Summary and Keywords
Authenticity is a concept with an impressive history in Western philosophy and a significant hold on the modern imagination. Inseparable from conceptions of truth and individual fulfillment, authenticity remains a powerful ideal, even as it eludes precise definition. Recently it has also become an organizing principle for many educational initiatives. Education, like authenticity, is opposed to dissimulation, ignorance, manipulation, and related states of misalignment between truth and experience. There is widespread enthusiasm for the promotion of authenticity across different types of education and in the personal identity of educators and students. Most of the scholarly literature pertaining to authenticity in education falls outside the scope of philosophical inquiry. But in all cases, the pursuit of authenticity in education rests on various philosophical assumptions about the nature of truth, reality, ethics, and, ultimately, the aims of education.
With the influence of Dewey and 20th-century progressive movements in education, authenticity entered the vernacular of educational theory and practice. Attention to the relationship between learning environments and the “real” world has generated pervasive commitments to authentic learning, authentic pedagogies, authentic curriculum, and authentic assessment practices. Here, “authenticity” is used to track the verisimilitude of an educational practice with respect to some external reality. It constitutes an ontological claim about levels of “reality,” as well as an epistemological attitude toward learning as the construction of knowledge. In this respect, authenticity intersects debates about constructivism and relativism in education. Likewise, teachers are exhorted to be authentic qua teachers, elevating their true selves above institutional anonymity as a key part of effective teaching. This phenomenon trades on the values of truthfulness and autonomy that are prized in Western modernity but also problematized in the personal identity and ethics literature. The authenticity of students has also been championed as an educational aim, even as the methods for eliciting authenticity in others have been criticized as self-defeating or culturally limiting. Personal authenticity stands in a contested relationship to autonomy, which has been promoted as the key aim of liberal education. The project of creating authentic people through education remains an intense site of research and debate, with important implications for educational ethics and liberal values.
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