The Critical Classroom – “Critical School Geography: Education for Global Citizenship”

John Huckle;

Critical School Geography is a free ebook that I have written and self-published on my website ( Are the key lessons it contains about teaching critical geography to older school students equally relevant to teaching in universities? Here I suggest four lessons that apply in both settings and suggest increased solidarity between critical school and university geographers:

[i] The Big Picture

Teachers and students of geography should see their teaching and learning as part of a larger political project of challenging the enclosure (privatisation) of educational institutions; the commodification of knowledge and students; and the alienation of students, teachers and lecturers that results from turning schools and universities into examination factories. Rather than producing passive and conforming workers, consumers and citizens, critical education seeks to produce active and critical citizens, socially useful workers, and responsible consumers. The classroom is a key site within the “three terrains of transformation” from capitalism to postcapitalism, “creating commons against enclosure, socially useful production that counters commodification, and joyful doing that negates alienated work” (Chatterton and Pusey 2020: 27).

Chatterton P and Pusey A (2020) Beyond capitalist enclosure, commodification, and alienation. Postcapitalist praxis as commons, social production, and useful doing. Progress in Human Geography 44(1):27-48

[ii] The History and Philosophy of Geography

Students should be provided with an overview of the history of the subject with reference to the interests it serves and its changing philosophical foundations. They should be taught to distinguish between mainstream and critical geography and to recognise how educational reform in recent decades has marginalised critical geography in schools. Critical realism is a philosophy that can integrate physical and human geography, unify academic and lay (popular) knowledge, and clarify debates over powerful disciplinary knowledge that have recently pre-occupied geographical educators at the secondary school level.

Huckle J (2019) Powerful geographical knowledge is critical knowledge underpinned by critical realism. International Research in Geographical and Environmental Education 28(1):70-84

[iii] Critical Pedagogy

Socially useful knowledge results from dialogue between teacher and learner: a process (praxis) of reflecting and acting on critical academic ideas and their relevance to the emancipation of individuals and the sustainable development of society. Praxis requires teachers to establish students’ prior conceptions and misconceptions; to reveal the workings of ideology, myths, stereotypes, narratives, discourse, and post-truths; and to employ a range of media, experiential activities, and real and simulated action research projects. Eco-pedagogy, post-colonial pedagogy, and the pedagogy of place are particularly relevant areas of critical pedagogy for geographers.

Evans T L (2012) Occupy Education: Living and Learning Sustainability. New York: Peter Lang

[vi] Radical Democracy and Global Citizenship

Critical education takes several forms including those underpinned by agonistic (Laclau and Mouffe) and deliberative (Habermas and Rawls) theories of radical democracy. In seeking to advance radical democracy and radical global democratisation, Critical School Geography draws on the “left populism” of Mouffe, and Ruitenberg’s writing on radical democratic citizenship education. These find expression in the book’s curriculum units that apply Unesco’s guidance on education for sustainable development and global citizenship while giving it a critical orientation.

Ruitenberg C W (2009) Educating political adversaries: Chantal Mouffe and radical democratic citizenship education. Studies in Phlosophy and Education 28:269-281

[v] Solidarity

In the 1980s the Association for Curriculum Development in Geography (ACDG) brought together university geographers, school teachers, and teacher educators, to produce the journal Contemporary Issues in Geography and Education and campaign for critical school geography. While academic geographers continue to write for teachers via the Geographical Association and Royal Geographical Society, and influence A-level syllabuses, there is too little debate over the aims, content and pedagogy of school geography, and too little solidarity between critical geographers in schools and universities. Initiatives such as the ACDG perhaps need to be rekindled.

Norcup J (2015) “Awkward Geographies? An Historical and Cultural Geography of the Journal Contemporary Issues in Geography and Education (CIGE) (1983-1991).” Unpublished PhD thesis


John Huckle is a retired teacher educator who was a member of the group that edited Contemporary Issues in Geography and Education in the 1980s. He has long argued for a more critical and relevant school geography and has written on the subject’s links to moral and political education and its potential to act as a vehicle for environmental, development and citizenship education. The lack of a single text to introduce school geography teachers to critical geography and education encouraged him to write Critical School Geography.