Defining PLE: more help from health education

December 14, 2006

I have spent the past hour indulging myself in some basic materials from the field of public health education, a field I spotlighted back in October. In particular, I’ve been reading through a basic health education textbook, which starts out—appropriately—with a definition of the field.

In Canada, there is no settled definition of “public legal education.” In fact, there have been ideological battles fought over its meaning and not even a tattered consensus has emerged. Lois Gander arrived at a functional definition by deconstructing the term in her article The Changing Face of Public Legal Education in Canada, News & Views on Civil Justice Reform, Summer 2003, at 4 (PDF). Still, there is no accepted definition that all of the many PLE providers in Canada can rally under.

The much more well-developed (and well-funded) fields of health education and promotion can help, perhaps. Intensive efforts, like the American Association of Health Education‘s Joint Committee on Health Education and Health Promotion Terminology and a World Health Organization health education glossary project, have produced standard definitions that are widely used in those fields. For instance:

health education—“any combination of planned learning experiences based on sound theories that provide individuals, groups, and communities the opportunity to acquire information and the skills needed to make quality health decisions” (Joint Committee on Health Education and Health Education Terminology).

health education—“comprises consciously constructed opportunities for learning involving some form of communication designed to improve health literacy, including improving knowledge and developing life skills which are conducive to individual and community health” (World Health Organization Health Promotion Glossary (PDF)).

health literacy—“represents the cognitive and social skills which determine the motivation and ability of individuals to gain access to, understand and use information in ways which promote and maintain good health” (World Health Organization Health Promotion Glossary (PDF)).

I wonder if these be adjusted slightly (to reflect the legal subject area) and work as basic definitions in the PLE field. How accurate is this try?

Public legal education comprises consciously constructed opportunities for learning involving some form of communication to improve legal literacy, including improving knowledge and developing life skills that enable individuals, groups, and communities to make quality legal decisions.

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7 Responses to “Defining PLE: more help from health education”

  1. Lois Gander Says:

    Ah, Ritchie, you are a brave man…

    I’ve always been a great fan of the “unconsciously” enabled “teachable moment”. It’s one reason why I like the internet. I’m sure I’m not the only one who stumbles upon something interesting while I’m surfing for something else entirely. Some of my best PLE work was done hanging out on the street with “hippies” and other malcontents, just talking about things that were happening to them.

    “Life skills” is to pejorative…

    “Make quality legal decisions” is too limiting. Always preferred something more action-oriented eg. engage in law-related or justice-related activities.”

    But keep trying…. ;-)

    Lois

  2. eppink Says:

    Finally had a chance to mull this over…

    Although the “unconsciously enabled teachable moment” might be interesting, I’m not sure it’s PLE. But the PLE work done while “hanging out on the street … just talking about things,” is PLE—and its not unconcsiously enabled. The term “consciously constructed” in the definition is there to distinguish PLE from legal learning that nobody tried to make happen. While that legal learning might be good, and might be something that PLE researchers are practitioners are interested in, it’s not public legal education. It’s something else.

    I agree that “life skills” is too pejorative. How about just “skills”?

    I also agree that “make quality legal decisions” is too limiting.

    What about this rewrite?

    Public legal education comprises consciously constructed opportunities for learning involving some form of communication to improve legal literacy, including improving knowledge and developing skills that enable individuals, groups, and communities to make quality legal decisions, participate in processes of law, and access justice.

  3. Pat Pitsula Says:

    Hi Ritchie,

    I appreciate the attempts to utilize the language of health education in coming up with a definition of PLEI. Strategically useful to link ministerial vocabulary together whenever possible.

    Two comments/questions on the definition you put forward:

    Are “quality legal decisions” well informed legal decisions? I am not sure myself what a quality legal decision looks like but I could recognize and believe it is possible to offer PLEI on how to make well informed legal decisions………

    When you say “participate in processes of law, and access justice”, do you mean increasing awareness of the law and justice system in order to advance the Rule of Law and a just society?

    Pat

  4. eppink Says:

    Pat-

    “Quality legal decisions”: I guess they are “well informed legal decisions,” but they might be something more than that. For example, I consider myself “well informed” (for a member of the general public) about landlord-tenant law in my home state. Any decision I made about renting an apartment there would be a well informed one. But it might not be a “quality” one—a “quality” legal decision would be well informed (as far as law) and be beneficial and healthy for me and those close to me. In other words, I can know a lot about the law and still make a bad legal decision (successful malpractice suits against competent lawyers prove this).

    When I say “participate in processes of law, and access justice” I do not mean “increasing awareness of the law and justice system in order to advance the Rule of Law and a just society.” But that should make it into the definition somehow. What I mean is:

    – “participate in processes of law”: be able to navigate through things like filing procedures, administrative complaint systems, and public consultation opportunities, or recognize that you need an advocate to help you with these processes;

    – “access justice”: be and feel equal to others who are using the justice system (at least).

  5. Lois Gander Says:

    Ritchie, I’ve made a comment on your entry re the Wikipedia entry for PLE you submitted to the effect that PLE for many of us includes a dynamic that encourages two-way communication between the public and the justice system. I don’t see that sort of dynamic reflected in the definitions of health education you’ve provided. The health education model perpetuates the idea that legal knowledge resides in the heads and books of legal professionals and it is theirs to share (or not) with the public. In fact, the public has a great deal of knowledge about the law, legal processes, and legal system that needs to be shared with legal professionals. Not always knowledge that people in the system are comfortable hearing. This is part of the neutrality debate too. Whose knowledge do we share in PLE and with whom?

  6. eppink Says:

    You’re right, Lois. This is both missing from the definition and—in my opinion, at least—crucial to it. (To what extent this “other” piece of PLE is actually implemented nowadays is debatable; but it’s part of PLE nevertheless.)


  7. […] My blog entry on help from health education for a PLE definition […]


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