America’s future is at risk if schools do not improve, says a recently published report by the Council on Foreign Relations, a research and policy organization. This warning, in my opinion, can be rendered more precisely to include the dangers to the nation and the world if psychological education does not improve.
Superior education teaches self-knowledge. Such teaching penetrates into the psyche or unconscious mind, making conscious what has previously been unconscious. This self-knowledge is needed to break through the thick clouds of unknowing and self-doubt that trouble so many children. It’s what we all need to navigate through complex, perilous times.
Higher learning is fundamentally developmental, write Richard P. Keeling and Richard H. Hersh in We’re Losing Our Minds: Rethinking American Higher Education (Palgrave Macmillan, New York. 2011). Such learning, say the authors, “inspires, reinforces, and reflects the growth and maturation of the learner as a whole human being.” This learning is not limited to the acquisition of new information. Rather, “it is centered in the potential for change in the learner as a result of engagement with new knowledge and experiences.”
Keeling and Hersh are writing about education at the college and university levels. Yet children at elementary levels can also experience learning as a transformative process. That will certainly be true if they are taught the basics of how emotional suffering and self-sabotage are created and held in place in our psyche.
If we could put our psyche under a high-powered microscope, we would be shocked at the extent of the inner cognitive and emotional processing that our naked eye (common sense) knows nothing about. Our psyche is a reservoir of positive and negative emotions, and from it arises mental and emotional processing that’s contaminated by inner conflict, irrationality, egotism, passivity, and aggression.
I remember being taught a few basics of psychoanalysis when in high-school in the late 1950s. I distinctly remember being rather befuddled by the subject, yet I was also somehow comforted and reassured by this knowledge about the ego, id, and superego. The knowledge helped me to demystify my mind, and it gave me a comforting sense of having some regulation over my frail emotions, along with a nodding acquaintance of my elusive self.
Educators do try to produce self-esteem in young people, but they often do so by offering unearned praise that gives kids an inflated sense of their abilities and misrepresents their knowledge and skill level. Psychologists are part of the problem. They have stubbornly refused, individually and collectively, to agree upon the basic psychological truths that could be presented to children as a course of study beginning in early grades. (See “Three Great Truths from Psychology”.) Psychologists as a group have also been too passive in not insisting that psychological insight be taught effectively in our schools. Without top-notch psychological education, how can our children raise the level of human consciousness and help us to avoid ongoing self-sabotage and impending calamity?
Voices of resistance will arise to oppose any educational initiatives that threaten narrow belief systems. The psychological community, by uniting in common purpose, can counteract this resistance by speaking with power and wise authority, while communicating the value and necessity of acquiring such valuable knowledge.
Such a project could produce a textbook of the finest insight and wisdom, written with great skill to communicate the knowledge that, because of psychological resistance, can be challenging to learn. What is this vital knowledge that needs to be taught in our schools? Some of that wisdom would include study of the following precepts from depth psychology.
Lesson 1: Much of what goes on in our emotional life is unconscious. We react to events and situations based on our conscious or unconscious memories and associations. We repeat and recycle painful emotions that are unresolved from our past, no matter how painful or self-defeating they may be. Hence, it’s vitally important to become more conscious of the issues, motivations, and intentions behind our impulses, thoughts, actions, and feelings.
Lesson 2: Strength can manifest as physical power and athletic ability. It can also manifest as mental prowess that can solve complex problems. Yet the greater strength is emotional. This is the strength to avoid, with some degree of success, becoming upset, frightened, stubborn, or angry when someone is being inconsiderate, mean, or rejecting toward us. We learn about our emotional weaknesses—particularly our sensitivities to feeling deprived, refused, controlled, rejected, criticized, and devalued—with the aim of overcoming them.
Lesson 3: Often we treat others the way we treat ourself. We can be mean to ourselves through our inner critic. That’s the part in our psyche that’s habitually insensitive, demeaning, and aggressive. We’re capable of tormenting ourselves for the tiniest mistakes through this agency or dynamic operating in our psyche. Meanwhile, if we are also mean to others, we likely have someone in our life who is (or has been) mean or insensitive to us.
Lesson 4: Feeling like a victim can lead to a self-defeating state of mind. True, there are some genuine victims of unfortunate circumstances. But often we embellish or exaggerate the feeling, partly because we make an emotional association with the helplessness and vulnerability we felt as young children. Thinking like a victim has its source in undetected passivity in our psyche. Feeling like a victim, we’re more likely to draw bad things our way.
Lesson 5: Meanness, malice, and bullying are aspects of human nature. These behaviors exist because people haven’t learned how to control or regulate their own negativity and aggression. The perpetrators of unkindness and abuse are responsible for curbing that behavior, while those who feel themselves to be recipients of such negativity also must try to acquire the emotional strength, in the form of verbal skills and other resources, to avoid making themselves easy targets.
Lesson 6: Growing in wisdom means we no longer identify with our mind, body, personality, possessions, skills, and athletic prowess. While we should feel good, of course, about our qualities and abilities, we want to understand that our essential being—the growing consciousness at the core of our existence—is the source of our greatest happiness, fulfillment, and wisdom. That core value already exists inside us. Our task is to help that light become brighter and brighter.
Other important precepts can be taught to children. Knowing ourselves more deeply and profoundly, we access wisdom, emotional strength, and the power of self-regulation.