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Race and culture in the secondary school health and physical education curriculum in Ontario, Canada: A critical reading

LeAnne Petherick (Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada)

Health Education

ISSN: 0965-4283

Article publication date: 5 February 2018




The purpose of this paper is to explore issues of race and culture in health education in the secondary school health and physical education (HPE) curriculum in Ontario, Canada.


Using Ontario’s secondary school curriculum as a point of analysis, this paper draws from critical race theory and a whiteness lens to identify how cultural and race identities are positioned in contemporary health education documents. The curriculum document and its newest strategies for teaching are the focus of analysis in this conceptual paper.


Within the curriculum new teaching strategies offer entry points for engaging students in learning more about culture and race. In particular, First Nation, Métis and Inuit identities are noted in the curriculum. Specifically, three areas of the curriculum point to topics of race and culture in health: eating; substance use, abuse and additions; and, movement activities. Within these three educational areas, the curriculum offers information about cultural practices to teach about what it means to understand health from a cultural lens.

Social implications

The HPE curriculum offers examples of how Ontario, Canada, is expanding its cultural approaches to knowing about and understanding health practices. The acknowledgment of First Nations, Métis and Inuit health and cultural ways of approaching health is significant when compared to other recently revised HPE curriculum from around the globe. The teaching strategies offered in the curriculum document provide one avenue to think about how identity, culture and race are being taught in health education classrooms.


First, with limited analysis of health education policy within schools, the use of critical theory provides opportunities for thinking about what comes next when broadening definitions of health to be more inclusive of cultural and race identity. Second, curriculum structures how teachers respond to the topics they are delivering, thus how HPE as a subject area promotes healthy practices is highly relevant to the field of health education. This paper provides an important acknowledgment of the educative work being undertaken in the revision of HPE curriculum.



The author would like to thank the reviewers and acknowledge support from the funding agency.


Petherick, L. (2018), "Race and culture in the secondary school health and physical education curriculum in Ontario, Canada: A critical reading", Health Education, Vol. 118 No. 2, pp. 144-158.



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