Killiney Kopitiam and Existential Pedagogy

When we lived on Grange Road, Killiney Kopitiam (67 Killiney Road, Singapore) was my breakfast haunt on Saturday mornings. It was best to go alone, or with someone who didn’t want much chat, score a seat outside, next to the road, and read the Saturday Business Times between mouthfuls of lemak curry chicken and roti prata, finished off with slices of kaya toast. A good time too for thinking.
Killiney Kopitiam, Killiney Road

Am still brooding over pedagogical methods for teaching people to read their Bibles.

Was looking today specifically at the sort of instructional design that emerges from idealism, phenomenology, and existentialism. Might have misunderstood stuff, but here goes anyway:

Idealism is an ontological concept that says that reality consists only of minds. The physical world is only an illusion, a product of minds.

Phenomenology (closely linked with Edmund Husserl) is the epistemological concept that says therefore that all we know is our subjective reality. It is meaningless to seek out an objective reality. Our perceptions and internal experience are all that matter. As Albert Camus put it:

This heart within me I can feel, and I judge that it exists. This world around me I can feel, and I likewise judge that it exists. There ends all my knowledge, and the rest is construction.

Existentialism (Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre et al) then says, in light of the above, that since there are no truths about human nature, the individual is free to make his/her life in whatever way he/she wants.

In this worldview, inauthenticity is the biggest crime one can commit. Inauthenticity is when the individual allows him/herself to be defined by social categorisation, by conforming to the pressure to be a certain sort of person, or to adopt a particular manner of living, or to ignore their own moral or aesthetic judgements. Inauthenticity is being a “moral person” because by doing so, one subjects oneself to traditional external ethics.

Authenticity then is to be true to one’s own personality, spirit, character, despite external pressures.

Killiney Kopitiam, Killiney RoadThe aim of education within an existential worldview would be to allow students to learn that the world is absurd and without intrinsic meaning, and their lives are limited and temporal. They must then learn to be authentic by unilaterally creating and re-creating their lives through their own free will.

Of the educational curriculum, James Magrini in Existentialism, Phenomenology, and Education calls us to recognise and seek:

to overcome the injustice of a curriculum that embraces and privileges certain modes of knowing about others, such as an epistemological model favouring analytic-logical-empirical clusters of knowledge over more intangible forms of knowledge, those associated with the arts, which include the intuitive-perceptual model of knowledge…
Curriculum making conceived existentially, as opposed to following a product-process model (Tyler, 1949), which in great part determines the trajectory of the education in advance of actual student learning, would attempt to adopt a process-product line of curriculum development (“curriculum-envisioning”). This would allow for the curriculum to develop and evolve autonomously as the learning unfolds. In this “existentially” conceived curriculum, benchmarks are merely temporary, transitory, and malleable, they develop along with the learning process.

Instructional design then, is along the lines of the constructivist model I looked at previously. Magrini again:

The method of pedagogy must allow for the student’s development of her own unique possibilities, which is why the existentialists would reject a standardized curriculum and an authoritarian model for teaching. An “existential” curriculum would include a diverse content as well as an array of varied pedagogical methods, which would, importantly, include ample opportunities for peer-initiated and peer-directed learning.

Educators should plan lessons that embrace and incorporate aspects of the student’s emotional and intellectual autobiography (Grumet, 1992). However, it is not only the aspects of one’s unique life-story that matter, it is also important that students understand the major role that “history” and “heritage”play in shaping who we become-history’s authentic role not only forges our past but as well contributes to the future enactment of our possibilities that we gather from our“heritage”

The instructional methods employed should not be resemble the out-dated authoritarian model,where the teacher is the “superior” possessor of knowledge and the student the “inferior,” empty vessel waiting to be filled (Freire, 1970). This is model for pedagogy views knowledge at an objective remove from the student, and demonstrates no concern for the place of the existential “lived world” in the curriculum as shared by both teacher and student. Knowledge, according to the existentialists does not reside at a remove from our “lived world”  and in addition is constructive. Thus pedagogical techniques should stress the co-creative, co-responsive, and co-participatory aspects of education. This is not to indicate that the teacher allows the student to dictate each and every aspect of her education, for teachers need to be in command of the subject matter in order to first tailor it to fit the students needs. In relation to this issue, Heidegger (1952) famously stated that the most difficult task for educators was to learn how to let students learn

kaya toast, Killiney Kopitiam, Killiney Road
One’s first instinctive criticism of this worldview would be that there is no evidence or basis for these theories. But of course, that would be refuted by the presuppositions of this worldview – that there is nothing objective that can be quantified or measured.

And the Christian would object that it is God who defines right and wrong and morality, and reality, and the meaning of life, and the certainty of the future. At which, the existentialist would blow a giant raspberry and point to the self-referential pre-suppositions of existentialism.

But hardly any existentialist is a true solipsist of the Eastern mysticism persuasion, I’d think, so while I’m not too bothered with the validity of the worldview itself, its practical application suiting the convenience and what seems to be the natural self-centredness and selfishness is saddening.

However, might some of the pedagogical designs that emerged from this worldview be useful for a worldview that sees ample evidence for divine revelation?


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