So, I have a new guilty pleasure. I’ve discovered that my Amazon Echo, via a service called TuneIn, can pick up a US radio station called WCAI, part of their National Public Radio network. I know the station from visiting the States, where the friends I stay with listen to little else. Unlike the crude stereotypes of American news which reduces it to the insular and the local, WCAI (and NPR) is full of programmes which are open-minded and outward-looking. Its a bit like a less high-brow Radio 4.

Listening along, one of the presenters mentioned that NPR was all about treating people with respect whilst also being challenging. This is what good media is all about.

Book buying and burning

I’m sticking to my resolution about not buying new books until I work through some of the many on my shelf. It is really difficult. It seems that everywhere I look there are books I would like to read. So instead of succumbing to temptation, as I normally would, I add them to my Amazon wishlist. Maybe in 2018, if my resolution survives the full year, I’ll be able to have a binge!

Whilst I am avoiding reading books, I was recently described by a friend as an incessant reader. This is I guess true, though I wouldn’t have used the word incessant. I know lots of people who polish off dozens of books a month. I’ve never been like that. I am more of a grazer. I like reading little and often – magazines, websites, newspapers, etc. – and that is why I guess I know a little about lots of different things, with only a few things which I know in any real depth. So I can hold my own in most conversations, but only until the going gets too heavy.

Although not buying books, I am still reading. That is in contrast to Donald Trump, who seems to take pride in admitting that he doesn’t read books. More worryingly, there has been much discussion in the media about the removal of certain pages from US government websites, not least the pages about climate change. One of the most interesting comparisons made was that of deleting pages with the burning of books, a tactic historically favoured by unsavoury populists looking to whip up a fervour against liberal values and a fact-based view of the world.

Powerful ideas

As a member of the Geographical Association, I receive their journal Teaching Geography. This terms issue focuses on the power of geography, something which I’ve had an interest in – both professionally and academically – for some time, not least when completing my Masters degree. Margaret Roberts, a well-known geography educationalist, writes about the power of geography being derived from how it helps people to understand their everyday experiences. This is quite true, but I have found in the past that Roberts overstates this ‘everyday’ aspect when compared to academic concepts. Michael Young, another academic whose focus is on subject-based curricula offering ‘powerful knowledge’ – that which they wouldn’t otherwise access except at school – emphasises that subject disciplines offer a different way of thinking. I totally agree. Yes, the purpose of any education is to change the way we think and yes, this should help us interpret the world around us, but we don’t send children to school to simply reflect on what they already know. True, geography has a great ability to engage with everyday experiences, but it also needs to provide a conceptually-rigorous education that allows young people to engage with and challenge their world.

Via Twitter, I came across a blog by Andy Tharby which looks at stretching and challenging the most able. Tharby mentions the importance of powerful knowledge and cultural literacy in this. He emphasises that for disadvantaged young people, it is even more important that the school curriculum takes them beyond their immediate lived experience. Aside from many brilliant ideas about stretch and challenge, one comment of Tharby’s which also stood out was about encouraging young people ‘to see beyond the functional and competitive purposes of education’. Absolutely agree. For too long the economy has been the tail wagging the dog of education. If we educate people in the broadest sense, then society and the economy will be fine. The moment we focus solely on providing a workforce, we start to diminish the core purpose of education.

Reading a blog, such as Andy’s, I am simply reminded just how much provocative and insightful material is out there, if you only know where to look and have the time to digest it (by digest, I mean read and act on). Maybe I’m not missing the books too much – I can read more blogs instead!