Do You Ever Disagree With Your Students? Avoiding Personal Politics in Human Geography Teaching

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Abstract:

This paper considers the possibility of overt political disagreement between human geographers and their students. Recent literature suggests that geographers should encourage their students to become more politically engaged through innovative teaching methods that could include frank discussion of the various positions taken by lecturers and students alike. Yet this same strategy could easily run against established pedagogical arguments about how teacher neutrality gives students the space to develop their views in whatever direction they choose. This paper investigates the practical management of this tension by drawing on qualitative interviews with a sample of current practitioners that centred on the occasions when personal politics have previously featured in their undergraduate teaching. It describes why overt political discussion is often squeezed out of these encounters, the careful ways in which these academics manage their political views during the times when such discussion occurs along with the degree to which they felt they should reveal them, and how students themselves commonly seemed to perform opinion in a relatively superficial way because doing so could be much less stressful. The conclusion that follows reflects on the broader implications of these findings for current debate and future practice in the discipline where it particularly emphasizes the importance of being sensitive to the interpersonal dynamics at hand.

Keywords: Class debate; human geography; personal politics

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03098265.2010.499563

Affiliations: Department of Geography, University College London, UK

Publication date: February 1, 2011

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