Individuation in community college

Individuation is “the process by which one is guided in a teleological way toward the person he or she is meant to be” (Miller).  This may sound simple enough but it isn’t.  Individuation is the process that helps us answer life’s big questions – “Who am I?” “What is my purpose?” “What are my strengths/weaknesses?” “What do I want?”  While childhood is the foundation of discovery, it is not the place to answer these questions or to become individuated.    In order to pursue these questions, we must first define ‘I’.  Jung states, “personality is a seed that can only develop by slow stages throughout life.  There is no personality without definiteness, wholeness, and ripeness.  These three qualities cannot and should not be expected of the child, as they would rob it of childhood” (Jung, 194-5).  This is why individuation is a life-long process of self-discovery.

As an educator, I am drawn to Carl Jung and what he has to say on the topic of education and individuation.  His words, though written more than fifty years ago, apply directly to education, specifically education of adults today.  I teach academic reading classes at San Bernardino Valley College.  Many students reach community college without the ability to read a text and make a conclusion from that text.  They can find facts but they do not relate to the text in a meaningful way. They have been trained to repeat but they haven’t been educated in how to think about a text.  They do not put their soul into their reading; they just let the words wash over them without affecting change. 

No Child Left Behind with its focus on multiple-choice tests and scores created robot-like processors of data instead of soulful, complex thinkers.  The issue for now is how to teach the students who are a product of NCLB how to be active thinkers. In Jung’s time, they faced similar issues with standardized educational methods.  The solution for many was “personality training” or individuation through education in the K-12 system.  “Nowadays, “personality training” has become an educational ideal that turns its back upon the standardized, mass-produced, “normal” human being demanded by the machine age” (Jung, 167).  While Jung agreed that this approach was a way to solve the problems in society because it “pays tribute to the historical fact that the great liberating deeds of the world history have sprung from leading personalities and never from the inert mass” (Dev of Per, 167); he did not believe it belonged in K-12 education and I agree. 

I chose to focus on community college not simply because I currently teach college but because this is where I believe individuation needs to occur  both to help correct the problems created by NCLB and because it is a critical time for personality development.  College is traditionally a time for “finding yourself.”  College can place a person on the path to better quality of life, but to find oneself, the soul must be active and engaged.  A person with a developed individual personality is aware of who they are and they have incorporated their unconscious with the conscious.  They have discovered their soul’s code and they are in charge of writing their personal narratives.  They are more soulful, they are leaders, and they are what their communities need. 

Teaching adult learners is different from teaching adolescents.  “The adult is educable, and can respond gratefully to the art of individual education; but naturally his education cannot be conducted along the lines suitable to the child” (Jung, 57).  While children are often trained; adolescents and adults need to be educated. “The educational method, then, that will best meet the needs of the adult must be indirect rather than direct; that is to say, it must put him in possession of such psychological knowledge as will permit him to educate himself” (Jung 58).  I believe this to be a key difference between training and educating because it adds the element of self.   “The indispensable basis of self-education is self-knowledge” (Jung, 58).  In order to self-educate, one must first individuate. Not all people develop individual personalities, distinctive of the traditional roles of society.  Those that have individual personality tend to be more fulfilled and productive members of society, these are the change-makers. I argue that we need to create change-makers that come from the communities that need change.  This is why I am focusing on community college instead of the larger arena of adult education.

  In addition to a need for individuation due to developmental reasons, the need is crucial for these students because they have not had many positive experiences in school.  This has a severe impact on how students see themselves.  These students need individuation more than any other students because for them, individuation can bring liberation from their flawed personal narratives.  Studying depth psychology has given me a unique perspective on how my students think and how this thinking affects their everyday life. 

San Bernardino County and especially San Bernardino city is a community in crisis.  Students face hunger and homelessness, shooting and drug use, and general violence on an all too familiar basis.  In San Bernardino County, 9% of public school students experience homelessness, which is almost double the state average, 4.8%.  With widespread poverty, high levels of crime, struggling schools and infrastructure, San Bernardino is a place suffering from depression.   I believe that in order for this community to heal, it must create leaders to create change.  Since Jung pointed out that to be a leader, one must be a personality – it stands to make sense that individuation should be incorporated in community college education. Also, for students in the reading program, there is a less than 1% success rate for completion of educational goals.  I argue that they do not fail due to lack of ability but due to lack of individuation and inability to see their own power to create change because they lack knowledge.

Education is beneficial for a community.  Research clearly shows the correlation between education and improved living conditions and quality of life.  Especially in lower socio-economic areas, education is sorely needed but not easily attained.  Many students slip through the cracks of the education system and end up unprepared for the job market, unprepared for college, and unprepared for life.  My school is located in San Bernardino, California.  This city has the notorious distinction of most dangerous city in California.  The city itself has had financial difficulties both before and after it filed for bankruptcy protection in 2012.  Statistics show that the residents of this city experience low quality of life including homelessness, poor education, and unemployment.

I look at the current situation of the surrounding area of the school as a way to show the problems that face many community college remedial readers.  While the case of San Bernardino is extreme, it is not unlike many cities and neighborhoods where lower socio-economic reading students grow up and live.  The motivation to escape this life is there, but the story of how to do it still needs writing.  They know they need education but they often do not know why or how they should pursue it, because the instruction they suffer from victim mentality and incomplete education.  Many of these students enter college to be trained, they do not seek education. 

I do not make this statement as an outside observer but as a member of the community and former sufferer of a victim mentality.  I am a native of San Bernardino County.  I have had some tough times, but had a loving family and I had books.  Even with these benefits, like most students in my classes, I lived like a victim.  It took a long time for me to learn how to break the victim mentality and rewrite my own personal narrative.  Teaching active reading and taking classes in mythological studies helped me to transform and continue to grow. The benefits of active reading, active thinking, and active living multiplied when enriched with the soulfulness of mythological studies and the study of Carl Jung and post-Jungians.  In order to help my community, I am working on a curriculum that replaces motivational/victim literature with literature that inspires growth and individuation. 

I argue that while written over fifty years ago, Carl Jung’s writings, specifically “The Development of Personality,” contain insights to help us solve these problems within our community. “At present we educate people only up to the point where they can earn a living and marry; then education ceases altogether, as though a complete mental outfit had been acquired.  The solution of all the remaining complicated problems of life is left to the discretion – and ignorance – of the individual.  Innumerable ill-advised and unhappy marriages, innumerable professional disappointments, are due solely to the lack of adult education” (Jung, 174).  If these problems are caused by lack of adult education, it makes sense that the solution would be to educate adults.   Jung gets to the heart of this paper with this quote – that education is the key to individuation and a necessary element of adult life.     

So, how do we incorporate individuation into a reading curriculum to inspire success?  This can be a complex answer but for now, I will keep it simple – through literature.   The heart of the issue is not about lack of skills, motivation, funding, or instruction; it is due to a lack of meaningful interactions with story.  Meaningful interaction with the text is the goal of both active reading and soulful reading, but the definition of meaning is not the same.  Active reading focuses on comprehension but soulful reading adds the emphasis of importance to the reader; it includes the soul.  Most research on reading focuses primarily on K-12 education.  Specifically, within the literature available for teaching adolescents, the focus is on reading comprehension and motivation.  My assertion is that these models, while moderately successful approaches for adults, do not effect great change for a variety of reasons.

College remedial reading students are primarily from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Often, these students have not had many positive experiences with reading or school in general.  They approach reading as a chore. Even when assigned meaningful texts, they do not know how to engage those texts in a soulful way and are therefore unable to reap the benefits of reading.  For many of these students, the ultimate goal of going to college is not the completion of a certificate or degree; it is to get a better job.  They are paying to be trained and not studying to learn. Since they do not see the value of education beyond a job, they do not have the attitude to push through when obstacles arise.

Some students will succeed no matter what life throws at them and others will let the slightest obstacle stop their progress.  Students that fail often define themselves by what has happened in their lives. They have victim mentality.  The stories they share are of victimization, and they look at the future with a mixture of hope and fear.  They do not realize that they have the power to create their own stories and since they do not see the potential for change, they become apathetic.  Apathy is one of the worst kinds of mental illnesses to overcome.  It makes a person passive both in reading and in life. “By not accepting personal responsibility for our circumstances, we greatly reduce our power to change them” (Mariboli, 37).  Hopelessness and apathy are causes for passive living but active participation leads to caring and action.  Reading texts with meaning leads to more reading and added ease of comprehension.  This is why attitude towards self and reading will both have an impact on the students’ chances of success. 

My curriculum does more than instruct how to read: the goal is to touch the soul and change the way my students see themselves – it is to inspire individuation.  When I taught middle and high school students, it was appropriate to focus on motivation, but for college, that model no longer works.  I still teach the skills necessary for active reading but with a different focus.  The focus of soulful reading is to inspire active reading, thinking, and living.  College is a place where transformation can occur, and the stories should mirror the students’ transformative growth and inspire success.  Motivational literature focuses on the past by sharing stories of overcoming adversity.  I argue that this text can be more damaging than inspiring.  By putting the focus on the past, these stories reinforce the victim mindset.  Instead of helping students remain victims, the curriculum replaces these texts with soulful texts that challenge students to relate in a meaningful way.

“Jung’s theory of individuation, that a person is pulled forward in a purposive way by psyche, was a central departure from the theories of Sigmund Freud, whose drive theory posited that a person’s life was largely determined by the push of early life events and traumas” (Miller).  I argue that this distinction is crucial in the way I approach my students and their ability to succeed.  By looking at the past, these students see themselves, like Freud, as an accumulation of their experiences but Jung recognizes that there is something more.  Both Freud and Jung look at the past but Jung doesn’t say it defines us, we define ourselves.  His argument is that we are who we are and we need individuation to find that person within.  Because we are this person regardless of our circumstances, we are no longer victims but we are in control of our destinies. 

Soulful curriculum is not as easy to teach as the motivational literature, but the rewards are far greater.  Motivational literature is usually rather simple, but meaningful literature is complex.  Instead of reading more texts with less meaning, the curriculum suggests taking the time to read fewer but more complex texts with varying levels of relationship. Studies prove that reading more quickly correlates with diminished comprehension.  This can be frustrating for students that want to get through reading quickly since soulful reading is slower reading.  In addition, dealing with a soul in transformation requires extreme care; it is an art. The student is taking the risk to put themselves into the class, so the teacher needs to respond by teaching with soul.  This means caring, caring about the students as whole people, not just scores and skills.  This takes time and patience.  No matter how much teachers try, with success they will also see many students that do not make it.  It is hard to care and watch people struggle.  This is why it is easier to use superficial texts with superficial instruction, but my goal is not superficial.   The goal is not to instruct how to read; it is to teach how to have a relationship with the stories and how to apply the stories in life. It is to facilitate individuation.

A good understanding of how to read and write academically is a foundational tool for college students but so is personality development.  Reading is a series of relationships.  Understanding these relationships, or as I like to call them, readlationships, can help students see connections outside of reading.  Readlationships looks at approaching reading as one approaches relationships in life.  Learning how to recognize levels of relationship and rules for those relationships can help increase a person’s emotional intelligence and ability to function successfully in society. 

In this chapter, I discuss the texts.  The dissertation uses examples of how to use specific meaningful texts to teach skills soulfully and gives guidelines for textual selections to allow flexibility when assigning texts.  A specific lesson of skill taught through meaningful text to add soul is reading images using two panels of the Amduat, an Egyptian book of the dead.  It shows Re, the sun god, as he journeys from sunset to sunrise. Students learn the importance of images for comprehension, but they remember it because it also incorporates a text that touches the soul and gives an even more meaningful lesson about life.

The sixth and seventh hours of the Amduat contain crucial knowledge for college students.  Presenting this information through images gives it more significance for the students, models how to read text for meaning, and shows the importance of images to understanding text.  Seeing their experiences represented – actually “seeing” them through hieroglyphs that have been around for thousands of years – not only serves to give guidance, it gives hope.  I agree with Abt and Hornung that the ability to see the battle with Apopis as an archetypal situation is a profound insight.  It can be a transformative insight. The realization that transformative growth is difficult for everyone and that no one is able to do it alone can make difference between quitting and graduating.  This knowledge was important enough to carve with painstaking detail into stone so long ago and is important enough to share today. This is just one example of a way to add depth to lessons on reading skills to create meaning.


Abt, Theodor, and Hornung, Erik.  Knowledge for the Afterlife: The Egyptian Amduat – A Quest for Immortality. Zurich: Living Human Heritage Publications, 2003. Print.

Jung, C. G., Herbert Read, Michael Fordham, and Gerhard Adler. The Collected Works of C.G. Jung. New York: Pantheon, 1966. Print.

Maraboli, Steve. Life, the Truth, & Being Free. Port Washington, NY: Better Today, 2009. Print.

Miller, J. C., & Jung, C. G. (2004). The transcendent function: Jung’s model of psychological growth through dialogue with the unconscious. Albany: State University of New York Press.

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