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Running Head: Existentialism: The Courage to Be

Existentialism: The Courage to Be

Lauren A. Harvey
Wesleyan College

Existentialism: The Courage to Be


Many methods of teaching have been presented in the Educational system over the years.
These methods of education are called Philosophies of Education. Each educator believes
differently in how their students should be instructed. Categories of Educational Philosophies
include teacher centered philosophies and student centered philosophies. Soren Kierkegaard
proposed that each individual, not society or religion, is responsible for giving meaning to life
and living it passionately and sincerely. (Insert watts citation here) Existentialism is the focus of
personal and subjective existence. While there are positive points to the teacher centered
philosophies, my personal philosophy of education matches the student centered philosophies.
After all, teachers are in schools to help students learn. Students are more likely to absorb
information when they feel as though they have some influence in the way they are taught that
The Purpose of School
In 1938, John Dewey argued that the primary purpose of education and schooling is not
so much to prepare students to live a useful life, but to teach them how to live existentially and
immediately in their current environment. By contrast, George Counts, a leading progressive
educator in the 1930s, critiqued Deweys philosophy stating, the weakness of progressive
education thus lies in the fact that it has elaborated no theory of social welfare, unless it be that
of anarchy or extreme individualism (1978, p. 5). To Counts, the purpose of school was less
about preparing individuals to live independently and more about preparing individuals to live as
members of a society. In other words, Counts felt the role of schooling was to equip individuals

Existentialism: The Courage to Be


with the skills necessary to participate in the social life of their community and to change the
nature of the social order as needed or desired. More recently, some sociologists have argued that
schools exist primarily to serve a practical credentialing function in society (Labaree, 1997).
Expanding on the Existential purpose of school, deMarrais and LeCompte (1995) outlined four
major purposes of schooling that include:

Intellectual purposes such as the development of mathematical and reading skills;

Political purposes such as the assimilation of immigrants;
Economic purposes such as job preparation; and
Social purposes such as the development of social and moral responsibility.
Childrens Nature

Every individual has a choice. A student must choose to learn as the teacher cannot force
the information successfully. Fortunately, children have a natural curiosity of the world around
them. They have a desire to learn about everything around them. It is how the teacher chooses to
deliver the information that makes the difference. During the early stages of life, children learn
just about everything through play. However well-endowed a child may be genetically, his brain
will not develop its full potential unless he is exposed to stimulation and the opportunity to act.
Moreover, from the very earliest days, there is competition between brain cells. Being
homeschooled from the fourth grade to the beginning of high school, I spent a great deal of time
around my mother and younger brother. This of course created a strong understanding and
appreciation for the Family Unit. My mother devoted several years to my education. As a result,
I was able to learn at my own pace and in my own way. Also, I have developed a strong sense of
values and morals that some children lack as a result of unfortunate upbringing. Children are

Existentialism: The Courage to Be


hungry for information and will instantly absorb anything given to them. However, this
information must be presented in a manner that is suited for their level.
What Should Be Taught in the Classroom
Most teachers everywhere come in contact with some children who have had an
upbringing very different from their own. These differences may stem from social class, cultural
background, or living habits of the parents. It is a part of enlightened self-initiative to attempt to
understand and accept differences ( insert Marjorie citation). First of all, the word "value" is a
difficult and elusive symbol with multiple and complex meanings. The dictionary says that
values are acts, customs, beliefs, and so forth, regarded in a favorable way by a people. In a
broad sense, everything educates, and the learning process is an endless cycle throughout life.
Some values change and others are lasting values. Some values are universal and others are
personal or classed with certain groups of people. These values, I will classify under very broad
terms of "Respect for Self", and "Respect for Others". This directly relates back to my earlier
point that it is a teachers job to produce well rounded and skillfully educated students who will
contribute generously to society. In order to successfully achieve this goal, teachers must not
only ensure that students can pass a milestones test, but can function productively in a public
setting. These are basic skills that will follow an individual through the span of life.
Ms. Chandler Alday, my ninth grade economics teacher. One day in class, Ms. Alday
started a unit on commerce. During this particular unit, she taught us how to write checks and the
basic concepts of banking. I can probably count on two hands the times Ive actually had to write
a check at this point in my life, but it was an everyday basic skill that would otherwise have

Existentialism: The Courage to Be


slipped through the cracks. Of course trying to teach a six year old how to write a check would
be a lost cause, but the point is that during these formative years teachers are and should be
major influences in a childs life. Children should be taught basic moral values as well as
traditional education.
Instructional Methods in the Classroom
Busy Hands-Busy Brains
The classroom should be a safe zone allowing students to explore options, actions, new
concepts and themselves. Students should be given the chance to learn via self-discovery. The
teacher should provide guidance and stimulation. By the students exploration of the world with
tactile lessons and self-discovery, they will have the ability to relate the information to their own
life and better commit the information to long term memory. According to Cindy Middendorf,
educational consultant and author of The Scholastic Differentiated Instruction Plan Book
(Scholastic, 2009), between the ages of four and seven, the right side of the brain is developing
and learning comes easily through visual and spatial activities. As a tactile learner myself, I can
relate firsthand to the frustration of not being able to comprehend the lesson being taught. I
struggled with math in school. I can vividly remember sitting in multiple classrooms with
various teachers over the years thoroughly discouraged as I sat in my desk attempting to decode
the numerical foreign language on the board. What small basic understanding I have of math
came from my third grade teacher Mrs. Scott. She used a curriculum called Saxon Math. This
was a time in my life when I actually got excited about fractions! The program utilized plastic

Existentialism: The Courage to Be


grids and colored cubes to teach fractions in a tactile manor. By physically making the fractions
with my hands, I was able to understand the concepts and advance.
Classroom Management
Teachers must celebrate student authenticity and what Existentialists call the courage to
be. (insert citation here) Teachers should help students internalize the world and make it their
own. Teachers must also strive to reach each student individually, although each comes from a
different backgrounds and experiences. Allow students to make their own choices about
individual projects. Suggest projects that encourage imagination and self-expression and then
display the students work for fellow students and other teachers to admire. Students should also
be made personally responsible for completing their work on time. However bare in mind
(especially for first through third grades) that students require parental help with at home projects
and homework. As stated earlier, each child comes from a different background and parental
guidance may not be as readily available as it is for other students. Teachers should reward
students not for just completing what is expected of them but for creativity and individuality.
Traditional letter grades damage students self-esteem, as grades do not properly evaluate
for deeper levels of understanding. Therefore, instead of grades, I would use non-traditional
means of assessment such as portfolios, performance assessment and group work assessments.
Portfolios would contain student essays that show a deeper level of understanding rather than
testing them in traditional manors. Portfolios would also contain poems, workbook exercises,

Existentialism: The Courage to Be


and journals. Another form of assessment would be oral work, like class discussions, oral
recitations, and performances and exhibitions that include speech and drama performances.
Moving away from a testing culture and testing for real learning would promote the goals
of my Existential classroom. This type of assessment creates a product that would contain all of
the students work. This type of product allows the student to see their own work in its entirety.
Seeing the amount and type of work theyve done over a period of time builds confidence. In
addition, they also have something tangible to gauge their own development.
Another form of assessment that I would use in liu of traditional forms of grading would
be student self-evaluation. These types of assessment would work to enhance the students
learning, self-esteem and academic success as this approach is also proactive, student-centered
and non-competitive.
I believe that education should be student centered and encourage students to become the
best possible version of themselves. It is important for schools to prepare students to be
productive members of society in order for the world to improve. The students of today control
what is to come in the future and it is our job as educators to prepare our students to be
productive and contribute generously to their society. Students should be able to leave school
feeling prepared to thrive in all aspects of life. Hands on education that is unique to each
individual student is the most beneficial to students who long to be productive citizens. Students
must be able to understand how to invoke social change and create a world where individualism

Existentialism: The Courage to Be


is not only accepted, but encouraged. With diverse talents and specialties in society, there is a
greater chance for a better world.

Existentialism: The Courage to Be


Works Cited
Counts, G. S. (1978). Dare the schools build a new social order? Carbondale, IL:
Southern Illinois University Press.
deMarrais, K. B., & LeCompte, M. D. (1995). The way schools work: A sociological
analysis of education (2nd ed.). White Plains, NY: Longman Publishers.

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Labaree, D. F. (1997). How to succeed in school without really learning. New Haven, CT:
Yale University Press.