Thought for the Day

Facts, then, our school geographers seem to learn pretty well. They are not so happy when they try to use them - many, I suspect, would prefer to " utilise" them - as evidence in support of statements or as explanations for other facts. It is here, in exposition and in reasoning, that much school geography seems to me to show very serious weakness.

It seems to me that geographers should expressly seek to think clearly and to state their thoughts clearly in simple lucid language without unnecessary abstractions. Lucidity of language cannot be gained without lucidity of thought. A sentenco whose meaning is wrapped up in cotton-wool abstractions like "conditions", "influence,", "development," and the rest may be the unhappy product of a clear-thinking mind groping vainly after olear expression : it is much more likely to be the product of a muddled mind.. But to write a precise, forceful sentence it is quite essential first (to arrange our ideas clearly in our minds : in other words, we must think clearly. Surely as teachers one of our chief duties to our pupito is to teach them to do this? If we insist on lucidity of writing, we are forcing them to think lucidly, and doing our duty by them : if we let them get away with vague, muddled expression and a lot of distractions for padding, we are not. It is lucidity I plead for, not necessarily literary excellence.

Let us then clarify our geographical thinking and tighten up our reasoning. Let us work from observed and recorded facts to generalisations and classifications, and not in the opposite way.
Let us particularly beware of suggesting facile explanations which ignore the infinite complexity of the factors involved. To help clearer thinking let us insist on clearer written work from our pupils. We know that some of them have good brains ; do we always teach them to make the best of them ? 
Let us set ourselves to teach them to think and to write accurately, lucidly and to the point, so that when the time comes they may with the confidence born of long practice set out their ideas and prove their contentions for the examiner who holds so much of their future in the hollow of his hand.

An anonymous examiner, in 1948
Examiner. “PLAIN SPEAKING.” Geography, vol. 33, no. 1, 1948, pp. 21–26. JSTOR,

For more blasts from the geographical past, check out my GA Presidents blog.

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