, this seems to be an alarming prospect, signalling a return to long lists of content to be covered, and threatening the pedagogical developments around enquiry and learning that are increasingly seen as 'best practice'.
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Social realism (SR), as a movement that argues for ‘bringing knowledge back in’ to curriculum (Young 2008a), is significant globally, especially in South Africa. This article examines arguments from SR proponents that curriculum selection should privilege specialised disciplinary knowledge – as ‘powerful knowledge’ – over ‘everyday knowledge’, and how this is warranted through Durkheim's distinction between ‘sacred’ and ‘profane’ social bases for knowledge. The article asks how adequately curriculum based on SR warrants can do social justice. This inquiry stages debates between SR and three alternative approaches. The first is standpoint theories that knowledge – including that of scientific disciplines – is always positional and ‘partially objective’. The next is Vygotskian arguments for curriculum that, dialectically, joins systematising powers of scientific knowledge with rich funds of knowledge from learners’ everyday life-worlds. Third, SR's philosophical framing is contrasted with Nancy Fraser's (2009) framework for robust social justice in globalising contexts. It is argued that SR's grounds for curriculum knowledge selection emphasise cognitive purposes for schooling in ways that marginalise ethical purposes. In consequence, SR conceptions of what constitutes social-educational ‘justice’ are too thin, we argue, to meet substantive needs and aspirations among power-marginalised South African groups seeking better lives through schooling.
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Michael Young’s work is central to debates about knowledge and the school curriculum. In recent years he has renounced his early argument that school subjects represent the ‘knowledge of the powerful’, arguing instead that access and equality for all students are dependent on ensuring that all get access to ‘powerful knowledge’. This paper provides an interpretation of Young’s work.
If we live in a knowledge economy, why is it that policy focuses so much on skills? This chapter explores this apparent contradiction through an analysis of the word knowledge and its relationship with skills in vocational education policy discourse. It begins with a review of the centrality of the theme of differentiation in the emerging social realist tradition in the sociology of education, and the apparent ‘de-differentiation’ of knowledge and skills in the discourse of the knowledge economy. Applying concepts from lexical semantics the chapter examines the changes in dictionary meanings of knowledge and skills, their role as keywords in education policy, and their meanings in a sample policy text. The chapter argues that knowledge and skills has become a single lexical item in which the word knowledge in particular has become ‘delexicalised’. This argument is supported by an examination of the phrase knowledge and skills, which shows that although knowledge still appears in the phrase, the meaning of the phrase is carried by the currently prevailing view of skills.
This chapter addresses a long-standing issue in the sociology of education — the problem of knowledge. It argues that the way in which the problem has been a problem for so long constitutes a problem in its own right — hence, ‘the problem of the problem’. Its persistence represents a ‘blind spot’ within the field regarding the question of knowledge (Moore and Maton, 2001). However, as questions of knowledge and curriculum return to the centre stage of educational policy and debate, the sociology of education urgently requires a powerful theory of knowledge in order to positively engage with and influence them (Beck, 2012b).
Roger Sibeon's distinctive new book forms part of a movement towards what many others have referred to as the 'return' to sociological theory and method. Offering both description and critique of contemporary theoretical and illustrative empirical materials, the goal of this book is a renewal of sociology and social theory that will facilitate worthwhile social knowledge that contributes to an understanding of the practical problems of making sense of social theory.
What should we teach in our schools and vocational education and higher education institutions? Is theoretical knowledge still important? This book argues that providing students with access to knowledge should be the raison d'être of education. Its premise is that access to knowledge is an issue of social justice because society uses it to conduct its debates and controversies. Theoretical knowledge is increasingly marginalised in curriculum in all sectors of education, particularly in competency-based training which is the dominant curriculum model in vocational education in many countries. This book uses competency-based training to explore the negative consequences that arise when knowledge is displaced in curriculum in favour of a focus on workplace relevance. The book takes a unique approach by using the sociology of Basil Bernstein and the philosophy of critical realism as complementary modes of theorising to extend and develop social realist arguments about the role of knowledge in curriculum. Both approaches are increasingly influential in education and the social sciences and the book will be helpful for those seeking an accessible introduction to these complex subjects. Why Knowledge Matters in Curriculum is a key reading for those interested in the sociology of education, curriculum studies, work-based learning, vocational education, higher education, adult and community education, tertiary education policy and lifelong learning more broadly.