Education Theorist Erik Homburger Erikson

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Erik Homburger Erikson may not be as popular as Sigmund Freud or B.F Skinner were, but he has played a significant role in analyzing and understanding developmental psychology. Although he was born in Frankfurt, Germany, on June 15, 1902, he spent a significant part of his life in the United States. His birth mother, Karla Abrahamsen (Danish origin) and father, Waldemar Isiodor Salomonsen (a stockbroker) were Jews.

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It is believed that Erikson’s parents were separated at the time of his birth, and the mother raised him as a single mother for a while before she married a physician, Theodor Homberger; hence, the inherent name. However, Erikson did not know about these events until later; hence, he was interested in his identity. It is believed that this may have coined the popular term he came up with, known as “identity crisis” (Erikson, 2000).

The absence and lack of knowledge of his biological father were not the only events that pushed him to his field. His appearance made him encounter a lot of negative attention from his school peers. Apart from being tall, he had blonde hair and blue eyes. This appearance made his friends refer to him as a Nordic. He once experienced rejection at Grammar school for his Jewish background (Cornett, 2000). These experiences have greatly intrigued him in finding out about identity.

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Literature Review

Erickson started his venture into psychoanalysis after a friend of him made a suggestion. He got his certificate from the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society. The significant part of his learning experience started when he became a teacher at the school, where he met and worked with Anna Freud and Dorothy Burlingham. At some point, he also met Sigmund Freud. Anna Freud has greatly broadened his perception and interest in psychoanalysis (Coles, 1970). He wrote his main works after moving to the United States in 1933. This was three years after marrying his Canadian fiance, Joan Serson. She was a dance teacher he had met in the same school he taught. In the United States, he worked at various places including Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

Pulitzer Prize

The main published works include “Childhood and Society”, “The Life Cycle Completed”, and “Gandhi’s Truth”, which won him a Pulitzer Prize. Other publications include “Identity: Youth and Crisis”, “Life History and the Historical Moment” and “ Dialogue with Erik Erikson”. He published the first book after interacting with and studying the children in Sioux and Yurok. He was selected to do the Jefferson Lecturer by the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1973 (Classics Revisited, 1998). The title of his lecture was “Dimensions of a New Identity” (Cornett, 2000). This lecture has greatly expounded on his perception of ego and identity; hence, ego psychology. Through personality theory, Erikson was able to analyze man in the eight stages, identified as standards or life-stage virtues.

Dissertation Topics in Education

The first book relating to children was greatly helpful in the educational arena. Unlike other researchers, who concentrated on schooling products, Erikson concentrated on assisting to understand the relevance of student-teacher interactions (Erikson, 1950). At that time, many people concentrated on achieving the results and they had overlooked the processes leading to obtaining the results. Erikson tried to correct this deficiency by aiding the teachers to understand the children so that they could improve interaction through play. In his book on adolescents and youth, Erikson noted two things:

  • first, he recognized that the adolescent period was a time when persons search for truths and standards that are of utmost relevance;
  • secondly, he expressed that adults, main teachers, have a significant role to play in the identity and development of adolescents (Erikson, 1968).

Education Theories of Erik Homburger Erikson

As indicated, Erikson did not come up with his theories in order to challenge Freud’s works. Rather, his main aim was to expound on the works released by Freud. In other cases, he gave a different perspective of what Sigmund had put across. In his theory relating to ego and identity, Erickson agreed with Freud’s triadic depiction of a person’s psyche. He also saw that id, ego, and superego encompassed the psyche of a human. However, Erikson perceived the role of the ego differently from Freud. According to Freud, id and superego were in conflict. The ego was there to mediate. Erikson, on the other hand, saw the ego as differentiating from the superego. According to Erikson, each psychosocial development stage engages a kind of differentiation of others and self (Erikson, 1968).


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Ego differentiation entails the degree, to which an individual is what he is told by others, as compared to the level, which he/she controls. In adolescent psychosocial development, work related to the formation of identity engages the evaluation of social values or standards. This also includes selecting the ones believed by the adolescent to be truly relevant. If the necessary choices are not made as actively as relevant, the identity of a person stands at foreclosure. Identity is said to be in a moratorium state if adolescents are engaged in searching, but fail to choose standards. This moratorium state is highly associated with adolescence.

In as far as educators are concerned, they can engage in identity facilitation via the two avenues. This is significant when the adolescents are in the moratorium condition. In one way, educators can be the sanctioners of capabilities (Erikson, 1968). Adolescents look up to the adults as bearers of the standards evident in society. With this in mind, educators should be precise on the behaviors, characteristics, and actions to be consistent with what they believe in.

Secondly, educators/adults need to provide adolescents with an environment, where they can freely explore their identity. During this moratorium state, adolescents yearn for opportunities to put the standards of society under scrutiny. It is relevant that the adolescents find out for themselves why things are the way they appear. Erikson felt that a teacher, who is honest to his /her beliefs, bears consistent actions, and finds adolescent capabilities to sanction, is likely to maintain an initiative with adolescents.

The issues identified above are also found in personality theory. Here, he explores more of the eight human stages.

Eight Human Stages

  1. The first stage entails trust versus mistrust. This is a basic trust. This is the infancy stage between the ages of 0 to 1 year. Events during this time will determine whether a baby will develop basic trust.
  2. The second stage is autonomy versus shame. This is when one is between 1 and 3 years (Williams, 1964). The child masters toilet training at this stage.
  3. The third stage entails purpose, where events relate to the initiative versus guilt. This stage is characterized by children between 3 to 6 years old (Williams, 1964). Children are able to master independence by carrying out such activities as dressing themselves.
  4. The fourth stage relates to competence on the issues of industry versus inferiority. The children in this stage are between the ages of 6 and 11 years (Williams, 1964). This is where a child begins associating himself/herself with other things, such as the environment. It is the comparison stage. The role of adults is relevant in this stage because they protect the child from being inferior.
  5. The fifths stage relates to fidelity, where there is role confusion versus identity. This is the age between 12 and 18 years (Erikson, 1968). The individual starts questioning himself or herself. As explained earlier, the role of the adult is crucial the most during this stage.
  6. The sixth stage entails intimacy versus isolation. It is also the initial stage of adulthood. It is the age between 18 and 35 years (Erikson, 1968). Persons engage in friendships, family, relationships, dating, and marriage. The failure of a relationship may make an individual feel isolated.
  7. The seventh stage is of people between 35 and 64 years old. It entails generativity versus stagnation (Wrikson, 2000). It is also the second adulthood stage. In this stage, people are more composed and settled, as they know what is relevant or important in their lives. The people, who are unsatisfied with their lives, are usually regretful.
  8. The eighth and final stage is the despair versus ego integrity stage. This affects people, who are 65 years old and over (Classics Revisited, 1998). Most people in this stage have a lot of wisdom inherent from life’s experiences.


Erikson’s works have guided many adults, experts, and diverse personnel in learning the psychology of people. However, he only gives a generalized framework of society’s appearance. He does not offer the detailed components that entail identity or the deficiencies found in some areas. For example, it is not clear on the precise steps to be taken by educators in guiding the students. Additionally, it is not clear on the standards used to gauge whether an adults’ or educators’ beliefs/characteristics should be followed by the adolescents. The role of such relevant bodies as the government, religious institutions, and other entities has also not been specified. Erikson has only offered a framework. Other personnel should initiate the detailed components of realizing change and development.