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Erik Erikson and the Life Cycle in the Classroom Essay

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Updated: Jun 11th, 2021

Introduction: Biographical Overview

Erik Homburger Erikson (1902-1994) is a renowned German-American psychologist and psychoanalyst. In his early years, Erikson was not sure about the path that he would like to pursue, and after he finished school, he took a gap year to travel around Germany as an artist drawing portraits and selling them. Due to his successful tutoring endeavors in art, Erikson was advised to study children psychology at the Vienna Psychoanalytic Institute.

His most significant contribution to psychoanalysis was putting forward the theory of developmental stages in human beings. Even though Erikson did not have a bachelor’s degree, he served as a professor at many top-level universities, including Harvard, and his publications were some of the most cited in his field. This paper will discuss the theory of the epigenesis of identity and how it applies to teaching.

Epigenesis of Identity and Neo-Freudianism

It is safe to assume that meeting Anna Freud, Sigmund Freud’s daughter, gave Erikson’s career in psychology a head start. She noticed how considerate he was of the needs of the young students in his art class and suggested that he develop his propensities in academia. Erikson was largely influenced by Freud’s ideas about the stages of human development – anal, oral, latent, and genital. While both researchers used the life-span perspective – an approach emphasizing the changes throughout human life – Erikson shifted the focus from sexuality to social experience and explained how environment impacted personality. Moreover, he increased the number of stages up to eight, and together, they constituted the epigenetic principle – the rule of predetermination of human development.

Erikson argued that individuals did not transition from stage to stage smoothly – instead, each time, they faced an identity crisis which they needed to overcome in order to become mature (Friedman and Schustack 52). For instance, school students are likely to go through two stages – industry vs. inferiority (6-12 years) and identity vs. role confusion (12-18 years). It is critical that education practitioners take the developmental stages into account when elaborating a curriculum and handling children’s issues.

Teaching Middle Schoolers: Erikson’s Theory in the Classroom

I would like to describe a situation in which I have to teach a foreign language to a class of 11-12 year-olds (5th or 6th grade). Now, as it is clear from Erikson’s theory of developmental stages, at this age, children are approaching the industry vs. inferiority crisis. Thus, the students in my class are likely to have issues with the feeling of adequacy: they may be in doubts whether they can keep up with their peers (Snowman and McCown 105).

At the same time, the students may be afraid of making mistakes and being reprimanded for them. The lesson plan would include the students presenting their home projects in a foreign language in front of the class. While it is a common assignment, many students are struggling with feeling confident about their public speaking skills. Before the presentation, I would encourage students to listen closely and take notes and after each presentation, I would ask a couple of people “Could you please point out the best things about your peers’ project?” Since the students are likely to make mistakes, I would ask their classmates to explain to them their shortcomings – the commentary from their peers must sound less harsh. The expected outcome of the proposed instruction is less hesitation in giving presentations and positive self-esteem.

Conclusion

Erik Erikson was a prolific author and psychoanalytic, and his legacy lives on as his theory of developmental stages remains relevant to this day. In his work “The Life Cycle: The Epigenesis of Identity,” Erikson explained that human personality always remained in the state of flux, undergoing many changes. The stages are predetermined from birth till death and so are the identity crises in between – the personal conflicts a person needs to overcome to grow. In middle school, children are confronted with the industry vs. inferiority crisis. A teacher can help them feel better about themselves through positive reinforcement.

Works Cited

Friedman, Howard S., and Miriam W. Schustack. Readings in Personality. Classic Theories and Modern Research. Allyn and Bacon, 2001.

Snowman, Jack, and Rick McCown. Psychology Applied to Teaching. Cengage Learning, 2013.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Erik Erikson and the Life Cycle in the Classroom." June 11, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/erik-erikson-and-the-life-cycle-in-the-classroom/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Erik Erikson and the Life Cycle in the Classroom'. 11 June.

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