How does education shape an individual's personality?

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carolynosborne eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Education is a process by which the mind changes. Information in our minds is organized in networks, called schemas. Educational experiences alter those schemas through processes that Jean Piaget identified as assimilation, where new information is assimilated into old schemas, and accommodation, where schemas have to change to accommodate new information. A classic example among children is the baby that knows what a dog is. The child who owns a poodle sees a chihuahua for the first time and someone identifies that as a dog. The essential schema does not have to change to accommodate the new information. On the other hand, the same child sees a cat and says "doggie!" An adult corrects the child saying, "no, that's a kitty." The schema for "dog" has to change in order to differentiate between cat and dog. This is the essential process of learning.

Yet the process of education is not neutral. Those who control educational processes, such as teachers, administrators, school districts, and other institutions (government, religious organizations, corporations, etc.) tend to shape what gets taught based on their political values. A good example would be the young people in Nazi Germany who were required to join the Hitler youth organizations. They were taught to hate certain kinds of people, which means that for a time, hatred was a part of some of their personalities.

Personalities are also influenced by educational practices when some students are identified as successful while others are identified as failures. Often these identifications are based not so much on intelligence but on the social expectations schools have for students as well as the limitations on teaching strategies within schools. For example, with high stakes testing predominant in the United States, classroom activities tend to focus on how to pass the test. Teaching processes may include a lot of practice with worksheets, which means children are sitting for long periods of time. This set of expectations does not work for children who are identified as having attention deficit disorder. These students, then, may be made to feel like failures even though they may be very intelligent and creative. This sense of failure may influence the personality on a lifelong basis.

Critical thinking is a process by which people can reflect on what they have learned and how they have been taught. To a certain extent, it can allow people to consider whether they want to continue to be influenced by the ideas they have learned. Some people are natural critical thinkers, resisting the kind of education that goes against their values. Others can benefit from learning how to analyze what they have learned and the political values behind it.

Educational experiences can, thus, affect personalities and emotions, but these effects do not have to be permanent.