Clapham Christian Classical School

Clapham Journal

Geography: Utilitarian or Imaginative?

by Elise Redfield, Class Four Teacher


Geography can mean many different things to people. Much of what we feel and know of this subject is linked to our school experience. Rarely do adults have an indifferent attitude. It can sometimes have the connotation of boring memorization or perhaps be lost in the broader subject of social studies.




In my reading of Charlotte Mason on the subject, it strikes me that Geography indeed can “[suffer] especially from the utilitarian spirit” as we seek to teach students how to use the earth’s resources. This is in stark contrast to the cultivation of the habit of imagination with Mason’s wording describing far-off lands like Lyons, which is described as being


“seated upon a tongue of land at the confluence of the rapid Rhone and the sluggish Saone, and along the banks of both rivers are fine quays” (Mason, Volume 6, p. 227).


As I teach geography in the classroom (Class Four) it is linked with the places and times we study in history. My students produce beautiful maps and thrive on the great ideas in literature. I have been challenged to think of geography in light of Mason’s habit of imagination. “What about pictures?” my visual heart cried as I read that she thought them unnecessary. Instead of pictures, which were not as readily available in Mason’s day, she emphasizes that the imagining the area brings deeper understanding before a photo is shown or a place is seen in person. The pictures that are built from imagination are not easily attained, but nor are they easily taken away.


Habit is essential to all we learn in life. Because of these habits, students use imagination to picture life, times and location of various people throughout history, so they can imagine the terrain of a Civil War battle, Chang Kai-Shek’s long march, or the locations of interest in the Crimean War. Seeing how continents change because of events in history is key to our understanding of both geography and history.  As a response to the text, we often draw maps to reflect learning, and the results of imagination and careful execution are beautiful!


I am encouraged to cultivate the habit of imagination in my students as we continue our study of the Modern Age. What might it mean to cultivate this habit in your home as you explore your own geographical location? Mason encouraged that learning about geography began in one’s own hometown and worked outward. My challenge to you: resist the “utilitarian spirit” and cultivate imagination!


Sign up

Recent Posts