Exploring Youths' Understanding of Intimate Relationships Through the Education Sector: An Institutional Ethnography


Adolescence is a vulnerable period for youth across the world. It is a period of new learnings with opportunities to understand and develop perspectives on health and well-being. With youth beginning to engage in intimate relationships at an earlier age in the 21st century, concentrating on the learning opportunity they have in school is paramount. The nature of what has been deemed important to teach in schools has changed throughout history, and focus has shifted from home/family skills to teaching youth how to be competitive in the job market. Amidst this emphasis, opportunities for them exist to learn about building healthy intimate relationships, one of the foundational elements of most people’s lives. Using an Institutional Ethnography (IE), I trace the lived experiences of youth in how they understand intimate relationships, and how their learning experience is organized through the high school Health and Physical Education (H&PE) course. I provide an empirical exploration of how the work of teachers and youth is socially organized by a biomedical, employment-related, and efficiency-based discourse. Through interviews with teachers and youth, I trace the control those ruling relations such as institutional expectations, performance reports, and timetabling enact over the experience of teachers and youth. My findings show how texts such as the H&PE curriculum, the Ontario College of Teachers (OCT) guidelines, Ministry of Education Performance Reports, and the timetable organize the day-to-day activities of teachers and students and reproduce different disjuncture for youth. This disjuncture includes some of their experiences being subordinated, difficulty relating to curriculum, and an experience of healthy living discussions being skimmed over across sites. My findings show that the experience of youth in learning about healthy intimate relationships is not akin to the espoused vision outlined in the H&PE (2015) curriculum policy. These findings have implications for policymakers, activists, and school administration alike, which call for an investigation into who is in power when it comes to youth’s learning needs, and a restructuring of existing institutional practices that allow for the flexibility required to broach the topic of healthy intimacy in a comprehensive manner

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This paper was published in YorkSpace.

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