Abstract 432

Helping Support Young People’s Health through Inquiry (Not Facts, Stats, or Scare Tactics)

Presentation:  Cindy Andrew, Mahboubeh Asgari

Session A | 9:00 – 9:40 | Location: Room 308 A


Traditional drug education has tended to address a perceived deficit in knowledge. The assumption being that if children learn the risks involved in drug use, they will avoid them. Evidence in support of this is lacking. So,

  • how can schools and teachers promote resilience related to drugs, gambling and other potentially addictive behaviours?
  • what specific practices are helpful in building young people’s health literacy?
  • how can those practices be supported and nurtured across the K-12 curriculum?

The Centre for Addictions Research of BC has been studying drug education for over a decade. A key early finding was identifying that virtually all traditional drug education is based on social marketing theory rather than education theory. Drug education was designed to sell a message to young people and get them to behave in a certain way – to not use drugs.
But as Margaret Mead wrote, “Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.” We cannot, and should not try to, “control” young people’s lives and decisions. A competency approach to education suggests we should focus on helping children build the competencies needed to be resilient – that is, to survive and thrive despite facing adversities. Various aspects of the school environment can contribute to resilience by nurturing connections, providing opportunities for meaningful participation and by maintaining high but realistic expectations.

In support of this goal, engaged philosophical inquiry helps young people develop skills in thinking for themselves. They learn to critically and empathically engage other points of view while clearly communicating their own perspectives. Inquiry and dialogue can be used in virtually any curricular context and are particularly useful in dealing with issues around contested evidence or contentious views, like drug use. These tools are fundamental to education and can be adapted to any topic.

Training in using these tools in drug education and providing relevant learning ideas for use in a broad range of curricular contexts is transforming drug education from “just say no” to developing competencies that support young people in becoming professional human beings.

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