08 SES 02, Critical Perspectives on Wellbeing and Health Education
In recent years there has been a heightened interest in promoting wellbeing in schools and other educational settings, particularly given that the mental health of young people has been identified as a global public health challenge (Patel et al., 2007). Across Europe and many other Western nations, wellbeing has become a corner stone of national curricula across sectors. However, the current interest in wellbeing in education is not without contestation (see Spratt, 2017; Thorburn, et al 2018; Watson, et al 2012 for recent accounts). This paper draws attention to two key problems with current conceptualizations of wellbeing and offers a conceptual framework for moving forward.
The first problem is that most contemporary theorising in the area of wellbeing draws heavily on traditional, monological and reductionist theories dominant in the Western world (Pinell, 2009). Monological theories reflect a Cartesian view of the self as fully autonomous, rational and self-contained; and as separable from the social and physical environment. This type of theorizing leads to individualistic and de-contextualised understandings of wellbeing. For instance, it tends to propagate the idea that the cause of people’s distress overwhelmingly resides within people themselves and it places the burden for change on individuals rather than broader social structures and relational networks (O’Toole, 2017). This in turn has led to mounting concerns that wellbeing has the potential to become a tyrannical or oppressive concept in schools, particularly in the context of neoliberal accountability regimes (Simovska, 2015).
However, over the course of the past few decades a radically new paradigm has emerged which theorizes cognition, emotion and agency as embodied and embedded within the social and material environment. This approach has garnered growing support from figures working in multiple disciplines, most notably cognitive science, philosophy of mind, and phenomenology (Di Paolo, Rohde & De Jaegher, 2010; Dreyfus, 2005; Gallagher, 2005, 2017; Thomson & Varela, 2001; Varela et al, 1991). This new paradigm is deeply relational and dialogical (as opposed to monological), recognising our profound and precarious entanglement with other people and the world around us. It reclaims the importance of the role of the body, the body-mind connection, materiality and of lived experience in issues like emotion, intentionality, action, consciousness, and social cognition (Francesconi 2009; Francesconi & Tarozzi 2012); and hence, it also provides new and exciting ways to think about the concept of wellbeing in education.
A second problem with traditional conceptualizations of wellbeing is that they largely preclude any consideration of the aims, goals or purposes of education. Indeed, within certain discourses, the school is merely conceived as a convenient site for the roll out of wellbeing interventions and it is valued because of its capacity to reach almost entire populations of children (Fazel, 2014). Hence, there is no consideration of the rich transformative role of education per se (O’Toole, 2017). This lack of connection of the health and wellbeing promotion agenda with the purposes of education and the key task of the schools, has also been challenged within the general discourses of Health Promoting Schools (Simovska, Nordin and Madsen, 2016). What is needed therefore is an articulation of how wellbeing as a concept is attuned (or not) with educational theory and practice. Thus, in this paper, we draw on educational ideas centered on the continental concept of Bildung, which refers to the formation of the inner life in ways which go beyond moral development and socialization and towards critical reflection on the key issues in the dominant social order and engagement with the world (Klafki, 2000).
The paper is based on a conceptual analysis which aims to provide a framework for progressing new ways of thinking about wellbeing and education. The theoretical perspectives we draw on include embodiment/enactivist approaches in cognitive science and philosophy of mind (eg., Gallagher, 2017; Varela et al, 1991), as well as critical and post-critical education theory (Biesta, 2015; Klafki, 2000;) combined with the setting approach to Health Promoting Schools (Simovska & Mannix McNamara, 2015). The paper will, 1) analyze dominant approaches in the field of wellbeing; 2) offer alternative theorizing emphasising the interdependencies of mind/body/environment/materiality and articulating a conceptualization of wellbeing as a profoundly relational, dynamic and emergent phenomenon; and 3) connect this new understanding of wellbeing with the setting approach to health and wellbeing promotion in schools and with educational theory and practice, particularly in the spirit of (post)critical Bildung.
Arising from our analysis we discuss dominant models of wellbeing (eg., hedonic/eudemonic wellbeing, resilience, social and emotional learning) and show how these approaches are generally underpinned by monological and individualistic theorizing. We offer a radically new framework for conceptualizing wellbeing in education, one that acknowledges individual agency and subjective personal experience whilst emphasizing people’s profound coupling with others and with the social and material world. With this framework in mind, we discuss the resonances with (post)critical Bildung, particularly with regard to cultivating ethical relations, intersubjectivity, and divergent, plural possibilities of becoming (Jensen 2012; Biesta, 2002). We discuss how this framework is consistent with the general principles of the Health Promoting Schools initiative in Europe and elsewhere (e.g. Simovska & Mannix McNamara, 2015). We go on to highlight the co-dependence of wellbeing and education, thereby reclaiming wellbeing as an educational goal in its own right.
Biesta, G. (2015). What is Education For? On Good Education, Teacher Judgement, and Educational Professionalism. European Journal of Education, 50, 1, 75-87. Biesta, G.J.J. (2002). Bildung and modernity. The future of Bildung in a world of difference. Studies in Philosophy and Education 21(4/5), 343-351. Dreyfus H. L. (2002). Intelligence without representation – Merleau-Ponty’s critique of mental representation. The relevance of phenomenology to scientific explanation Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 1: 367–383. Fazel M, Patel V, Thomas S, Tol W. (2014). Mental health interventions in schools in low-income and middle-income countries. The Lancet Psychiatry, 1(5):388–98. Francesconi, D. & Tarozzi, M. (2012). Embodied education: a convergence of phenomenological pedagogy and embodiment. Studia phaenomenologica 12, 263-288. Gallagher, S. (2017). Enactivist interventions: Rethinking the mind. Oxford University Press. Jensen, A. S. (2012). Didaktik on postmodernism’s doorstep. A critical approach to teaching and researching literacy in early childhood education and care. PhD Dissertation, Aarhus University of Education. Klafki W (2000) Didaktik analysis as the core of preparation of instruction. In:Westbury I, Hopmann S and Riquarts K (eds) Teaching as a Reflective Practice: The German Didaktik Tradition. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, pp.197–206. Simovska,V., Nordin, L.L., & Dahl, M.K. (2016). Health Promotion in Danish schools: local priorities, policies and practices. Health Promotion International, Vol. 32, No. 2, 2016, p. 480-489. Simovska, V. (2015). Wellbeing in Schools: A new transformative or tyrannical educational concept? Professor Inaugural Lecture, Danish School of Education, Aarhus University. O’Toole, C. (2017). Towards dynamic and interdisciplinary frameworks for school-based mental health promotion. Health Education, 117 (5), pp.452-468. Patel, V., Flisher, A. J., Hetrick, S., & McGorry, P. (2007). Mental health of young people: a global public-health challenge. The Lancet, 369(9569), 1302-1313. Linell, P. (2009). Rethinking language, mind, and world dialogically: Interactional and contextual theories of human sense-making. Information Age Publishing: Charlotte, NC: Simovska, V. and Mannix-McNamara, P. (2015). Schools for Health and Sustainability: Theory, Research and Practice. Springer: Dordrecht. J. Spratt, (2017). Wellbeing, Equity and Education, Inclusive Learning and Educational Equity. Springer Thompson , E. , and Varela , F. ( 2001 ). Radical embodiment: Neural dynamics and consciousness. Trends in Cognitive Sciences 5, 418 – 425 . Thorburn M. (2018). Wellbeing, Education and Contemporary Schooling. Routledge Varela, F. J., Thompson, E., and Rosch, E. (1991). The embodied mind: Cognitive science and human experience. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press Watson, D., Emery, C., & Bayliss, P. (2012). Children's social and emotional wellbeing in schools: A critical perspective. Policy Press.
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