×

Psychology and education

Who is in a better position to understand the problems of education than a competent psychiatrist whose interest in psychoanalysis focuses on mental activity, both its physical and psychological dimensions, who has dealt with the results of education on a very personal basis with troubled clients?

Who knows more about the nature and functions of the three clinically established dimensions of mind — the unconscious, preconscious and the conscious — that bear upon the acts of learning and development, vitally important in education? Who better understands the possible causes and solutions regarding mental health, suicide and aggressive behavior?

For answers, please read Chapter 3 entitled “Education for Preconscious Freedom and its Relation to Creativity and to the Process of Maturation,” found in Lawrence Kubie’s book, “Neurotic Distortion of the Creative Process.”

According to Dr. Kubie, “The great cultural processes of human society, including art and literature, science, education in general, the humanities and religion, have three essential missions — namely; to enable human nature itself to change; to enable each generation to transmit to the next whatever wisdom it has gained about living; to free the enormous untapped creative potential which is latent in varying degrees in the pre-conscious processes of everyone. It is my belief that in all three respects all of our great cultural efforts have failed.”

While Kubie’s writings were published in the mid-1900s, they are relevant today, even more so since the standardization movement on steroids began with the “No Child Left Behind” legislation of the early 21st century. Nearly 20 years later, we are faced with the results of the devastating failure to address the three missions of education, especially to enable humans to change.

Kubie explained that the residue of our past experiences are distilled into attitudes, negative or positive; values, the things we believe in regardless of validity; and personal orientations, whether flexible or rigid. These personality characteristics reside in our unconscious, and shape and mold our lives to conform to its elements. Our language projects the evidence of this conformity.

Kubie’s thesis relies heavily on the importance of the preconscious dimension of the mind that is frequently violated by conventional processes of instruction. The preconscious is the central processing unit that has a direct and spontaneous role in receiving and processing input from the senses. The preconscious has the capability to automatically and intuitively process sensory data if allowed to function without interference, and pass along its creative products to a level of consciousness where they can be organized for communicating selective meanings. Those meanings, shaped by unconscious residue, remain repetitive unless confronted.

“It has long been known that in early years children have an extraordinarily inventive imagination, transposing experience freely among the various sensory modalities, using delightful and original figures of speech and allegory.

“What happens to this poetic gift under the stultifying impact of that which we call our educational system?

“What happens to the free play of pre-conscious functions in the course of conventional education?

“My unhappy conviction is that much of the learning which has traditionally been looked upon as an essential attribute of the educated man [or woman] has no necessary relevance either to creativity or to maturity, and that instead many ingredients in the process by which men [women] become learned tend actively to obstruct them both.

“… education without self-knowledge can never mean wisdom or maturity; … self-knowledge in depth is a process which like education itself is never complete. It is a point on a continuous and never-ending journey. Without self-knowledge we can have no adults, but only aging children who are armed with words, and paint and clay and atomic weapons, none of which they understand.

“Self-knowledge is not all there is to wisdom and maturity; but it is an essential ingredient which makes maturity at least possible. Yet it is the one ingredient which is almost totally neglected. This lack is both an index and a cause of the immaturity of our culture.”

Clearly, the social unrest we are witnessing today has roots in the inability of conventional education to foster a fully functioning mind. It is operating with limited attention to what is known and validated about four sets of assumptions that underlie the processes of education, including those just discussed concerning Dr. Kubie’s thesis.

These include:

1. What is known that can be verified concerning individual development, behavior and learning, including “developmentally appropriate experiences.” (Vygotski)

2. What is known that can be verified concerning communication and group dynamics, including small group development. (Bradford)

3. What is known that can be verified concerning general education requirements, including academic disciplines as processes of creating knowledge within “six realms of meaning,” including conditions that maximize learning within the pre-K-through-12 curriculum. (Phenix)

4. What is known that can be verified concerning general systems theory applied to education, including systems design as a process of learning and systems analysis as a strategy for assessment and evaluation of learning outcomes (Banathy), utilizing a computer-based, systems-oriented, student assessment, record keeping and evaluation system (Arnold).

Building a system based on these updated assumptions has the potential to transform the conventional system into a superior school that can constructively respond to the needs of every student. Little chance of this happening, however, given traditions maintained with rigid conscious and unconscious response patterns resistant to change.

Robert L. Arnold lives in Willsboro and is a professor emeritus of education at SUNY Plattsburgh.