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Jessica A. Heybach

The intersection of aesthetics and education offers space to understand how the study of perception, sensuous experience, beauty, and art provide the potential for learning and human emancipation. These domains have been persistently understood as necessary to cultivate democratic societies by shaping citizens’ moral, ethical, and political sensibilities. Aesthetics is often considered a dangerous and paradoxical concept for educators because it offers the means for both political transformation as well as political manipulation through disruptive, engrossing, all-consuming aesthetic experiences. In short, aesthetic experiences are powerful experiences that make one think, interpret, and feel beyond the certainty of facts and the mundane parts of existence. Aesthetics offers humans the means to heighten our awareness of self and other. Thus, the study of aesthetics in education suggests there is a latent potential that exists in learning beyond simply acquiring objective information to logically discern reality. Defining aesthetics, a complicated task given the nature of aesthetics across disciplines, is achieved by taking the reader through three perennial debates within aesthetics that have education import: the trouble with human passions, the reign of beauty, and aesthetic thought beyond beauty. In addition, the influence of aesthetics and imagination on experience and education as articulated most notably by Maxine Greene and John Dewey offers the obvious entry point for educators seeking to understand aesthetics. Looking beyond the philosophical literature on aesthetics and education, new directions in aesthetics and education as seen in the growing literature traced through the study of cognition, behavior, biology, and neuroscience offers educators potentially new sites of aesthetics inquiry. However, the overwhelming trajectory of the study of aesthetics and education allows educators to move beyond the hyper-scientific study of education and alternatively consider how felt experiences—aesthetic experiences—often brought about when fully engaged with others and one’s environment, are sites of powerful learning opportunities with moral, ethical, and civic consequences.


Middle- and high-school English classrooms have incorporated literature in their curriculums for decades. Literature has been used for many purposes: to provide exemplary models for student writing, to serve as texts for honing interpretive skills, to expand vocabulary, to provide cultural insight, and to contribute to student’s cultural engagement and appreciation. Many of the literary texts used in classrooms in the past continue to be used, including Julius Caesar, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Lord of the Flies, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Great Gatsby. These books continue to be used in part because there are many resources available that help teachers implement them in their curriculum but also because a lot of school districts do not have the funding to continually update the texts used in English classes. Today, however, there is another body of literature that teachers can draw from to meet curricular goals: young adult literature.