Publication Details

This article was originally published as Wright, J and Burrows, L, “Being Healthy”: The discursive construction of health in New Zealand children’s responses to the National Education Monitoring Project, Discourse: studies in the cultural politics of education, 25(2), June 2004, 211-230. Copyright Taylor and Francis. Original journal available here.


In this paper we examine the discursive resources which year 4 and year 8 students draw on to construct meanings for health. Drawing on students’ responses to tasks in the New Zealand National Monitoring Project (Crooks & Flockton, 1999) we examine what students have to say about health, speculate on where these responses have come from, and on the implications of these for health education pedagogy. The students’ responses indicate that they are well-versed in “healthism” discourses which link practices like eating, exercise, smoking, drinking and taking drugs with “health”. The students’ responses also point to the construction of health knowledge as certain and static. Relatively little attention is paid to the social, cultural, economic or political contexts of people’s lives. Indeed, the “typical” responses clearly point to the dominance of white, middle class values about health and fitness promoted in New Zealand society. We conclude by posing several questions generated for educators.

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