Concepts as the Grammar of Geography: A Reflection

Thinking Geographically

Within geography education, there is discussion about what it means to “think geographically” (Jackson, 2006). One argument is that geographical content (the lists of names and places) is the “vocabulary” of geography, and geographical concepts are the ”grammar” which helps us makes sense of places and names (Jackson, 2006; Lambert, 2004). Jackson argues that what sets geographers apart from other professions is their ability to make connections between information and knowledge about seemingly unrelated matters (Jackson P. , 2006, p. 203), but expressed concern that the public perception of the discipline focuses only on the “vocabulary” aspect (Jackson P. , 2006).

Jackson is not alone in stating that the study of Geography should not be purely about making lists and remembering names. Bonnet (2012) sees the taxonomy of Geography – using geography to “order the world” – as one of the existential functions of Geography (Bonnet, 2012, p. 40). Advocates of holistic geography (Rawding, 2013) support Jackson’s argument that geography students need to move beyond studying geography topics in isolation. They argue that students need to see the interconnection between different systems (Bonnet, 2012; Lambert, 2004; Rawding, 2013), that is they need to think geographically. Holistic geography poses a stark contrast to the topical approach typically employed in schools, where the textbook is divided distinctly first into human and physical geography, then separate topics such plate tectonics or weather and climate.

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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