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Existentialism and Social Reconstructionism:

How Schools Can Teach Self and Society


Samantha Salazar
9/23/14
EDCI 201-05

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An Introduction to the Philosophies of Education


There are many topics to teach, meaning that there are also many different styles and
beliefs that accompany educators in the teaching of their subject. An educational philosophy is a
comprehensive and consistent set of beliefs about the teaching-learning transaction (Conti 20).
These beliefs about how material should be taught include what should be focused on in lessons,
or whether or not the student has a say in what he/she is learning in the classroom. There are five
main philosophies of education: Perennialism, Essentialism, Progressivism, Existentialism, and
Social Reconstructionism. Out of the many philosophies there are, the two primary philosophies
of education that best suit me are Existentialism and Social Reconstructionism. In this essay, I
will compare these two philosophies and make clear what they encompass, as well as describe
which philosophy will better fit my potential career as a high school English teacher. I shall also
explain how I can apply said philosophy to how I will run my future classroom.
Introduction to Existentialism
The purpose of Existentialism is described by Carole Lieberman as wanting to assume
the responsibility of awakening each individual to the intensity of his/her own selfhood. Unlike
that of Perennialism, Existentialism is student-centered, flexible, and teaches the awareness of
existence and nothingness. It emphasizes educational methods involving creativity and human
existence over other more rational aspects featured in education such as mathematics and
physics. Though existentialists do not discredit these subjects, their primary focus is on the
power of free choice; the creative and courageous confrontation of life that is bound to result in
the highest values and morality possible (Boos 114).

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Participation is key to Existentialism and the flexibility of curriculum is also very


important when it comes to running an efficient classroom. Thoughtful class discussions are
important as well because they promote decision making and self-reflection. The role of an
Existentialist teacher is to act as a mediator and offer reflective and introspective points of view
to help guide students in a direction towards optimal humanistic discovery (Erkilic 3). Often
times when a teacher follows a more subject or teacher-centered philosophy, it can feel like the
instructor has all of the answers, regardless as to whether or not they are correct. Algernon Gates,
a high school English teacher of eight years, states that Existentialism avoids this mentality by
promoting individualistic thought because [we face] the central task of finding our own answers
[to lifes difficult existential questions] [and] my answers cant be their answers (Parkay
131). Without Existentialism, it would be difficult for a student to explore topics such as life,
death, and love at school. Though this philosophy is subjective, it is still important and gives
students a greater sense of self by being able to exercise their academic freedom through the
formulation of their own personal inquiries and conclusions.
Introduction to Social Reconstructionism
Social Reconstructionism is considered the revolutionary theory that was primarily
represented by George Counts and Theodore Brameld (Parkay 132). Like Progressivism and
Existentialism, Social Reconstructionism is a student-centered philosophy that promotes studentteacher interactions as well as the students interactions with their peers. The primary purpose for
Reconstructionism is to address social questions and a desire to create a better societal and
worldwide democracy (Erkilic 4). Those who follow this philosophy believe in giving their

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students the thoughts and tools to the change the world. During the post-World War II era,
Theodore Brameld expressed this obligation to social change as:
[Living] in a period of great crisis, most evident in the fact that humans now have the
capability of destroying civilization overnight, and humankind also has the intellectual,
technological, and moral potential to create a world civilization of abundance, health, and
humane capacity (Parkay 132).
It is because of this belief that it is important for students to be aware of societal
problems and what they can do to change those things.
National and global events are continuously brought into a classs curriculum and Social
Reconstructionists believe that it is a schools responsibility to bring about societal change. The
curriculum of a classroom shaped by Social Reconstructionism is based on topics like sociology,
political science, psychology, human relations, and cultural pluralism (Erkilic 4). The classroom
is also very flexible, and like Existentialism, promotes decision making and critical thinking. It is
also critical for students to partake in class discussions because if they are to make a change in
the world around them, it is important for them to hear the opinions of others in order to make
the most clear and concise actions for reconstructing society. The teachers job is to promote a
desire for societal reconstruction is to facilitate discussions regarding the severity and solutions
to these problems. A teacher that follows the philosophy of Social Reconstructionism should also
be tolerant, ambitious, and act as a leader both in and out of the classroom as a shaper of new
society (Erkilic 4).
Philosophy of Choice and its Application to the Classroom

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After completing a philosophic inventory evaluation, I have been categorized under the
educational philosophy of Existentialism. I think this is probably the most accurate philosophy
that can be applied to my future educational field. As stated earlier, I plan on being a high school
English teacher, and I feel like it would be a waste to analyze famous literary texts without
discussing what it all means to my students. I cant imagine what it would be like to read
Shakespeares Romeo and Juliet without discussing what love actually is and if this couple
exhibited the qualities my students thought love encompassed. I also dont think poetic lessons of
any sort would make sense without existential questions about what happens when we die or
how religion has affected humanity. Also, when writing literary analyses, my students are going
to want to contemplate issues such as gender and race. Having an understanding about the
existence of these things and the experiences of people who lived through them (if they
themselves have not faced such issues) will help them better expand their thoughts and the topic
at hand. English classes are places where students are forced to think critically and deeply about
their feelings and who they want to be. Because Existentialism brings out the best methods to go
about the things that shape the human experience, I believe that the educational philosophy of
Existentialism is an excellent one to use in this classroom setting.

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Works-Cited
Boos, R. (1970). Existentialism and Education. Journal of Thought, 5(2), 113-117. Retrieved
October 20, 2014 from http://ida.lib.uidaho.edu:3860/stable/42588189

Conti, G. (2007). Identifying Your Educational Philosophy: Development of the Philosophies


Held by Instructors of Lifelong-Learners. MPAEA Journal of Adult Education, 36(1), 1935. Retrieved October 20, 2014, from http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ891062.pdf

Erkilic, T. (2008). Importance of Educational Philosophy in Teacher Training for Educational


Sustainable Development. Middle-East Journal of Scientific Research, 3(1), 1-8.
Retrieved October 18, 2014, from http://www.idosi.org/mejsr/mejsr3%281%29/1.pdf

Lieberman, C. (1985). The Existentialist "School" of Thought: Existentialism and Education.


The Clearing House, 58(7), 322-326. Retrieved October 21, 2014 from
http://ida.lib.uidaho.edu:3860/stable/30186413

Parkay, F. (2013) Becoming a Teacher. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.