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Teaching secondary geography
Teaching secondary geography

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4.1 Controversial issues in geography

Many topics in geography have an element of controversy within them. This means that there is likely to be a variety of stances that different people can take. Some issues may provoke very strong feelings. As a geography teacher you must be well prepared to handle such topics, and you need to consider how to introduce and manage activities in a classroom to encourage everyone to take part and be listened to.

The next two activities require you to consider which issues may be defined as being controversial in geography and some general approaches you might adopt as you teach them.

Activity 9 Considering controversial issues in geography

Timing: Allow about 15 minutes

What do you consider to be the most controversial issues in geography? Quickly write down your first thoughts before reading on.

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Comment

You might have mentioned ‘high profile’ issues like global climate change, migration, population policy or genetically modified (GM) crops.

What would your students view as controversial? Would their opinions be the same?

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Comment

It may be that river flood defence policy, building on the green belt, parking outside the school gates or wind farms are issues of more immediate relevance to you or your students.

In reality, most geography topics will have related controversial issues. Even ‘hard physical’ geography, such as studying coastal environments, includes controversial issues.

Identify a range of issues in a coastal topic that could be controversial.

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Comment

In a coastal study unit, policies like managed retreat and the location and design of coastal defences and tourism development could all be controversial, raising issues such as:

  • Who has the power to define the problem?
  • What evidence has been used? Is it valid, accurate, reliable?
  • Are there alternative ways of ‘seeing’ the issues?
  • Whose views are taken into account?
  • Whose views are ignored?
  • Who or what is responsible for the problem?
  • How are ecological and economic costs and benefits evaluated and compared?
  • How will a solution be found?