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The Existentialist Philosophy of Education

ED203: Philosophy of Education Graduate School

Introduction

Existentialism, a student-centered philosophy, places the highest priority on students directing their
own learning. Existentialism asserts that the purpose of education is to help children find the meaning
and direction in their lives, and it rejects the notion that adults should or could direct learning for
children.

Introduction

Existentialists do not believe that "truth" is objective and applicable to all. Instead, each of us must look
within ourselves to discover our own truth, our own purpose in life. Teaching students what adults
believe they should learn is neither efficient nor effective; in fact, most of this "learning" will be
forgotten. Instead, each student should decide what he or she needs to learn, and when to learn it. As
the Buddhist proverb reminds us: When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

Introduction

There is little doubt that for many this is the most challenging of all the philosophies, and schools built
on this premise will seem the most alien. We are a culture very connected to the outside world, and far
less connected to our inner voice, or as an existentialist might say, our essence. Thinking about why we
are here and finding our purpose in life is not what schools typically do, but existentialists believe it is
precisely what they should do. Schools should help each of us answer the fundamental questions: Why
am I here? What is my purpose?

What should education be?

The message of existentialism to any philosophy of education is the focus on authentic freedom and
individual uniqueness. Thus, against the culture of conformism… the self must free himself from the
shadow of the crowd which oftentimes is a place where man loses himself (inauthenticity) or a place
where man is disillusioned to have accomplished something but deep within there is emptiness (cf. are
heroes born or do we create them?)

What should Education be?

Existentialist would say that the most important kind of knowledge is about the human condition and
the choices that each person has to make. Education then must be a process of developing
consciousness about the freedom to choose and about the meaning of responsibility for one’s choice. It
is designed to create in us a sense of self-awareness and to contribute to our authenticity as human
beings.

What should Education be?


Education must urge students to involve themselves intellectually and emotionally in whatever they
study. Thus… The school must revise completely its conception of knowledge and so, it must cease to
regard subject matter as an end in itself or as an instrument to prepare the students for their future
career. It must also make it a point that learning is not only a mental activity but must now shift from
the world of objects to the world of the PERSON.

What should a School be?

It is a place individuals can meet to pursue a dialogue and discussion about their own lives and choices.
It is a place where subjects can be pursued that will illuminate choice-making by examining the human
conditions as it is presented in literary, dramatic, and other aesthetic forms like poetry, art work, nature,
etc. It is a place where practice of individual freedom is cultivated for the development of the whole
learner to face the challenges of life. THUS…

What should a School be?

Existentialism on education criticizes the modern tendency to educate children in groups rather than as
individuals. This is because the group could either OBSTRUCT the development of its slower members by
going at the speed of the fastest or clip the wings of the fastest by adopting the pace of the average.

They do not of course advocate the Nietzschean view of an education for an elite of potential supermen.

What should a School be?

However, existentialism as a philosophy of education do not wholly reject group education, they only
emphasize that group instruction’s end should be individual education. Existentialist also dislike the
tendency of parents to surrender more of their educative responsibilities to the school. They believe
that at home, the interaction is more personal than in the impersonal setting of the school…unless the
student learned to become independent at home…he will only conform in school.

Who should go to School?

Since every person is in the same predicament and has the same possibilities, every individual should
have the opportunity for schooling. In the school both teachers and students should have the same
opportunity to ask questions, to suggests answers, and to engage in a dialogue. Existentialism, more
than other educational philosophies, affords students great latitude in their choice of subject matter and
activity.

Who should go to School?

Existentialism in the classroom is a powerful rejection of traditional, and particularly essentialist


thinking. In the existentialist classroom, subject matter takes second place to helping the students
understand and appreciate themselves as unique individuals. The teacher's role is to help students
define their own essence by exposing them to various paths they may take in life and by creating an
environment in which they can freely choose their way.

What is the role of the teacher?

THE TEACHER is not in his classroom to impart knowledge (Realism), or as consultant in situation
problems (Pragmatism), or as a personality to be emulated (Idealism). His function is to assist his
students towards self-realization.

The teacher is best placed to promote the growth of free, creative manhood in those who come before
him with a passionate concern for the meaning of life and the quality of their own lives.

What is the role of the teacher?

The good teacher urges his students to challenge and criticize his own views; he advises them not to fear
error, he tells them not to take for granted the ideas of others; he tells them not to imitate or reproduce
ideas second hand.

The teacher’s role is so important since for an existentialist, it is not how much they have learned but in
HOW they learned it and what it MEANS to them.

What is the role of the teacher?

In sum, an existentialist encourages students to engage in philosophizing about the meaning of the
human experiences of life, love and death. An existentialist teacher would raise life-love-death-
relatedquestions and put them before the students. The questioning process would grow into a dialogue
between the members of the learning groups. It should be remembered that the answers to these
questions would be a learning and subjective for each individual. They would not be measured on
standardized tests.

What should be the content of the Curriculum?

An existentialist curriculum would consist of the experiences and subjects that lead themselves to
philosophic dialogue. They would be subjects that portray individual men and women in the act of
choice making, e.g., subjects in humanities like history, philosophy, literature, and the arts which reveal
in greater depth and immediacy the nature of man and his conflict with the world.

What should be the content of the Curriculum?

Math and the natural sciences may be deemphasized because their subject matter is less fruitful for
promoting self awareness. Career education is regarded more as a means of teaching students about
their potential than of teaching a livelihood. In art, existentialism encourages individual creativity and
imagination more than it does the imitation of established models.

What should be the content of the Curriculum?


The existentialist curriculum often emphasizes the humanities as a means of providing students with
vicarious experiences that will help unleash their creativity and self-expression.

For example, existentialists focus on the actions of historical individuals, each of whom provides a model
for the students to explore.

How should the content of the Curriculum be taught (Methods)?

Existentialism in the classroom is a powerful rejection of traditional, and particularly essentialist


thinking. In the existentialist classroom, subject matter takes second place to helping the students
understand and appreciate themselves as unique individuals. The teacher's role is to help students
define their own essence by exposing them to various paths they may take in life and by creating an
environment in which they can freely choose their way.

How should the content of the Curriculum be taught (Methods)?

Drama and films that vividly portray the human condition and human decision-making ought to be seen
and discussed by students. In addition to these subjects, students need to find modes of self-expression.
They should be free to experiment on artistic media, to dramatize or make concrete their emotions,
feelings, and insights. The existentialist classroom should be rich in the materials that lend themselves to
self-expression.

What then should be the aim or product of education?

Education must not specialized or emphasize vocational courses on the ground that instead of
encouraging the students to be an individual, it trains him to become a particular person. Ideally, the
student or individual can take any career or occupation as a means for the exercise of freedom and only
secondarily about other tangible rewards like money and power.

What then should be the aim or product of education?

It must uphold the freedom of individuals, e.g. the teacher should not impose values to the students.
The teacher’s main duty is to present the principles which he believes and the reason for them. It would
now be the students/learners to freely choose them Education in this case emphasizes on personal
independence and responsibility.

Concluding Remarks

Existentialism is a philosophy of personal freedom and individual responsibility. Such is not an easy task.
The individual will always meet incomprehension, hostility, and most often sheer lack of interest. The
teacher then should impress each students the need to be himself rather than a stereotype of the
group.