Front Page Titles (by Subject) Existential and Phenomenological Education - Literature of Liberty, Summer 1980, vol. 3, No. 2
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Existential and Phenomenological Education - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Summer 1980, vol. 3, No. 2 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Existential and Phenomenological Education
“Existential and Phenomenological Influences in Educational Philosophy.” Teachers College Record 81(winter 1979):166–191.
Existentialism and phenomenology have both exercised a potent influence over the development of American educational philosophy in the latter half of the twentieth century. Prof. Vandenberg outlines the relevance of these philosophical positions to the educational process.
The essence of existentialism has been concisely captured in Kierkegaard's 1846 dictum: “Subjectivity is truth.” The existentialists have repeatedly stressed the cultivation of inwardness—the individual's awareness of his authentic feelings, thoughts, moods, desires, and goals. Self-conscious awareness is never given, but must be achieved by an often heroic effort. Existentialism's relevance to education is obvious, since education attempts to facilitate the unfolding of an authentic personality.
While phenomenology also concerns itself with the task and process of self-awareness, it differs from existentialism in its objective rigor and outward emphasis. Phenomenology has striven to develop public methods to describe the elements of awareness, removing from its description as many idiosyncratic elements as possible. Its analysis of consciousness thus yields intersubjectively valid results.
The complementary subjective and objective approaches to awareness developed by existentialists and phenomenologists provide effective techniques for understanding the complex personal and more broadly human factors involved in education. Some theorists object, however, that the existentialist view of the world unduly stresses negativity—forever dwelling on homelessness, powerlessness, facelessness, and even nothingness. For Prof. Vandenberg, this is but half the story. In his view, existentialists explore the negative aspects of life in order to transcend them. Thus, they examine homelessness to prepare for homecoming, meaninglessness to discover personal significance. This balance of optimism and pessimism provides a much needed corrective to the almost unquestioned faith in progress which pervaded American educational theory until the end of the 1950s.
Vandenberg goes on to discuss several of phenomenology's specific contributions to educational understanding. For example, he examines phenomenological insights into the conditions required for a student's free acceptance of teacher authority. He also explores “codisclosure” into the possibilities of being, education's promotion of a child's “fuller presence in the world,” methods for fostering wide-awakeness as a student's characteristic cognitive state, as well as the notion of landscape as a formative environmental matrix.
Prof. Vandenberg couples his analysis with an encyclopedic review of relevant scholarly literature. Four pages of bibliography complement this detailed overview.
Recognizing the value of existentialist and phenomenological contributions to educational theory, Vandenberg nonetheless warns against the dangers of falling into entrenched ideological positions which could hinder understanding as much as facilitate it. He advises future educational theorists to assert their autonomy from other disciplines as well as from pseudophilosophical prejudices in order better to formulate a theory which would clarify the phenomena of education.