Every educator has their own set of beliefs; what works for them, what they believe is most effective in the classroom, what research has shown works, or perhaps all of the above. Educational philosophies run the gamut from things like essentialism, which is pretty self explanatory (students learn a set of basic subjects through a very disciplined, systematic way) to existentialism.
I, myself, have a bit of a love affair with existentialism. Sometimes I think that this is because in a classroom, traditionally one does not have as much autonomy or say in what one learns. As I had a traditional public school education, this was very much true for me. When I discovered existentialism, I felt a little bit like this:
Existentialism, the educational philosophy, has been developed from the philosophical philosophy (ha!) that is often considered to be founded by Soren Kierkegaard. However, existentialism really took off, if you will in the 1940′s and 50′s with Jean-Paul Sartre and Martin Heidegger, among others. Existentialism as a culture/philosophy states that mind and body are not the only two categories to define oneself. Sartre was famous for his quote “Experience precedes essence.” This means that there is no general definition for what it means to be human. What is essential to being human cannot be defined by one’s type, but by their experiences, by what they make of themselves in life.
So, you’re probably thinking “What does all this philosophical stuff MEAN, Hillary? How do I apply it to education?” Well, let me explain then! Existentialist educational curriculum’s primary aim is to help learner’s develop their own values and to understand themselves within their own cultural context. This educational philosophy focuses on an individual and their relationships, rather than a set system of study each day like science followed by math followed by English. Choice and freedom are fundamental to the way existentialism works in a classroom.
Classroom discussion facilitation is also important. Relationships with peers and the ability to discuss learning is also critical. “But how is this practical, Hillary? What does it LOOK like in action?” Glad you asked! Educators provide students with opportunities to choose what they learn, to choose projects that interest them, and opportunities to teach others. Questions are used to illicit discussion such as: evaluative or hypothetical questions.
Existential classrooms might look a lot of different ways; some could be around a round conference table, an empty room, outside or mobile even! (Think museums, a farm, an orchard!) Ideal settings are places that put the educator and the learner on equal footing. The classroom could include artwork that would evoke a response, this helps students form their own values. In these classrooms, educators would have one on one interactions with students. The curriculum is at the student’s pace and experiential learning is very important.
Two sample lesson plans might include: