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Educational Learning Theories: Chapter 8 Introduction

Chapter 8 Introduction

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Erik H. Erikson (1902-1994), born in Germany in 1902, was a world-renowned scholar of the behavioral sciences. His contributions ranged from psychology to anthropology. Moreover, his two biographies, one of Ghandi, the other a Pulitzer-Prize study of Martin Luther, earned him distinction in literature. Curiously, however, he was not a hero in his own house. Serious students of personality theory underscored his seminal contribution: linking individual development to external forces (structured as the "Life Cycle," the stages ranging from infancy to adulthood). Rather than the negations of pathology, Erikson welcomed the affirmation of human strength, stressing always the potential of constructive societal input in personality development. Erikson's dual concepts of an (individual) ego and group identity have become an integral part of group psychology, with terms such as adolescent "identity diffusion," or adolescent "moratorium," having been mainstreamed into everyday language.

In 1933, when the Nazi power was uprising, Erikson and his wife and young son left for the US. The Eriksons settled first in Boston. Erikson began teaching at Harvard's medical school, in addition to his work under Henry A. Murray at the university's Psychology Clinic. It was here he met Margaret Mead, Gregory Bateson, Ruth Benedict as well as Kurt Lewin. In 1936, Erikson moved to Yale University where he was attached to both the medical school and to the Yale Institute of Human Relations. His first field study of the Sioux Indians in South Dakota was launched from New Haven. The subsequent work with the Yurok Indians, commenced after he had gone to the University of California in 1939 to join Jean MacFarlane's longitudinal study of personality development. During World War II, Erikson did research for the U.S. Government, including an original study of "Submarine Psychology." In 1950, the same year in which Childhood and Society, his most steady-selling book was published, Erikson resigned from the University of California. Though not a Communist, he refused to sign the loyalty contract stating, that "...my conscience did not permit me," to collaborate with witch hunters. He returned to Harvard in the 1960s as a professor of human development and remained there until his retirement in 1970. In 1973 the National Endowment for the Humanities selected Erikson for the Jefferson Lecture, the United States' highest honor for achievement in the humanities.