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Studies in Philosophy and Education

, Volume 35, Issue 5, pp 445–461 | Cite as

Kierkegaard, Despair and the Possibility of Education: Teaching Existentialism Existentially

  • Ada S. Jaarsma
  • Kyle Kinaschuk
  • Lin Xing
Article

Abstract

Written collaboratively by two undergraduate students and one professor, this article explores what it would mean to teach existentialism “existentially.” We conducted a survey of how Existentialism is currently taught in universities across North America, concluding that, while existentialism courses tend to resemble other undergraduate philosophy courses, existentialist texts challenge us to rethink conventional teaching practices. Looking to thinkers like Kierkegaard, Beauvoir and Arendt for insights into the nature of pedagogy, as well as recent work by Gert Biesta, we lay out the four qualities that we propose characterize “existentialist” teaching practices: an emphasis on teaching over learning and on the “how” over the what; the cultivation of newness as well as capacities for resistance. Reflecting on the significance of existentialism for classroom dynamics, we conclude by examining the tensions between existentialist commitments to freedom and prevailing trends in higher education. This essay raises questions about the emancipatory potential of existentialist philosophies, especially in the context of undergraduate classrooms.

Keywords

Existentialism Pedagogy Gert Biesta Søren Kierkegaard Constructivism Despair 

Notes

Acknowledgments

We thank the anonymous reviewers for their insightful and helpful suggestions. This research was supported by a Learning Inquiry Grant from Mount Royal University's Academic Development Centre.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of HumanitiesMount Royal UniversityCalgaryCanada
  2. 2.Department of EnglishUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  3. 3.Mount Royal UniversityCalgaryCanada

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