London Branch Seminar

Existential uncertainty, teaching and democratic education

Andrea English


John Dewey’s understanding of the meaning of existential uncertainty is at the heart of his idea of democratic education. I discuss how the teacher is vital for cultivating learners’ opportunities to make meaning from experiences of existential uncertainty. The nature of this form of teaching is “non-affirmative,” contrasting it to “traditional, transmissive” and “reductive-progressive” forms of teaching. Moving beyond Dewey, I formulate a notion of the teacher as a listener. This understanding of the teacher is vitally relevant for the theory and practice of democratic education as non-affirmative education, yet in danger of being lost in the current climate.

Andrea English is Senior Lecturer/Associate Professor of Philosophy of Education at Edinburgh University. Her Discontinuity in Learning: Dewey, Herbart, and Education as Transformation (Cambridge UP, 2013) highlights Deweyan pragmatism’s originality. She is editor of The History of Western Philosophy of Education, Volume 4: The Modern Era, (Bloomsbury, 2021). She is ‘Teacher Education Coordinator’ for the PESGB. At Edinburgh, she runs the Philosophy of Education Research Group and the Productive Struggle Lab. She is Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, founding Chair of the Race Equality Subgroup, and a core member of the ‘Anti-Racist Curriculum Development Project’ of Advance HE.