Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

Thinking of a Change: Health Education for the 2020 Generation

Academic journal article American Journal of Health Education

Thinking of a Change: Health Education for the 2020 Generation

Article excerpt

In my March 2011 AAHE Scholar presentation, I suggested several possible innovations in school health education that, if initiated, may better meet the needs and interests of our two youngest generations--Millenials and 2020s. To understand why I could be in a position to make these recommendations you may want to know something about my background. I'm currently a professor at Indiana University (IU) who focuses on health education and health promotion in the school setting. My career has included time as a high school health education teacher and school district health education coordinator followed by several initial years in higher education. I returned to public education as a health coordinator and, eventually, curriculum director for an innovative school district in the late 1980s at the beginning of the current education reform era and worked for a number of years in the early 1990s to 2002 on large scale evaluations of school-based HIV prevention programs and coordinated school health infrastructure before joining the faculty at IU in 2002.

During my career I have witnessed an ebb and flow in the perceived importance of school health education through three major child and adolescent health "crises"--drug abuse in the 1970s, HIV in the 1980s and, today, child and adolescent obesity. As each of these problems emerged, I was involved in developing and implementing responsive new programming. As a curriculum director responsible for all school subjects in grades PK-12, I was very engaged in learning about and planning systemic change. From these experiences I feel that I developed a unique perspective as a health educator.

As I explain to my current health education teacher preparation students my philosophy holds that all teachers, regardless of the subject they teach, and all instructional programs, including health education, must contribute to the educational mission of schools. A related corollary is that to be effective health educators must understand how school systems work along with the pressures and problems school administrators face, and use this information to position health education as a major contributor to solutions. This latter point is often not appreciated by school administrators in the absence of strong advocacy by health educators who make their cases through both words and deeds.

While working on education reform as a curriculum director, I began to read works in the emerging field of "futuring." The first book I remember having an impact on my thinking was John Naisbitt's 1982 book, "Megatrends: Ten New Directions Transforming out Lives." (1) Subsequently, I became a member of the World Future Society and a regular reader of its Journal, The Futurist. I regularly consult the "Bookstore" feature of this Journal for publications that I might use to glean new insights about developments that could affect my life or work. Sometimes my reading choices are random and sometimes I'll end up reading several books on topics I decide to pursue in more depth.

I routinely use two strategies to inform my thinking about health education. The first, environmental scanning, I learned from the "futuring" literature. Futurists like Naisbitt regularly scan grassroots sources such as local newspapers in an attempt to identify new and emerging trends. My reading of books from eclectic fields is, for me, a type of environmental scanning. The second is a concept I learned from teaching about creativity. That is, in addition to generating completely new ideas, creativity can entail using existing ideas in new and different ways. In combining the two strategies, I scan different fields for information that I can then apply to the practice of health education, asking myself the question, "How can I use these ideas to inform and improve what I do as a health educator?"

HINTS ABOUT THE CURRENT STATUS OF HEALTH EDUCATION IN SCHOOLS

Before suggesting how we might change school health education, I thought it prudent to determine its status today and did this in two ways. …

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