08 SES 02, Normativity and values in health education
In this paper I discuss some of the ways in which health education research can engage with criticality and normativity. This is done primarily by bringing a close reading of selected key concepts by the educational theorist Wolfgang Klafki (1927-2016) into dialogue with the sociologist and philosopher Jürgen Habermas (1929- ).
The point of departure is that there is no definite rational system that determines what good health education is, and which can assist in justifying pedagogical choices and actions.
Health education as practice is always normative; it involves value-based, ethical and moral deliberations, even if these are always in motion, (re)negotiated, configured and enacted on the trajectories between global, national and local actors. Consequently, research in health education needs to engage with normativity; that is, to consider the dynamic links between normative and other (e.g. theory, policy and practice related) educational questions.
The theoretical framework draws on Critical Theory, as represented by Habermas (1992/1996) and contextualised in educational theory by Klafki (2000). Arguably, Marx’s key legacy in the Critical Theory tradition is not philosophy but ‘critique’, or what Marx described back in 1844 as “the ruthless criticism of the existing order, ruthless in that it will shrink neither from its own discoveries, nor from conflict with the powers that be” (1843/1992, p. 207). This emphasis points to normativity as a key concept and the common denominator of the diverse landscape of cross-disciplinary theoretical and epistemological perspectives that constitute critical theory today. To be a critical theorist implies adhering to the explicit norm that in addition to understanding and interpreting the world, research and scholarship needs to engage with transforming the world (Denzin, 2010; Marx, 1844).
This theoretical universe aligns with the key assumption in the paper that health education (as well as education in general) is a highly embodied and enacted practice that cannot be reduced to the development of knowledge, skills and attitudes, or to the shaping of health-related behaviours. Rather, health education is understood as social practice involved in the formation of multidirectional response-ability related to oneself, to others, and the world, whereby questions of how health education relates to norms and how normativity is always at play, are inevitable.
The paper is conceptual but it is contextualized through an empirical example. It begins by tracing and outlining selected concepts from the universe of continental Critical Theory, as used by Klafki (2000), read in dialogue with Habermas (1992/1996). Then these concepts are deployed as ‘tools to think with’ when working analytically with the empirical material. The empirical example presents an instance of content analysis of convergences and divergences between (a selection of) the health, sexuality and family education curriculum in Denmark in 1991 and 2015. The spotlight, guided by Critical Theory, is on the following analytical questions: ● How are educational purposes, desired outcomes and the content of health education framed and prioritised in the curriculum documents? ● How are the lines of their mutual entanglements drawn in the body of text, which relations are emphasised, which ones are left implicit, and which are absent?
The analysis shows that that while both curriculum documents can be seen as largely aligned with the concept of critical Bildung and its related values, the 2015 curriculum connects with Critical Theory more intensively, despite inherent contradictions; it explicitly treats health and wellbeing as an assemblage in which social/discursive, material, societal and individual dimensions intersect. The 1991 curriculum does point to the general democratic purpose of education and hence partially aligns with the concept of Bildung; nevertheless, it remains largely focused on individual development and behaviour regulation related to health framed in bio-medical rather than socio-ecological terms. The discussion raises some critical issues related to the employed analytical perspective, and suggests its update with a 'post-critical' take. Even though Critical Theory and the idea(l) of Bildung assume an autonomous and free subject, the very act of specifying educational outcomes for an individual subject can be thought of as a disciplining, normalising, act. Biesta (2014), among others, problematises this idea and argues that the question of what it means to be an educated person cannot be determined before we engage with education. Subjectivity is not developed from within; rather it is assembled in the social realm, in relation with others. While Klafki’s critical Bildung emphasises the autonomous, rational, self-determining subject, Biesta (2014) suggests that autonomy is inevitably a quality of human interaction. Thus, rather than normative-prescriptive pedagogy, the post-critical perspective endorses ‘pedagogy of interruption’ (Biesta, 2009), connecting activity and ethics to a public sphere whereby freedom can come into being in the face of plurality and difference.
Biesta, G. J. J. (2014). The beautiful risk of education. Boulder, Co: Paradigm Publishers. Biesta G. J. J. (2009). What is at stake in a pedagogy of interruption? In J. G. A. Grinberg, T. Lewis & M. Laverty (Eds.). Philosophy of education: Modern and contemporary ideas at play (2nd ed.) (pp. 788-806). Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt. Denzin, N. K. (2010). The qualitative manifesto: A call to arms. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press. Habermas, J. (1996) Between facts and norms: Contributions to a discourse theory of law and democracy (W. Rehg Trans.). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. (Original work published 1992) Marx, K. (1992). Letter from Marx to Arnold Ruge September 1843. In K. Marx, Early Writings, London: Penguin Books Klafki, W. (2000) Didaktik analysis as the core of preparation of instruction. In I. Westbury, S. Hopmann & K. Riquarts (Eds.), Teaching as a reflective practice: The German Didaktik tradition (pp. 197-206). Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
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