Children 'being brainwashed' by new green geography lessons
By David Harrison, Environment Correspondent
Pupils are leaving secondary school knowing "everything about pollution but nothing about rivers or mountains", say researchers from Canterbury University.
Their study found that geography lessons are dominated by "environmental values and attitudes" and do not provide pupils with enough information to form their own views. The new "greenwash" approach is being promoted by the Government, exam boards and geographical associations, the study claims.
One exam board, Edexcel, is accused of making a virtue out of providing fewer facts to pupils, boasting that its new GCSE syllabus "contains the same core geography [as before] but in less depth".
The study gives warning that the emphasis in the classroom has shifted from knowledge to "environmentalism, sustainability and cultural tolerance".
It concludes: "Replacing knowledge with values means that the subject has become less academic, less rigorous, less demanding and less interesting."
The Canterbury Christ Church University College study is based on interviews with 50 geography teachers in south-east England, and an examination of the national curriculum and textbooks used in secondary schools.
Alex Standish, the author of the research, who was a geography teacher in south London for 10 years, said: "New Agenda Geography assumes that there is a correct attitude towards a problem and so teaches pupils to think in the 'appropriate way'.
"Teachers are concerned to tell pupils what to think about global warming and multinational corporations exploiting less-developed countries. But the syllabus does not offer a counter-interpretation - for example, that many environments are very resilient or the extent to which new farming techniques have reduced starvation.
"This contrasts markedly with the more traditional educational approach which considers pupils as being capable of making rational decisions for themselves."
The study found that most teachers were happy to promote green values over knowledge, although there were pockets of resistance. One teacher told Mr Standish: "We already teach as if we were the action wing of Greenpeace. We should develop critical thinking, not blind adherence to green policy."
Eighty-four per cent of teachers agreed that there was a greater emphasis on values and attitudes today, and 68 per cent said fewer facts were taught today than under previous curricula.
Eighty-six per cent said it was now more important to teach about environmental issues while 80 per cent agreed that "geography should teach pupils to respect and reconnect with nature". Many teachers went further. Two thirds thought that teaching about "sustainable lifestyles" and the pupils' roles as "global citizens" was more important than teaching basic skills such as reading maps.
"Selective presentation" of issues is also evident in geography textbooks, the study says. A new A-level textbook, Global Challenge, published by Longman, presents pupils with a series of challenges on "cutting consumption" and "lowering fertility rates".
This bias "leaves pupils with the impression that humans can only cause harm to the environment", Mr Standish concluded.
Many parents backed his findings. Tina Fitzgibbon, a mother of three, from Hemel Hempstead, Herts, said that she was "appalled" to discover that one of her sons, in the early years of secondary school, could talk about "renewable energy sources" and "population issues" but could not point to Egypt, or even Africa, on a map.
"The lessons were anti-facts," Mrs Fitzgibbon said. "They were clogged up with broad environmental issues, sludgy stuff with pretensions of morality. My children have learned more about geography from board games such as Risk than they ever did at school."
Tom Burkard, who has three children and runs a charity for special needs children in Norfolk, said: "My 14-year-old daughter's class was taught about saving the rainforest but nothing about the people whose livelihood depends on cutting down the trees. It was totally one-sided. The curriculum today promotes simplistic answers instead of real thinking. The green agenda is obscuring children's access to facts.
"It is dispiriting to see how many children do not know basic geography such as where countries are and the names of their capital cities."
Nik Seaton, the chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, said the research "reveals attitudes that are typical of the Left-wing ideology that now controls our state school system".
He added: "The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority and the Geographical Association are obsessed with political correctness to the detriment of our children's education. We have had terrible difficulties with the history being taught in state schools and now geography is a real problem too."
A spokesman for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority said: "Teaching about environmental change and sustainable development is an integral part of the geography curriculum.
"Pupils develop a wide range of geographical skills, including the ability to analyse and evaluate evidence from a range of sources, before drawing conclusions."
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