Perspectives and approaches to health and wellbeing education vary considerably over time and space even as certain contextual and critical features may be maintained. Through an analysis of a range of studies published in the Journal of Curriculum Studies, we illustrate what unites as much as divides various positions taken by their authors through a focus on which assumptions they proceed from, those they may seek to problematise, and which they try to rework through their scholarship. Our analysis centres on two key questions: (a) the critical question of health education, and (b) the question of critical health education. To advance our analysis, we draw on insights from critical literature review techniques and the need to problematise research topics and assumptions that frame and guide their selection and investigation. Key outcomes include six thematic categories and the key parameters for identifying various degrees of light and shade to the criticality within these studies, including their thresholds. We conclude with a reflection on the significance of determining the object of critique during curriculum studies, and the continuing need to inquire into, rather than bypass, what counts as critical in health and wellbeing education.
The health and wellbeing of populations and their particular subgroups are both recurring and highly contentious themes in debates about public policy (De Leeuw, Clavier, & Benton, 2014; Thorburn, 2018). For the Journal of Curriculum Studies, it includes discussing general and specific priorities and policies regarding whether educational institutions should promote particular agenda and practices related to health and wellbeing, or not (e.g. Thorburn, 2017). At the heart of such debates are familiar and core questions for curriculum inquiry (Reid, 2018), such as examining: ● which educative experiences a curriculum should foster and why? ● what should be the scope of a worthwhile curriculum and how should it be decided, organised and reworked? ● why is distinctive curricula provided to different groups of students? and ● how should curriculum be best enacted and evaluated? The scholarly literature illustrating the ‘tinder’ that fuels debates on these matters in relation to health and wellbeing education is wide-ranging. It may be how those in education engage with relatively perennial to ephemeral topics related to healthy eating, physical activity, chronic diseases, sexual behaviours, and substance use (Marmot & Allen, 2014). Equally, ‘kindling’ may arrive by asking whether it is a core duty of schools to promote particular forms of mental health, mindfulness, happiness, and alternative forms of wellbeing (Leahy & Simovska, 2017). While stretching the analogy further to consider the ‘firewood’, debate and developments on these matters may flare up with some heat—and light, it is hoped—at various levels. Transnationally, a blaze of concerns may arise from how education, educators and educationalists are expected to respond to a wide range of health-related developments and ‘epidemics’ across populations in Western countries and beyond, e.g. related to obesity and other forms of malnutrition, beginningof-life to end-of-life policy and care, the relative benefits and burdens individually and collectively of health care provision and costs, and so forth. Equally, debates at national, regional and local levels might be fuelled by asking what is (deemed) necessary, appropriate and acceptable as health and wellbeing promotion initiatives in schools (Simovska, Nordin, & Dahl, 2016). And it is here, we note, that sometimes debate rages in relation to traditions and contestations of sociocultural conditions and priorities that are expressed in education (Green & Tones, 2010), while at others, it may well be to question the experiences students might expect to bring, have or discuss in a school setting on these matters—if not what others expect those to be—including their boundaries, participatory modes or challenges to such student experience (Grieber et al., 2017).