Eyes were invented before technology – getting young people to read the landscape

Just time for a quick story. Back from a day along the East Sussex coast – classic gemorphological sites such as Birling Gap, Cuckmere Haven and Rottingdean. The day is set up to tell a story, moving from an undefended stretch of coast where nature will be allowed to take place uninterrupted to Rottingdean where humans are ‘holding the line.’ The narrative of such a day is just as important as what is measured.
The day is about the complex interplay between human activity (spanning hundreds of years in the case of Birling Gap and Cuckmere Haven) and unstoppable physical processes. Of course, there’s loads of measurement, field sketches, talk and questioning about processes, landforms and human decisions. But then there are also the moments where measurement takes place by using the human mind and brain.
Those that have been out in the field with me, whether on a Geography fieldtrip or expedition, know the phrase ‘Eyes were invented before (map/compass/ranging ole/theodolite/flow meter).’ This is all about encouraging young people to ‘read’ the landscape and to value what they see. this requires reference to thoughts feelings and, dare I say it ‘hippy’ moments of reflection.
Some may say that there is no room in school to provide such madness and that it is the parents responsibility to provide such experiences. I’d say those people are talking out of their arse.
1. Part of being a successful academic geographer is the ability to ‘read’ the landscape. Yes, this requires a deep understanding of map skills, geomorphic processes and a wealth of academic knowledge on the grand theory of human decisions and interaction. However, it also requires empathy and the ability to understand the role of human nature.
2. Some children don’t have the luxury of having supportive parents. I assume from the attitude of the traditionalists (surprisingly Labour supporting left, people I thought would be all for helping out those who are unfortunate – perhaps they are more New Labour Right or UKIP?) that we shouldn’t care about these.
3. Doing the mad stuff that is slightly not academic means that it is more likely for young people to fall in love with a subject as they see the landscape ‘come to life’ and are able to recognise their place within it. With this knowledge, they can go on to change this landscape, whether it be a school, Rhondda Valley, city or country. Indeed, doing non-academic parental stuff in schools I’ve been involved with has allowed young people to successfully campaign and change their school environment.
We need well rounded individuals and Sir Anthony Seldon agrees. Those from privileged backgrounds and schools don’t get to where they are JUST because they have bomber academic qualifications, but because they are given rich experiences within which to develop character.
The rock at the top? The highlight of my day as a Year 10, disengaged boy, fell in love with geology right there on the beach today. He’ll also come out with fantastic grades, mainly because I’m someone who doesn’t believe in the false dichotomy that others thrive off. Indeed, they create it because it gets them attention. The answer is a blend of the progressive and traditionalist. Watch my lessons and the advice I give to those I lead over the year and it’s a balance between the academic skill and well-rounded experiences. What’s the point of a young person who has the grades but who can’t give a good impression with a solid handshake and anecdotes of when they have faced a challenge? Will they land a better job without any passion?
Good job that many of them aren’t in any danger of actually being in charge of anything past their own, closed classrooms.
I’m a life-long Labour party member, but I’m not a Labour teacher. They seem a little too Right Wing.
(OK @rlj1981  ,they may have dislodged a small pebble 😉

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