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A “More General Crisis”: Hannah Arendt, World-Alienation, and the Challenges of Teaching for the World As It Is

by Natasha Levinson - 2010

Background/Context: This article is part of a special issue on the 50th anniversary of the publication of Hannah Arendt’s essay, “The Crisis in Education” and her book The Human Condition. Despite the proliferation of books and articles on Arendt’s work since the mid-90s, “The Crisis in Education” does not figure all that much in writing on Arendt. Because it is more likely than not that “The Crisis in Education” will be the only exposure that most students of education have to Arendt’s body of work, it seems important to situate the arguments that Arendt makes rather cryptically in this essay in the broader context of her work. Doing so not only explains the problematic in more detail but also complicates Arendt’s exhortation to teachers to take responsibility for the world. How can we expect teachers to do so under the more general conditions of world-alienation to which we are all susceptible and for which we have little in the way of conceptual guidance?

Purpose/Focus of Study: My article explains the shift in thinking about the purpose of education from being primarily about and for “the world” to being for “life.” Arendt holds progressive educational ideas responsible for this shift, although she concedes that the progressives were simply reflecting the “prejudices” of the modern age. My article explains what these prejudices are and how they work against a conception of education that will help us overcome the phenomenon of world-alienation. I explore what this suggests for rethinking the content of the teacher education curriculum.

Research Design: This article is a philosophical analysis.

Conclusions/Recommendations: If world-alienation is the fundamental problem, then the educational solution would seem to be to make education more worldly. However, my reading of Arendt’s critique of the most worldly disciplines—political philosophy, history, economics, and the behavioral sciences—shows that each of these disciplines has contributed to the phenomenon of world-alienation. This suggests that simply returning to an education based on “the disciplines” (or “content knowledge,” in contemporary educational discourse) will not be all that helpful unless the “return” to the disciplines brings the problem of world-alienation to the fore and shows how each of these disciplines has, at times, contributed to this phenomenon.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 112 Number 2, 2010, p. 464-487
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15740, Date Accessed: 1/18/2021 6:11:06 AM

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About the Author
  • Natasha Levinson
    Kent State University
    NATASHA LEVINSON is an associate professor in the Cultural Foundations Program at Kent State University. She teaches courses in philosophy of education and social foundations of education. Areas of interest include normative political theory, philosophical perspectives on school reform, and ethics in education. Previous essays on Arendt include “The Paradox of Natality: Teaching in the Midst of Belatedness” in Mordecai Gordon’s edited volume Hannah Arendt and Education: Renewing Our Common World (Westview Press, 2001), and “But Some People Will Not”: Arendtian Interventions in Education Philosophy of Education (2002).
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