How should Geography teachers respond when young people express their worries about the future of the world to us? There is, of course, a need to listen, empathise, and support. But what if we can do more than that? What if we can instil hope – active hope – so that our young people can be more confident about the future?
I was honoured to present at November’s RGS-IBG online TeachMeet session on Hopeful Education, and I was enthused by the vibrant and engaging atmosphere. A link to the slides is here.
The Hopeful Education initiative brings together three broad strands in a way which I believe could be powerful in our role as geography educators in preparing students to engage with the world and its future. These strands are: evaluating progress, believing in humanity, and striving for a better world. I discuss these in more detail in this blogpost.
Hope for a better future relies on an accurate and balanced understanding of humanity’s achievements and failures. Surveying Geography specifications, textbooks, and teaching resources shows that this historical angle is often overlooked or tilted in favour of a negative view of the past: our failures are often given more saliency than our achievements. This adds to an inaccurate worldview which is also fostered by a range of psychological biases and by a media which focuses overwhelmingly on short-term, unusual, and negative events over the more gradual, commonplace positive trends which are occurring.
The mismatch between most people’s worldviews and reality forms the basis of much of the work of the Gapminder Foundation, led by Hans, Ola and Anna Rosling. Their 2018 book Factfulness has prompted the production of several schemes of work and a good deal of discussion about the role of optimism and hope in Geography. Hopeful Education seeks to build on their work, and that of global learning, futures education and education for sustainable development.
There are drawbacks of an overly optimistic worldview - including complacency and an acceptance of the status quo - which in an era of significant challenges such as climate change, inequality and post-covid recovery should be recognised and taken account of. I have therefore begun to refer to the importance not of being optimistic about the future, but rather of challenging our students’ worldviews so that we may foster hopeful visions of the future.
I would like this initiative to kick-start a debate about how ‘hopeful’ education – and especially geographical education – can, and indeed should, be. I have been engaging with geography educators online and at conferences over the past couple of years, and I have written articles aimed at teachers and students (these are referenced in the presentation). On a practical level, resources have been developed which complement those of Gapminder and which help teachers and our students engage with the three key themes of Hopeful Education. Some of these are mentioned in the presentation, and others are being trialled at my school, most notably in a Year 10 Hopeful Education day. I hope to release more of these to a wider audience soon.
In the meantime, if you would like to engage in any way with this project, please follow or direct message me on Twitter: @HopefulEd or @DavidAlcock1.
David Alcock, Teacher of Geography, Bradford Grammar School