THE CULTURE OF ALCOHOL IN RELATION TO SECONDARY AGED PUPILS: a feasibility study
Report submitted to funders in 1989, John Schostak, Richard Davies
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The object of the one year pilot study was to determine the feasibility of:
The results of the pilot study support the general feasibility of the original proposal but with certain emendations. Guidelines for a research and development phase following this pilot study are as follows:
A. In order to produce developmental profiles and generate explanations:
B. In order to target educational programmes:
Findings: a summary
The findings concerning developmental profiles
As employed here, a developmental profile refers to the sequences of events experienced by individuals and employed in accounts by them and others to talk about transitions, changes or a sense of 'growing up' in their lives. Thus a developmental profile is constructed out of: a) biographical accounts by an individual, b) the perceptions of significant people in the life of the individual; and c) research-based observations. These then provide 1) the basis for reflection and analysis; and, 2) the basis for determining future action and directions. They are produced from ethnographic studies of the individuals (primarily by interview and observation over a period of time). Briefly, experience from the pilot study has shown:
1. Developmental profiles are a powerful instrument for provoking recognition: of self, of life, of social and family milieu. They can be a brief event, the moment of decisions, a set of circumstances, a significant utterance, the expression of a social law in the spoken words of a young person, the impact of neighbours, of the weather, the quality and type of social provision of the community, the number, extent and structure of the various groupings and sub groupings of the young person's world, of the role of homework and the meaning of "Friday and Saturday night"; indeed elaborating the full complexity of experience for all involved during discussion can be guided by reference to a single account.
2. Developmental profiles identify the range of critical moments in the lives of young people. These include: forming friends, forming a self image, becoming active sexually, coping with school stress, needing and handling money, dealing with family crises (divorce, death, addiction, violence and sexual abuse). All these are associated with physical change and social and sexual transition. Thus,
3. Developmental profiles identify the strategies of decision making typical of sub-cultural groupings or milieus and ranges of courses of action open to young people in given situations where drink is available at critical moments in their lives.
4. From these it is possible to describe and analyse a range of definitions of drinking and problem drinking which arise in the course of the life experiences of young people and are thus situated in the social circumstances which constrain decision making.
5. A more detailed analysis of developmental profiles reveals the range of social processes through which young people are socialised not only into a culture of alcohol but into the range of decision making strategies and courses of action open to them during moments of crisis or temptation. The importance of this is that critical reflection can reveal alternative courses of action previously considered 'unrealistic' by the adolescent, or even strategically ignored or hidden from the attention of the decision maker.
6. Developmental profiles also reveal the 'nested' nature of problems. Problems may not arise simply and singly in the life of an individual but may occur together, forming unexpected relationships, the one concealing others within or 'behind' it. A decision made that solves one problem may open up or reveal or even be incompatible with the solution of others.
7. Developmental profiles indicate the range of ways in which adolescents search for 'empowerment' in their lives. The adolescent problem is, how to move beyond the limits imposed by adults as they 'grow up'. As they seek to expand their field of action, they continually experience meeting and struggling to overcome such limits, endeavouring to 'prove themselves'. But at the same time, this impetus to expand is accompanied by anxiety at the possible consequences of such overcoming of 'the limits imposed by adults'. Young people growing up must generally bear the tension of seeking both to 'prove themselves' and preserve themselves. The strategies for 'proof of growing up' are numerous and sometimes dangerous; the choices constituted by the "dare" are never insignificant. The range of these strategies is revealed through the analysis of developmental profiles. There are important implications for alcohol use and abuse, and for other substance use and abuse.
In considering research and development programmes with the object of targeting educational programmes towards the individual needs of young people between the ages of 11-18, such programmes can only be effective if they take into account the sub-cultural complexities within which young people make decisions about alcohol use. Consequently, it is vital that teaching strategies and the strategies through which awareness programmes are to be delivered are appropriate to the needs, interests and life circumstances of the children themselves particularly during critical moments of decision making. In relation to alcohol educational programmes the recommendation for the second phase of the research is for three interdependent aims:
In schools, the terms Personal and Social Development (PSD) and Personal and Social Education (PSE) are often used interchangeably. For the purposes of this proposal they will be kept quite distinct. Personal and Social Development (PSD) will refer to the whole biographical experience of the child, adolescent or adult. Personal and Social Education (PSE) will refer to the educational institution's programme of response to the individual's experience. In short, PSE is the institution's response to PSD. This distinction is analytically useful in research and development terms. The ethnographic techniques employed in the feasibility study to produce accounts of youth subcultural experiences, as the report shows, are particularly useful in illuminating the PSD experiences of the adolescents involved. The feasibility study next considered the extent to which the accounts had implications for PSE. Of particular importance for the second proposal is the development of PSE strategies. The structure supporting this development will be Action Research. This is a process in which reflection on actual experience guides the development of educational practice. Thus research based reflection through Action Research upon PSD leads to strategies for PSE. The Centre for Applied Research in Education has considerable experience in programme development through Action Research.
Action research and the delivery of a diversity of Developmental Profiles
It has been argued that action research is the required vehicle for achieving the aims of the recommended educational programme. Action research networks have been proven to be a powerful means of grounding curriculum development in teacher practice and pupil experience thus ensuring educational and personal relevance. From the experience of previous large action research programmes, it is evident that action research networks regionally and nationally lead to a considerable number of teacher and pupil produced materials and publications. The strategy of networking can be used to ensure the necessary diversity of developmental profiles required for the kind of alcohol education programme conceived in this study.Final Remarks - the Culture of Alcohol
The pilot study has achieved its purpose of demonstrating the feasibility of
generating profiles as a means of targeting educational responses. The profiles
demonstrate the complexity and diversity of experience, decision making and
interpretational strategies made by young people. Alcohol is not an unambiguous
presence in the lives of young people. A method has been generated by which
to analyse individual experience and typify it at the level of paradigmatic
narratives. The narratives as well as the individual profiles can be used as
inservice training material by which to induct teachers into the processes of
working with young people to generate close reflection upon the experiences
of everyday life and the role that alcohol plays in their lives. This places
the student in an active, not a passive position regarding the curriculum matter
of alcohol in relation to everyday life. It has been argued that Personal and
Social Education (PSE) provides a ready made curriculum slot for this kind of
approach to alcohol education.
A distinction has to be made between the delivery and the application of information. Information can be provided at school within a context of school-based rationality. However, during a party, a different kind of rationality reveals itself, as illustrated during the profiles. There is a sense in which the party context acts to suspend the cool rationality of the classroom. Thus, it is important for educationists to grapple with this kind of issue if they want to do more than simply inform. Teachers who deal with this kind of issue daily have emphasised the importance of 'authentic' materials. The authenticity referred to is that of the individual's own experience in relation to other similar kinds of experience. It has been found that through a process of continual reflection upon one's own experience one can generate insights, open up options that one never knew existed and generate alternative forms of action which pre-empt the emergence of the problems which previously had been thought to be inevitable.
Any future educational programme should focus upon the educational methods which engage young people and their teachers in critical reflection upon the processes of everyday life.