And Yet it Works. How to Make Sense of Substance Education

Markku Soikkeli, Mikko Salasuo, Anne Puuronen & Matti Piispa

(In Finnish: Se toimii sittenkin – kuinka päihdevalistuksesta saa selvää?)

The purpose of this multidisciplinary book is to illustrate the significance of communication in preventive substance education, and to encourage readers to utilize methods of communication in their work and to develop these skills. The book shows how current information about substances can be interpreted, evaluated and utilized in present-day information society. It stimulates the development of dialogue between youths and adults and the strengthening of debating skills in different educational institutions.

The usefulness of substance education in preventing the harm caused by substance abuse has been debated for over two decades. The importance of education cannot be dismissed just because studies do not support the hope that substance abuse can be reduced through information leaflets or campaigns. The main goal of substance education is to influence public opinion, unofficial norms and political decision-making; this way, it will also have a long-term effect on substance abuse and its harmful effects. This view is based on the theory of generative education, developed in Finland in the 1980’s, which the authors still consider to be the most productive basis for communication about substances and its evaluation and study.

The book also takes a look at substance education in schools, and its potential in preventing harm. In Europe, substance education programs from outside the school are generally favoured. Markku Soikkeli defends the Finnish model that relies on the school’s own resources, which includes substance education as part of general health education classes, and the development of the entire school community into a protective environment.

In the foreword, Matti Piispa presents the ethical reasoning behind education from the point of view of Western liberalism. Mikko Salasuo dismantles the false opposition between education and control, and shows why both are needed. Anne Puuronen analyzes the problems of tobacco education through a critical case study. Markku Soikkeli gives reasons for the need for new methods in education, studies and evaluation. According to Soikkeli, the currently dominant way of studying education is based on outdated theories, or lacks a theoretical basis entirely. Communication theories may offer a valid viewpoint also for substance education. The book concludes with two practical chapters on the important skills of a substance educator: interpreting research data, revealing abuse and participation through different media.

The book is targeted at teachers, youth workers, substance education professionals, civil servants, researchers and all adults. The book project has been funded by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health and administered by the Finnish Youth Research Society. The book will be broadly distributed to professional educators, youth workers and substance workers.