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What Are the Applications of Existentialism in Education?

By Erik J.J. Goserud
Updated May 23, 2024
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In order to understand the role of existentialism in education, one must first develop a through comprehension of existentialism in general. This can be very difficult at times, largely due to the fact that this field of philosophy, like many, is a bit abstract. Once understood, it it easy to see how existentialism could potentially benefit both the student and the teacher. It's also apparent that this is a controversial subject.

Existentialism is premised on the individual. It is geared toward the fact each person's reality is based on themselves. There is no universal concept of what is real rather only unlimited variations of personal perspectives of life. What might be real to one person may not be the case for the next and so on and so forth until the end of time.

This is not the end of existentialism but only the beginning. While the many hardships that plague humanity are somewhat universal, existentialists claim that the difference between the happy and sad are in which reality each person creates for him- or herself. It is up to the individual to build a reality in which he or she feels important and fulfilled, and accomplishing this is what brings a life meaning or allows a person to feel sorrowful and empty. This is the backbone of existentialism.

Existentialism in education is significant in a number of ways. Some argue that existentialism should be taught to students of all levels. Others feel that the role of existentialism in education should be reserved for higher education.

In many ways, existentialism in education could also manifest itself at the teacher level. For example, teachers who feel that what they are doing for a living is beneficial to others are more likely to do a better job than those who are simply in it to get by. Most teachers who embody a deeper meaning in their work are more passionate, personable, and effective in the classroom. This is another example of how existentialism in education can be critical.

Like most beliefs of philosophical or religious nature, there is always room for debate. While some scholars, administrators, teachers, or students may feel that existentialism has a role in education, others are likely to argue the two should be separated. Whether being taught as part of a curriculum or embodied by a teacher or student, there is no doubt that this philosophical outlook has ties with the educational system.

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Discussion Comments
By whiteplane — On Dec 22, 2012
I got a masters degree in education and I had to take several courses that discussed the philosophy of education. Existentialism came up in all of them.

It is am interesting idea for sure and one worth considering, but like a lot of abstract philosophies, it doesn't have much practical application in the classroom. I'm glad we talked about it, but developing lesson plans, capturing kid's attention and keeping order are more immediately important.

By tigers88 — On Dec 21, 2012

This is an interesting topic but I am not sure that I fully understand it. Can someone point me towards other resources that discuss this issue? I want to know about both existentialism and its application in education.

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