educaion for values in geography

education for values in geography lessons

Dr. Bruria Bar-Gal and Pro. Yoram Bar-Gal

Haifa, Israel

International Geographical Union Regional Conferances, Moscow-Barnaul-Moscow

20-30 July 2003

Educational research argues that through subjects taught at school, a student can form opinions , develop attitudes and acquire values.

Like many other subjects studied at school, geography, too, implies imparting attitudes and values along with the acquisition of the main concepts of this subject. By its nature, geography deals with the relations between places and human society and culture, and with the relations between people in geographical space.

This discipline provides a fertile ground for discussions on social, cultural, spatial and environmental values.

Thus, assuming that the subject of geography, as it is taught in school, imparts values, the question to be asked is: What is the perception of “expert” teachers regarding its teaching as a subject that educates for values? How are these perceptions expressed in the teaching of geography in the class? In the present paper, we chose to focus on values that concern society and the landscape, although there are other personal values such as the development of cognitive skills, literacy and knowledge, which will not be discussed here.

research methodology

Our interest in examining the perception of teachers who teach geography as being teachers of values has led us to explore this subject using the qualitative method, by studying geography teachers working in primary schools in Israel. The teachers studied were selected for the study on the basis of recommendations made by the Ministry of Education, claiming that these teachers are experienced and highly skilled and on the basis of the achievements of the teachers’ classes in national tests. In total, the study is based on the analysis of 45 records of observed lessons and on the analysis of 50 interviews.

The data analysis process was carried out according to ethnographic and qualitative principles. We used a process in which the findings were extracted from the data on the observations and interviews, conceptualized and re-presented in a different way. The study findings were classified according to the values emerging in the following areas:

  1. Political and national education

  2. Education for citizenship

  3. Education for the values of the conservation of the environment.

Political and national education

As in many other countries, in Israel too, the subject of geography is associated with political and national education. Indeed, the Ministry of Education stated that one of the goals of teaching the geography of Israel is to serve the needs of the Israeli society and state. The findings of our study indicate that this view was accepted by all the interviewed teachers. In their statements, the teachers maintained that “the love for the country” is an important and major value that should be imparted through geography lessons. This is what they said:

    • “Geography enhances the knowledge of the country and makes the students love the place they live in”.

    • “In geography lessons, it is important to develop in the child a sense of nationality – this is the country to which s/he belongs”.

    • “My motto is love for the country”.

The teachers assume that the value of nationality, which is expressed by the love for the country is important to all citizens all over the world. However, these teachers think that in Israel, the need to impart this value is stronger, because the state of Israel is relatively young and has not established a strong national identity. Also, this is a state that is constantly absorbing immigrants from other countries and its borders have not been recognized internationally. The subject of geography contributes to the immigrants’ socialization process and facilitates their integration in the veteran population.

In the interviews, the teachers claimed that the most common method to impart nationality is by getting to know places or phenomena in Israel. The teachers perceive this practice as an acquisition of basic knowledge, through which the students learn to love their country. Another didactic method to identify with “places” in Israel is preparing advertisements for tours in selected sites. During the preparation of the advertisement, the student learns about the characteristics of the site and its attractions, in an attempt to “market” it. For example:

Come for kayak-rowing in the Jordan river and enjoy a swim in the Sea of Galilee – a place where you can find music festivals and good restaurants”.

Join the tourists who come to Eilat and enjoy the sun, sand and sea all year round”.

One of the common ways to convey national values is field trips. The teachers in our study claimed that they would like to go on journeys with the students to the region that was taught in class, because they view journeys as a summary of the topic taught and as a means of imparting national values, achieved through the student’s direct contact with the landscape of Israel during the journey.

Along with the value of nationality, the teachers believe that by teaching geography they also impart political values. The political topics are highly loaded, both ideologically and emotionally. By tackling these topics, the education system expects the teachers not to enforce their personal views on the students. The teacher should not teach the student what to think, but to develop his/her critical thinking, based on the data presented. This perception was felt in the teachers’ statements:

“Political issues emerge in class as a result of discussing current affairs. Sometimes they ask me what I think about it and it is difficult, because I don’t want to lie to them. Sometimes I allowing them to weigh and consider certain matters, because we might not know everything.”

Thus, for example, direct or indirect references to political issues were expressed in lessons about the problem of Israel’s water resources. In the lessons we observed, the teachers supplied data about cooperation between Israel and Jordan regarding the problem of water. Through the subject of water, several questions were raised such as the preservation of resources that are vital for the country and the supply of water to a neighboring country as a result of peace agreements were raised. This is a controversial subject because of the political division in Israel. One of the teachers said:

“I wanted to show them that a change has occurred following the peace agreements, to show them how geography is associated with political affairs, to stimulate their sense of criticism, because some of the students were against the water agreements. Of course, I avoid telling them what my personal view is, because I want them to develop their own independent thinking. I just give them the facts and tell them to think for themselves”.

There could be no doubt that geography teachers acknowledge the importance of geographical knowledge as the basis for political education. This knowledge should be updated, reliable and valid, but this is not enough. To develop political stances, students have to develop a critical geographical thinking. Today, there are those who claim, on behalf of the critical and post-modern approaches, that “enhanced nationality” through geographical education is a negative outcome of this study subject. These people argue that education for nationality leads to the rejection of those who are different and strange, and create a negative approach towards the country’s “minorities”. However, it seems to us that the development of geographical critical thinking might reduce this danger, as can be seen in the field of education for citizenship.

Education for citizenship

Geography provides the student with the possibility to learn about the “other” and the “different” and develop, through learning, respect and appreciation of people from different cultures and their unique needs in the state or abroad. In addition, education through geography lessons enhances the students’ awareness and understanding that all human beings share the same global environment and have to learn how to live in it together.

The teachers belive that the values of citizenship are related to “getting to know the other”, learning about the other, understanding their way of life through the geography curriculum. As an example, they mention the program called “We and Our Neighbors – Jews and Arabs”, issued by the Ministry of Education twenty years ago. Becoming familiar with the neighbor’s way of life might develop acceptance and greater tolerance for members of other religions, nations or countries. as one of the teachers said:

“I think that this subject is very important because our land is the land of ingathering of the exiles. Through geography it is possible to impart many values and openness towards minorities”.

Usually, the teachers speak about the aspect of the national conflict (Arab-Jewish) when they teach the geography of mixed cities, such as Jerusalem or Haifa. They stress the fact that Haifa has a significant Arab population that participates in the city’s life. Nevertheless, the study has found that the teachers do not address, within the framework of geography lessons, other social rifts that exist in Israel: rich vs. poor, immigrants vs. veteran Israelis, religious Jews vs. unorthodox ones, men vs. women, etc. The curriculum, too, refrains from dealing with these subjects, emphasizing instead the message of internal unity among the Israeli population. It seems that the teachers try not to enter such topical subjects because of their implications and perhaps because their own knowledge on these subjects is not updated to allow a class discussion.

However, the teachers said that their expectations from geography on the subject of education for citizenship do not concern only the acquisition of geographical knowledge but they also expected the students to become involved and active in the future, as some of them have said: “to become active citizens who express their views, who are involved in the life of the country, who care and who can contribute”.

The teachers themselves have not realized the dissonance between their aversion from discussing certain civil issues in class and their overall statement. Some of them expect the students to develop critical thinking and to respond actively, already at this young age, when they are exposed to subjects such as a ship that pollutes the sea or subjects related to the increasing social gaps in Israel.

The association between the acquisition of national, civil and political values can certainly be made through geography lessons, when it presents not only “dry” and objective facts, but stimulates discussion on processes that are based on respect for the views of others in class while creating an atmosphere of trust and cooperation. These serve as a basis for learning about the democratic life style and help in eliminating stereotypic views.

Education for the values of the environment

Education for the values of the environment occupies a considerable part of geography lessons. Looking at the teachers’ statements in our study reveals that all teachers agree with the discipline’s potential to teach the values of conserving the environment. Our observations in the geography lessons show that most of the teachers convey the message that their role is “to protect nature”. As one of the teachers has said:

“You have to learn how to treat the environment properly, so that it will continue to exist in the future. For this purpose, we have to understand why things became extinct and were destroyed. we have to understand what we are doing and how to prevent the damage”.

To emphasize the environmental damage, the teachers refer to the landscape of the past as the desired landscape compared with the current landscape. They refer to the present landscape as that which has undergone changes involving pollution and the destruction of fauna and flora.

Some teachers are aware of society’s economical needs. They understand that the desert has to be developed and therefore water should be supplied to this area. The price of this development is the transfer of water from rainy areas, which affects the flow of the streams. They understand that during the establishment of Israel, agriculture was vital for the population’s existence, and for this purpose, water transportation plants were built. This economical development led to the construction of many power stations on the sea shore, leading to environmental pollution. However, when things are presented to the students, only the negative aspects of this development are stressed, perhaps as a lip service to the spirit of the times. Anyway, the environmental price paid by the population for economical development in Israel is stressed in the lessons more than the economical and social gains.

The observations made during geography lessons lead to the following question: Is a biased view – which disregards economical development, the right presentation of the subject of geography in the present context? The classes we have observed discussed dilemmas of conservation vs. development, but the basic data which were provided to the teachers and students were limited and insufficient to develop critical and independent thinking on the subject. The result was that both the teacher and the students settled for articulating biased slogans.

The subjects of the environment and its preservation were first introduced to the national syllabus during the nineties. Thus, while the stated goals of the Ministry of Education refer both to the conservation and development aspects and to those of the changed landscape, the teachers themselves have amplified the “green” perspective. The teachers introduce dilemmas concerning the environment with shallow slogans, instead of bringing up serious matters, such as competition over natural resources.


There is wide agreement among the teachers regarding the subject of geography as the flag of social values and especially of national and conservation values. All the teachers emphasize in their statements the importance of imparting these values.

The teachers choose different ways to impart social values: some of them preach directly and explicitly, while others believe that by being indirect, the students will acquire the value and internalize it. Geographical journeys to places and sites in Israel offer a direct encounter with physical and human phenomena. Such an encounter is, in the opinion of the geography teachers, the most desired means to impart social and environmental values. Journeys include learning of knowledge combined with emotional involvement which is so important in the socialization process.

In other cases, dilemma discussions were observed in classes on subjects that were politically, socially or environmentally loaded. It should be noted that most of the discussions on these subjects were on a low level. The basic knowledge for these discussions was superficial and irrelevant. As a result, the discussions did not proceed beyond common slogans. The impression was that the teachers did not engage the students in critical thinking which is the basis for imparting social values.

An analysis of the interviews and the lessons we observed indicates that a significant gap exists between the teachers’ statements on the subject of education for values in geography lessons and actual learning in the class.

This gap raises several questions:

Is the decision of “what to teach” based on the assumption that the topics taught and their teaching methods are more valuable than the subjects that were not taught?

Does the decision not to delve deeper into loaded subjects result from the fear of being caught in political or other dilemmas?

Is the decision not to expand on a subject related to the teachers’ teaching skills and their scarce knowledge which does not allow them deal in class with the analysis of situations and problem solving?

The study findings raise some questions regarding the geographical training of teachers. It is clear that in order to allow teachers to express their perceptions of geography as a study subject educating for values, they have to acquire, through their teachers’ training studies and courses not only updated knowledge and basic understanding of geographical facts and processes, but also the ability to analyze situations, solve problems or make deductions on the basis of geographical principles.

In summary, we would like to quote Harper, who said that: “By teaching the subject of geography we create citizens, not geography experts”.

Thank You