Social Sciences

Start Free Trial

What can we conclude about Erik Erikson and his developmental theory? Why was he so important for childhood education?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Erik Erikson's importance to education lies in his theory of psychosocial development. Essentially, Erikson argued that people proceeded through eight stages of psychosocial development, each of which was precipitated by what he called a "crisis," or a conflict between differing emotions. Erikson loosely associated each stage with an age range. For example, children between the ages of five and twelve experienced a conflict between "industry" and "inferiority." Children, he claimed, have a personal, emotional need to have their efforts valued and praised. If they do not get the recognition and praise they need, they will experience feelings of inferiority. Erikson's work had many implications for childhood education. In particular, he pointed to the need for children to feel that their work is valued by both teachers and peers. Otherwise, students would become alienated and convinced of their own incompetence. The suggestion is that teachers need to provide students with opportunities for meaningful success. In practice, Erikson specifically advocated learning through play for young children, believing that it created a foundation for healthy navigation of rules and structures of society. The point of education, really, is to create a means by which students could develop intellectually, socially, and emotionally in healthy ways.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Erikson had two important contributions to developmental theories.

1. Erikson tied development to problems and conflicts that must be dealt with at different ages. As opposed to Freud, who stated that the conflicts are intrapscyhic, Erikson looked at the social and interactional goals necessary for progression. For example, if an infant did not learn to 'trust' , it would be very difficult for it to progress on to the next stage and  through out life.

2. Erikson posited that development continued through out life. Freud said development ending with heterosexual coupling and identity. Erikson stated that each stage brought different societal difficulties that needed to be resolved. For example, in old age, people are to strive for integrity. Despite losses of friends, economic power, physical stamina, social status, it is hoped that an individual, in their life review, can identify worthwhile and significant events in their lives that leave them feeling a sense of worth. If not able to do this, they may experience despair and feel overwhelmed by the prospect of death.

Children's education allows an arena for children to work on their development. Using Erikson's stages, we see the latency age child, 6-12, learning initiative and a sense of mastery. In response of cognitive and physioloigical changes in children, they are presented with increasingly complicated lesson plans, so that they can develop mastery.  For example, in math the children start with identification and understanding about numbers. They progress to addition and subtraction with increasingly higher numbers, and then multiplication and division.

High school also provides a place for adolescence to work on " ego identity vs. ego diffusion". Especially in American high schools, there are clear achievements or ways that the child can identify him- or herself. They can be smart, or musical, or  a performer,athlete, or be academically bright.  Also, in high school, 'types' help align children with possible identities.   They may be classified or classify themselves as a 'nerd' or a 'jock' or a 'punk'. These artificial "caricatures" may help them feel included with others through this time, but it is expected that as they move on to the next stage, the high school "identity" can be softened.

Education provided the social settings for these developmental challenges to be resolved.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Overall, we could conclude easily that Erik Erikson is one of the few psychoanalysts that has actually keyed-in one of the most difficult periods of human development: Adolescence.  There is enough empirical and quantitiative research that would back up his philosophical frameworks regarding how teenagers think.

Also, we can conclude that Erikson had enough schema to pinpoint the major issues that arise from aging at each developmental level. He was able to divide ages into subgroups, and explain each one according to the issues that come up.

The reason why he is so important to childhood ed is because he was able to categorize, compartmentalize, and analyze these very complex and intertwined elements, separately. He was also able to explain them in a real-life scenario and even label them in a way that those who would replicate his studies could relate and integrate into other fields.


Approved by eNotes Editorial Team