And Worldlessness, Alas, Is Always a Kind of Barbarism: Hannah Arendt and the Challenge of Educating in Worldless Times

Feb. 28, 2010

Source: Teachers College Record, Volume 112 Number 2, 2010, p. 509-552.


In 1958, Hannah Arendt wrote “The Crisis in Education,” arguing that schools should not be used for political purposes and should instead introduce children to what she calls “the world.” The world, for Arendt, comprises the artifacts, ideas, values, and interactions that connect people together. In that same year, she published The Human Condition, a damning analysis of the problem of what she calls “world alienation” in the modern era. By this, she means that we experience a radical sense of disconnection and alienation from the physical and social world we share with others. The tension between these two pieces is provocative, because one advocates giving children a world, while the other suggests that there is no longer a world to give.


This article begins from the aforementioned point of tension to consider what Arendt might have said about education in 2008, particularly in light of the discussion of world alienation in The Human Condition and Arendt’s later work on thinking in The Life of the Mind. Although Arendt’s analysis of worldlessness is multifaceted, this article focuses on one specific aspect of her argument: the way our very approaches to thinking—including the way we conduct scholarly inquiry—contribute to the loss of the world.

Research Design
This work is philosophical in nature, focusing on several of Hannah Arendt’s published works.


Drawing on Arendt’s work on thinking, the author argues that the best response to worldlessness is a specific type of thinking.

The article concludes by suggesting that educational researchers and practitioners consider the ways in which education is currently implicated in the problem of world alienation, as well as the ways that we can start thinking differently in response.

Arendt, Hannah. The Human Condition: A Study of the Central Dilemmas Facing Modern Man. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958.

Hannah Arendt, "The Crisis in Education" in Between Past and Future: Six exercises in political thought (New York: Viking, 1961).

Arendt, Hannah, “Thinking”, The Life of the Mind, Volume I, New York: Harvest, 1981.

Updated: May. 25, 2010