Essentialism or Existentialism: Which Can Lead to a Brighter Education System

As a mechanical engineering student that someday wishes to become a teacher and educate the new generation of students, it’s essential to distinguish and qualitative compare the different philosophical approaches in education. Is essentialism the way towards a stronger education system in America or does existentialism have a stronger implementation for a stronger education system in America? The ideas, both essentialism or existentialism approach, affect education. The implementation of these two ideas reaches far beyond most classrooms and institutions of higher education; they determine the way the courses of education will be taught.

Core fundamentals and society beliefs must change and adapt to these styles of teachings.

The implementation of just an essentialism idea would cause an outrage in our society due to the fact the country as diverse as the United States is so divided in the way society believes our children should be taught in school. Both approaches, which might seem different, but offer valid reasons as to why their philosophy would be most essential to students learning outcomes in school.

However, with my personal experience of school and interactions with a plenty of teachers, I find myself believing that the best course for education is through the existentialism, which has given me the freedom to study what I want, which has giving me success in my education, a mixture of the two philosophies offers answers towards problems in education.

The core idea behind the essentialism philosophy is the, highly subjective philosophy that stresses the importance of the student and feelings commitment to living.

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This means that all children should be taught in more of a traditional line, the idea and methods as importance to general culture, Ashley ‘Essentialism in the Classroom.’, argue that “Essentialism is based firmly on a pass/fail system of education. Students must master grade or course content before being promoted to the next level.” By rewarding the students by either a passing grade or moving up in their grade level shows their hard work and dedication it would use their own prior knowledge as a starting point for the development of new ideas and allow them to be more knowledgeable about the content of the material.

Sarah Ganly, in “Educational Philosophies in the Classroom” suggests that “essentialism is a teacher centered philosophy that believes there is a common set of skills and knowledge that educated people should have. It focuses on respect for authority, developing sound habits of the mind, and training in fundamentals.” This student-centered method would allow the students the respected knowledge of learning the core material and be guided by a teacher that promotes that success is obtained by hard work.

While existentialism focuses on the student, teachers also play an important role. The teacher should have techniques that help the students reach their own personal learning goals. Teachers must allow activities that encourage student to be curious of their ideas while giving the idea that each person must define him or herself through choices in life.

While the idea of an educational system where students determine what they learn based on a paper, the actual practice and implementation of the essentialism idea comes with its own plenty of problems. The idea behind a strict method of teaching knowledge is a slippery slope which could lead to more problems than solutions. No one idea can be the standard and have the power to say that, that’s the best way to approach teaching.

Matthew Lynch, in “PHILOSOPHIES OF EDUCATION: 3 TYPES OF STUDENT-CENTERED PHILOSOPHIES,” points out that “education from an existentialist perspective places the primary emphasis on students’ directing their own learning. Students search for their own meaning and direction in life as well as defined what is true and what is false, what is pleasant and satisfying, what is unpleasant and dissatisfying, and what is right or wrong. The goal of an existentialist education is to train students to develop their own unique understanding of life.” Based on my past experiences, I have experienced teachers trying to teach out of a boring textbook which had nothing to do with my interests and because of that I never had any motivation to learn the material, I always questioned when I’m I going to use this in the real world.

To change the way, we approach two different philosophies of teaching, America must change the way curriculum is being implemented. Curriculum is another important topic in essentialism. A pure essentialism approach is to teach the students and test them to see how well they understood the material. Those who disagree with this type of teaching could say that students don’t do well on those tests because they are discouraged and have no interests in that type of material, which ultimately would create holes in their learning.

Serving as the opposite of essentialism, is more student centered and relies on the idea of knowledge not being subject to personal beliefs. Forrest Parkay and Glen Hass, in “PROBLEMS OF AMERICAN EDUCATION: A Response to ‘Effort against Interest,’ argues that the “The Essentialists would recognize clearly enough the motivating force of interest, but would maintain that many interests, and practical all the higher and more nearly permanent interests grow out of efforts to learn that are not at the outset interesting or appealing in themselves. If higher interests can grow out of initial interests that are intrinsically pleasing and attractive, well and good; but if this is not the case, the Essentialists provide a solution for the problem (at least, with some learners) by their recognition of discipline and duty l”. I believe that we should not be forced to learn content that does not interest us. I wasn’t a great student in my early years as a scholar, because I found school boring, none of the subjects interested me in a way where I wanted to learn more about them. I believe many students have gone the same path as I did, which as one point I started rejecting what we are being taught.

While existentialism gives the choices of what we want to learn and gives us the opportunity to choose what we want to study. As a college student now, since I chose engineering I felt that it made me want to learn more about the subject and every class that had to do with what I wanted to study, encouraged me to become more motivated to learn.

Forrest Parkay and Glen Hass “PROBLEMS OF AMERICAN EDUCATION” “essentialists recognize that failure in school is unpleasant and that repetition of a grade is costly and often not effective. On the other hand, lack of a stimulus that will keep the learner to his task is a serious injustice to him and to the democratic group, which has a stake in his education. Too severe a stigma has undoubtedly been placed upon school failure by implying that it is symptomatic of permanent weakness.” I can relate to this because every time I fail an exam or a course I feel like, I let myself down and think that’s my weakness instead of focusing on the stuff I do know, I just look at the flaws that I have in my education. We are punished very harshly at times when we fail, which gives us the incentive to give up instead of getting motivated we are looking down for not doing well.

The way students our taught can be very controversial, but I believe both sides have a good implementation on how students would learn more efficiently. As a college student its very different now, that I choose what I want to learn vs. the early years where I had no choice in what was taught. Ultimately, I feel like both sides have great points essentialism does offer  incentive to do well, it gives us that fear that if we want success we have to work hard, which we are so used to in our education system and existentialism gives us that motivation to focus on what we want to learn. Someday we will have a mixture of both that will help the country’s education system. They will help implement a way of thinking, where students would still be challenged in their academics but have a choice on what they want to learn.

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Essentialism or Existentialism: Which Can Lead to a Brighter Education System. (2022, Apr 27). Retrieved from

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