There is a school of educational thought that says ‘binary opposites’ are a great way for young learners to understand concepts. Right/Wrong, Happy/Sad, Love/Hate, Hot/Cold and so on, for early learners this can be an introductory way to recognize contrast in thought, language and behavior. Egan calls this binary structuring one of the defining features of ‘mythical understanding’ in young children.
However, simplifying life in this way to allow for ease of understanding can have significant drawbacks. Too often the creation of these oppositional positions privileges one term over the other. White is good, and clean while black is dark and evil. Male is strong and dominant to female‘s weakness and passivity.
When, as adults we are threatened by a topic, or lack understanding we can be guilty of regressing to binary opposites when in fact we need to move away from these absolutes and seek to understand the areas in between.
In a recent health education chat on Voxer, Sarah Benes highlighted how important it is for us as health teachers to frame the way in which we teach health skills and behaviors and that we should avoid using the binary opposites of healthy and unhealthy. She stated that creating such a dichotomy can be harmful as it can lead to blaming and shaming of our students as they make hundreds of health-related decisions each day. To state that a decision is healthy or unhealthy refuses to take into context the personal situation of the individual concerned. What might seem unhealthy to me might be a healthier step in the right direction considering the past behavior of that individual. Sarah gave the example of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. To the casual observer that would seem unhealthy, but if that was a reduction from smoking two packs a day then the behavior can definitely be seen as more healthy in comparison.
By moving towards phrasing behaviors as more healthy and less healthy we create a more realistic, and less damning scenario for our students as they continue to learn, practice and apply the behaviors and skills that we hope to deliver in our health classroom. We need our students to understand that health isn’t just about making right or wrong decisions but that each decision has the ability to move us closer to what we might hope would be a healthier and happier lifestyle.
Sarah finished her conversation with a plea to health teachers. She asked for us to not make health about something that we shouldn’t do, don’t do this, don’t do that and make it about what we can do. Let’s change it to ‘what can you do’ to make ourselves healthy. Keep it positive, exciting and dynamic.
Here are this week’s #slowchathealth questions. Answer them daily, or all at once and feel free to respond to answers to keep the conversation flowing.
Q1. What binary opposites do you address in your classroom? #slowchathealth
Q2. How do you address binary opposites in your classroom? #slowchathealth
Q3. Who in society takes comfort from false dichotomies? #slowchathealth
Q4. How do you frame your health teaching to accentuate the positive? #slowchathealth