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Erik Erikson Biography

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Essay title: Erik Erikson Biography

Erik Erikson

How a society educates its population is one of the most pressing and enduring issues facing any civilization. Certainly, great effort is expended in the area of education to achieve the highest yield for society, This effort can cover a breadth of different approaches including controlling education as the Communists and other dictatorial governments have done to education only founded in Reason as the Enlightenment and French Revolution have done, to a free and democratic access to education as the United States has done. Despite the seemingly vast difference between these approaches to education, the permanent fact that education remains one of the most influential entities in any society is apparent in both the past as well as the present. Furthermore, despite the fact that the issue has faced generation after generation the mystery of learning and the art of education are still subjects of great discussion and discourse even still today. Indeed, many theorists, philosophers, teachers, and students have debated and postulated on how to educate and develop the human mind. At the very fundament of this debate is the question of ‘how does the human psyche develop and what does it go through during this development?' Many philosophers and psychologists have visited this question, but none with the unique approach of Erik Erikson. Erikson is a renowned child psychologist and his findings have greatly influenced the study of education and far beyond. Erikson's conclusions are predominated by the concepts of identity and crisis. These two thematic staples are seen throughout his entire life and research. Erikson sees these two themes playing out in each of eight stages experienced by an individual throughout his/her lifetime. Erikson's philosophical life's work surrounds developing these eight stages and educators from both the past and present can certainly integrate his conclusions and research into creating a better classroom.

Erikson's beginnings offer a unique glimpse into the renowned psychologist that would soon emerge. He was born on June 15, 1902 in Fankfurt, Germany. Both his parents were of Danish ancestry; however, his biological father abandoned the young boy at a very early age. His Danish mother married a local physician named Dr. Theodor Homberger who would take on the responsibility of raising young Erik. Erikson was teased by his classmates for his Nordic appearance and blonde hair. Although at the time it may not have been obvious, at the time this treatment would initiate Erikson's first encounter with "identity crisis." (Coles, March 1987, 57) After attending school, Erikson decided to travel around Europe, but he soon came back to an academic environment. He began to study under Anne Freud and he eventually graduated from the Freud Institute in Vienna. This study under the influence of Freud would become very powerful in Erikson's promotion of his own stage theory. In 1933, the political climate in Europe was tremendously unstable and fascism was gaining political popularity at an extraordinary rate. This eventually forced Erikson to immigrate to the United States in 1933. Erikson settled in Boston and subsequently became the first child psychoanalyst in Boston. Erikson also took a position at Harvard University. (, 1)

Erikson's theory centers around eight stages of development that occur over an entire. This is starkly different from Freudian psychology that argued that most personality is set and developed in early childhood. An additional difference can be seen in what Erikson saw as man's most sacred pursuit. Erikson saw the quest for identity was the most important charge for humans. Freud contended that man was fighting off anxieties. (, 1) On the basic level Erikson says that each stage of our life is spent in a struggle or ‘crisis' between two contrasting qualities. Basically, the human psyche battles it out between these two opposing ideas. Erikson's eight stages are (in list form) trust vs. mistrust, autonomy vs. shame and doubt, initiative vs. guilt, industry vs. inferiority, identity vs. role confusion, intimacy vs. isolation, generativity vs. stagnation, and integrity vs. despair. It is easy to recognize the opposing nature of each stage. The stage where identity is paramount is in the adolescent period where it is essential that the individual formulate a thorough understanding of themselves and how they fit into the world around them. (, 1)

Erikson believes that if the two contrasting qualities of a stage are kept in the proper balance and the stage is mastered that the individual has no achieved a virtue which will help us through the rest of the stages in life. (Sharkey, May 1997, 1)

The contribution by Erikson to education cannot be overestimated. Erikson's

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