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Happiness, Hope, and Despair

Rethinking the Role of Education


Peter Roberts

In the Western world it is usually taken as given that we all want happiness, and our educational arrangements tacitly acknowledge this. Happiness, Hope, and Despair argues, however, that education has an important role to play in deepening our understanding of suffering and despair as well as happiness and joy. Education can be uncomfortable, unpredictable, and unsettling; it can lead to greater uncertainty and unhappiness. Drawing on the work of Søren Kierkegaard, Miguel de Unamuno, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Simone Weil, Paulo Freire, and others, Peter Roberts shows why these features of educational life need not be feared; to the contrary, they can be seen as a source of hope and human fulfilment.
After years of negotiating an education system dominated by the language of competition, performance, and economic advancement, students and teachers often long for something different; they seek not just measurable success but also opportunities to ask searching questions of themselves and the world they encounter. Happiness, Hope, and Despair makes an important contribution toward meeting this need. It fosters a rethinking of the nature, purpose, and value of education, and opens up possibilities for further scholarly and professional inquiry.


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Chapter 6: Pain, Pleasure, and Peacefulness: An Educational Journey


· 6 · pain, pleasure, and peacefulness: An Educational Journey Literature has much to offer in contemplating the idea of an educational journey. Nowhere is this more evident than in Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha (Hesse, 2000a), a classic tale of a man who, in his search for fulfilment, moves through a range of different modes of life. Along the way, Hesse’s title charac- ter experiences pain, pleasure, and—finally—a kind of peacefulness. He makes mistakes, learns from them, and continues to grow and develop as a human being. In these respects, Siddhartha conforms to the German tradition of the bildungsroman, as exemplified by novels such as Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship and Mann’s The Magic Mountain (Swales, 1978). The bildungs- roman is a novel with a distinctively educational focus, but “education” here must be interpreted more broadly than processes or systems of teaching and learning in formal institutions such as schools. It is “learning from life” with which the bildungsroman is concerned (cf. Laverty, 2014). Education in this sense is best understood as a process of formation. Siddhartha, in common with other novels in this tradition, allows the reader to see how the title character thinks, feels, and acts, alone and with others, in a manner that contributes to his educational development. In this book and others, however, Hesse “com- plicates” the bildungsroman as a literary genre, demonstrating, for example, that transformative learning often does not proceed in a smooth, linear, pro- gressive way (see Hesse, 2000b; Peters, 1996; Roberts, 2008c, 2012a). Indeed,...

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