Radicalization of Geographical Education in Singapore through Powerful Knowledge and Powerful Pedagogy


Johnston and Sidaway (2004) posit that there exists a body of knowledge that is taught by experts who produce new knowledge and reproduce old knowledge within disciplines that is identified by their subject matter. The German philosopher Immanuel Kant classified this knowledge in three different ways (Azócar Fernández & Buchroithner, 2014). One way was to classify facts according to the type of the objects studied. The second way was to examine the temporal dimension by looking at things in relation to their history. The final way was to understand facts relative to their spatial relationships. It is the final method of knowledge classification that is what we know today as geography.

The understanding of knowledge, as with other phenomena in our society, is “ever-changing and is multifaceted” (Boettke, 2002, p. 266). More recently, Firth (2013) proposed three other conceptions of knowledge: absolutist, relativist and realist, and argues that such “different conceptions of knowledge (and truth) imply and encourage different ideals of thinking, learning, teaching and curriculum in geography” (p. 59).

However it seems that knowledge is “somehow taken for granted or something we can make fit our political goals” (Young, 2010, p. 21) and that there is a need for another way of conceptualizing the curriculum by seeing what knowledge can do, calling it “powerful knowledge” (Young, 2009). He argues that because the curriculum had evolved to tackle social problems and fulfill the needs and interests of learners, it “played down the fundamental educational role of the curriculum, which derives both from what schools are for and what they can and cannot do” (Young, 2010, p. 23). Young (2010) therefore takes a radical stand and argues that “we need to make the question of knowledge our central concern and this involves developing a knowledge-led and subject-led, and not, as much current orthodoxy assumes, a learner-led approach to the curriculum” (p. 21). This paper will critically examine Young’s (2010) arguments and comment on how these arguments are relevant to geographical education in Singapore.

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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