Existentialism: Providing an ideal framework for educational research in times of uncertainty

Year: 2002

Author: Webster, Scott

Type of paper: Refereed paper

Issues such as anxiety, alienation, crises and concerns over self-identity typify this era of uncertainty. These are also recognised themes of Existentialism and have implications for educational practice and research. The purpose of this paper is threefold. Firstly, it aims to clarify Existentialism, as too often it is mistakenly assumed to refer to an atomistic view of the individual, who is able to exercise absolute freedom. This clarification refers primarily to the works of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Heidegger.

The second purpose is to present an outline of a particular existential framework. This is mainly structured around the notion of the learner, who is characterised as being in relation, culturally embedded, alienated and a meaning-maker. These attributes have direct implications for the ideal of 'the educated person' - an often-articulated 'aim' of education programmes. Becoming educated, according to this framework, means becoming authentic, spiritual, critical, empathetic, and having personal identity.

A third purpose is to argue how educators may usefully employ such a framework. By engaging with it, educators are able to examine effective pedagogical approaches using notions of 'the existential crisis' and anxiety. In this way, educational curriculums, programmes and policies can also be critiqued using this framework.