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An Existentialist Curriculum of Action: Creating a Language of Freedom and Possibility

reviewed by Haeryun Choi - March 24, 2009

coverTitle: An Existentialist Curriculum of Action: Creating a Language of Freedom and Possibility
Author(s): Shaireen Rasheed
Publisher: University Press of America, Lanham
ISBN: 0761835911, Pages: 90, Year: 2007
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Rasheed begins her book with the following statement: “One of the present movements toward educational reform, with its rationalistic and technologically oriented curricular objectives and overtones of a national curriculum, threatens to eliminate the broad citizenship function of schools in favor of a restrictive, market-and-workplace-skills perspective” (p. 1). Rasheed continues to argue that “technocratic curriculum” prevents critical thinking and reinforces a repetitive, uncreative concept of education. Following and elucidating Maxine Greene’s existentialist concept of freedom, the author develops an existentialist curriculum of action. Freedom, democracy, problem posing, social imagination, ownership, empowerment, dialogue, and possibility are terms that Rasheed highlights in her existentialist curriculum of action. She develops a curriculum theory where students become active meaning-makers in their learning process. Individuals learn to participate in their meaning making process in a social context. Students learn to negotiate with the environment as an authentic being. An existentialist curriculum of action focuses on students in their search for freedom and possibility of their identity and being. Instead of passive spectators reciting prescribed information, students actively engage in a journey to find meaning and negotiate with the world.

Rasheed argues that schools should be a democratic public sphere following the vision of Maxine Greene (p. 6). The classroom is a democratic community and the role of teachers is to help students learn to be active democratic citizens who negotiate with their environment. The environment includes not only the physical condition of a society but also our social, human relations. Students learn to exchange dialogue with people from various backgrounds including ethnicity, gender, and class. Rasheed’s interpretation on the existentialist concept of human freedom as embodied in the work of Maxine Greene is a foundation of the book.

In Chapter One (Sartre and Greene: Contextualizing Freedom in Action), Rasheed analyzes Sartre’s influence on Greene’s existentialist concept of freedom. In Chapter Two, she points out how Greene expands an educational theory of emancipation from Sartre’s concepts of action and freedom. In addition, the author examines Merleau-Ponty’s influence on Greene with a concept of “social imagination.” Rasheed acknowledges that Greene made a contribution to curriculum discourse by implementing the theoretical discussion of existentialist freedom. Freedom requires an individual to be a reflective citizen. Rasheed introduces the significance of “the act of naming.” Naming the world is the first step to transform our own experience and action.

In Chapter Three (Pedagogy of Pluralism: The Literary Reality of Lived Worlds), the author explores the concept of “possibility.” What is the positive role of possibility in educational process? Based on Greene’s idea of using literatures, Rasheed explores a space for freedom and possibility in the educational process. In Chapter Four (The Limits of Universality: Delimitating the Standardized Curriculum), she furthers her research on dialogical knowing, thinking, and experiencing where students create their own language based on their various backgrounds. Students learn to celebrate plurality of meanings and beings. In some way, Rasheed offers an antidote to a society where we tend to standardize the goal and process of education. Rasheed gives an antidote to the world where education and schooling become merely about measurement, assessment, efficiency, and quantification. Her idea of an existentialist curriculum of action is an antidote to standardized curriculum, and a celebration of diversity in a democratic society. She moves towards the humanistic interpretation of the curriculum where we respect each individual’s struggle to find identity in a diverse society.

In Chapter Five (Conclusion: Implications for Educators: Creating Curriculums of Action in the Classroom), Rasheed explains her ideas on how teachers can implement and develop an existentialist curriculum in their classroom. She argues that in order to teach students to understand the meaning of their existence in a social context, the action curriculum should be implemented. That is to say, curriculum should provide students with active engagement with the factors that determine how they construct knowledge. Curriculum should encourage dialogical knowing, thinking, and experiencing in order to celebrate diversity and plurality, rather than standardization. Learning to create languages to understand identity in a pluralistic society is one way to empower students and to give them ownership of knowledge. They will not be alienated from knowledge, but rather they will construct knowledge in the society in which they live. By using several exercises including the concept of naming, students find a connection between the private and the public and so they are able to empower by creating their own languages.

I believe that Rasheed’s book gives possibility and hope in a world where standardization has become the norm. Searching for personal meaning and significance in experience and doing so in a public space can offer us genuine education. This will lead change toward a world in which diversity and individuality are embraced. Instead of merely focusing on measurement and assessment, we teach to pursue existential freedom and authenticity. The author points out that:

The purpose of any teaching must be to help students develop the intellectual and critical skills they need to become active, intelligent, and informed citizens, and any methodology that forces students to uncritically absorb someone else’s idea of what is important is antithetical to the democratic goal. (p. 9)

This spirit and purpose of education agrees with John Dewey’s famous statements. Education is not about “having students to have to say something.” Education is about having “students have something to say.”

As an educator, I think we can take some valuable lessons from this book to implement in our classroom. They are: teach students to create their own language in a social context; teach students to develop their own voice by interacting with the environment; teach students to celebrate pluralistic languages; teach students to embrace diversity and differences; and teach students to celebrate democratic principles and to become democratic citizens.

Rasheed concludes her book by explaining how teachers can empower their students by making them more active participants in their educational process. “It requires a continuing struggle to explore what democracy, dignity and diversity mean, and to imagine ways of bringing them to life in the curriculum” (p. 73). Education is an ever-evolving process. In a heterogeneous society with many voices and perspectives, the goal of education must offer the means through which we can find our identity in a social context, develop our own voices, and celebrate diversity. In this sense, Rasheed’s book is one book that we, as democratic citizens and educators, should read enthusiastically.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: March 24, 2009
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15595, Date Accessed: 5/26/2022 9:34:52 AM

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About the Author
  • Haeryun Choi
    CW Post Campus of Long Island University
    E-mail Author
    HAERYUN CHOI received a Ph.D. in Philosophy of Education from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is currently an assistant professor at CWPost campus of Long Island University. A recent publication is "Expanding Arts Education in a Digital Age" which will be published in Arts Education Policy Review (Spring 2009). She has been working on a few articles on teaching Socrates in technology and globalization and the role of teachers.
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