Is 'parrhesia' enough… how do we encourage pedagogical acts of health 'education' rather than 'promotion'?

Year: 2012

Author: Welch, Rosie

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


A significant body of research and literature has problematised the emphasis on public health imperatives and the recontextualisation of obesity discourse in schooling. These scholars have pointed to the wider biopolitical agenda and mediation of 'health' that are storied into existence in children and young peoples lives. Characterised as 'regulative' and 'surveillant', health promotion practices and policies emergent in schools over the past decade, are situated as an important resource to the ways children come to know themselves as 'fat'/'thin', or 'un/healthy'. Thus children's sense of self and embodiment are tied up in prevailing messages about an ethic of duty to oneself, often enveloped in responsibility for exercise and diet as a means to be 'healthy' or 'thin'.

One response to these debates in teacher education has been to encourage 'critical' or 'alternative' pedagogies. Collectively I refer to these approaches as a form of parrhesia - a greek term deployed by Foucault (2001) and translated as 'fearless speech' or 'truth telling'. In an ideal act of free/ fearless speech, the teller expresses their relationship to truth through frankness instead of persuasion, and out of a sense of moral duty rather than self-interest and moral apathy. While the enactment of a critical social agenda, or parrhesia is important in Health and Physical Education Teacher Education (H-PETE), as others have identified, it is far from successful in shaping many pre-service teachers' values and beliefs and pedagogical choices. There are also accounts of 'critical' approaches disengaging some pre-service teachers because the messages espoused do not meet their pre-existing world-views. Another concern is that if students do 'take on board' a 'critical' position, they are often left immobilized with how to then program this knowledge – especially when they are likely to be met with an abundance of health promoting resources in schools.

In this climate, I consider what methods are useful for engaging students in pedagogical acts of health 'education' rather than 'promotion'. Drawing on the literature and a recently completed doctoral study with pre-service primary generalist teachers (PPGT) and H-PETE, I facilitate a discussion of how we might best utilize limited teacher education time to generate meaningful pedagogical work. Given the advent of a new National Curriculum, this is a particularly significant task. I conclude that we must take action to help PPGTs embrace a broader and more current health education perspective.