Targeting positive education: Examining the relationship between generalist and customised 'student wellbeing' programs

Year: 2017

Author: Barron, Rosie Joy

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper draws from one of two case studies of Australian school-based 'wellbeing' programs, which are informed by positive education and directed toward marginalised populations. Positive education, a derivative field of positive psychology, advocates for a strengths-based, whole-school approach to the cultivation of wellbeing, which is not differentiated based on the needs of students (see Waters, 2011). Both positive psychology and therapeutic education more generally have been critiqued for potentially individualising structural disadvantage, and offering limited capacity for social critique (e.g. Amsler, 2011; Becker & Marecek, 2008; Ecclestone & Brunila, 2015). Despite this, there have been recent instances in which positive education has been incorporated into programs that target marginalised student populations (e.g. IPPE, 2016a; IPPE, 2016b). The case study explores this development by examining the relationship between two programs: Aboriginal Girls Circle, which is delivered to young Aboriginal women attending a regional NSW high school (see Dobia et al., 2014), and; Circle Solutions, a generalist whole-school program from which Aboriginal Girls Circle draws influence (see Roffey, 2014). This paper draws out insights derived from the analysis of this case in relation to some particular discourses mobilised in dominant sociological critiques of therapeutic education. It argues that the local and historical contexts in which Aboriginal Girls Circle is situated causes features of therapeutic education framed as 'general' to take on specific political meanings. In doing so, this paper contributes to existing feminist scholarship on aspects of therapeutic education that may hold subversive potential for marginalised populations (e.g. Wright, 2008; McLeod & Wright, 2009).