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Happiness, Hope, and Despair

Rethinking the Role of Education

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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 5: Educative Suffering? Dostoevsky as Teacher

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Fyodor Dostoevsky ranks among the most accomplished and respected figures in the history of literature. Almost a century and a half after his death, the major works for which he has become known—The Brothers Karamazov, Crime and Punishment, Demons, and The Idiot (Dostoevsky, 1991, 1993, 1994, 2001 respectively)—continue to be widely acclaimed for their in-depth character studies and probing exploration of hidden psychological spaces. His mature fiction is often seen as the quintessential example of philosophical writing in a literary form. Dostoevsky can be studied not just as a prose artist but as a thinker (Clowes, 2004; Scanlan, 2002). He has been seen as a prophet to modernity, delineating and addressing through his novels questions that would come to dominate ethical and religious debate in the 20th and early 21st centuries (Kroeker & Ward, 2002; Williams, 2008).

Getting to grips with Dostoevsky’s corpus is no easy matter. His major novels are, in the best Russian tradition, extremely lengthy, multi-layered, and complex. A helpful route into his thought, however, and one that holds considerable educational promise, lies in some of his shorter works. This chapter pays attention to two such examples: Notes from Underground (Dostoevsky, 2004)—a novella described by Walter Kaufmann as “one of the most revolutionary and original works of world literature” (Kaufmann, 1975, p. 13)—and ← 71 | 72 →“The Dream of a Ridiculous Man” (Dostoevsky, 1997), a short story published just a few years before Dostoevsky’s death.

A key theme in these...

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