The Archetypes in Education

The Hero’s Journey

by Carolyn Marie Mamchur

January 2009



As teachers and as teacher educators, we are painfully aware that all too often society, teachers, and students express a sense of isolation and bewilderment about their work and lives.  Research on bowling even suggests we bowl more than we have every bowled, and we are bowling alone.

But we are not alone.   We are not without the history and wisdom of generations past and cultures everywhere.  We have so much if only we choose to tap into the collective unconscious that surrounds us.

The Archetypes in Education: The Hero’s Journey is a positive and practical guide to using ancient and basic instincts too often neglected in our struggle to create schools that are happy and productive places of learning for student and teachers.  Grounded in Jungian theory, based on a life time of teaching, this book attempts to restore teachers to their well deserved position as respected professionals and as persons, strong and fragile, with all the challenges and gifts inherent in being key players in the journey of educational life.

Six distinct chapters examine the role of the archetype, the nature of the hero’s journey, the application of both to grounding students, improving teacher preparation and applauding the joy of teaching well.  A final chapter offers a unique solution to the growing problem of a pervasive reluctance in students to read literature and engage in the arts in a meaningful way.

Chapter One: The Nature and Power of Archetypes

Archetypes have been recognizable since man first told stories and painted on cave walls.  Jung describes them as “the accumulated experiences of organic life in general, a million times repeated and condensed.” This chapter gives an overview of common archetypes and the way they have been represented in various cultures.  Excerpts from literature and art are included to familiarize the reader with archetypes and enable them to internalize the ideas which are presented in the chapters to follow. 

The works of key psychologists who have worked extensively in archetype will be used as references and sources of clarity: Pearson, C., Campbell, J.: Adson, P.; Jung, C.; Hillman, J.; Hunter, A.;

Chapter Two: The Hero’s Journey

The value of the archetypes to human development and personal satisfaction provides the heartbeat of this chapter.  Twelve re-occurring archetypes which form what has come to be known as the “Hero’s Journey” will be explored in depth. 

The three stages of the journey: preparation, separation and the return provide a simple guide for educators wanting to understand the student’s journey, the student teacher’s journey and the journey of the expert teacher.

The development of the ego, and one’s way of relating to the world form the first preparation for the journey.  The second stage, the soul journey is the inner journey in which the individual comes to terms with the self and develops the inner strength to complete the journey and enjoy its final stage, where the self and the wisdom accrued are shared with the world.  This final stage, the stage most important to the teacher is composed of an informed mind and a generous heart.

Following Pearson’s useful selection of twelve archetypes, four archetypes for each part of the journey will be examined in detail, making clear the call to that archetype, the shadow side of the archetype, and the way to access the archetype when needed.


Chapter Three: Grounding the Student

The preparation stage of the journey, sometimes called the Ego Journey, is the stage in which we discover the gifts we have to eventually share with the world.  It is a time of preparation, a time of learning to trust oneself and discover how to take care of oneself. 

Of all the Ego archetypes, the Orphan or Everyman appears to be the driving instinct for middle and high school students.  “Do I belong?” is the burning question that will be addressed referring to Glasser’s choice theory in creating a quality world for students. 

Too often alienation and bullying are the experiences of young people.  Exploring ways to make schooling a place which is in the quality world of the students, with an emphasis on belonging will be the focus of this chapter.


Chapter Four: Teacher Preparation

Following your bliss.  Isn’t it wonderful when we do the thing in life we know we were meant to do? Teacher educators search for various opportunities for the student teachers to explore and test their abilities, aptitudes, attitudes towards teaching in order to determine if this is the profession for them. 

This exploration is akin to the Soul of the Hero’s Journey. Of all the Soul archetypes, the Lover is the most crucial for the student teacher to access. Passions pave the road to purpose; they provide the energy for the vehicle we use on the many journeys through life.

This chapter focuses on the Soul’s journey, with special attention to the Lover, how to access it and how to avoid its pitfalls in choosing a life’s path, especially a path which casts its vapors of influence on so many young lives.

To demonstrate how to walk the student teacher through the Soul’s journey, specific field tested and highly successful pedagogical choices of several teacher educators at Simon Fraser University are encapsulated in this section of the text.  Included are aspects of working with international students to enhance self-efficacy to assure a commitment to discipline and access to the joy of knowing what moves us at the deepest level.


Chapter Five: Regaining our Professionalism

A malaise has settled on teachers plagued by accountability, no child left behind regulations, no touch policies, standardized testing.  The message is that teachers cannot be trusted and it is hurting the profession.  It is hurting the individual teacher who more and more feels alone. 

The Self archetypes show us what we have to do in order to bring our unique and best selves into the world.  Accessing the soul archetypes, particularly the Magician which bestows power and the ability to transform, can be a new source of energy and confidence renewal for teachers. Concrete strategies for teachers to access these archetypes are offered in this chapter.

Jung believed that archetypes were more powerful than the individual psyche in shaping the destiny of mankind.  This chapter discusses the kind of teachers we want in schools today, Sages, Magicians, Rulers, Jesters to bring the wisdom, the magic, the fun into the kingdom called our schools.  The words of teachers from various sources will be used to demonstrate these various archetypes in action.


Chapter Six: Connecting to Literature

Archetypes exist in art, music, dance and literature, evoking images and feelings in us that are universal, that constitute part of what it means to be human. Simply put, an archetype can be described as a story we are living.

If we are living these stories, often unconsciously, then becoming aware of them, and seeing how they exist in the world around us is a great connecting factor for a diverse group of students. It connects one person to another, it connects different cultures, and in the case of this chapter, I am suggesting that archetypes can connect readers to literature.

The reluctance of learners to read literature for pleasure is a pressing educational issue globally.  This chapter contains an inventory which permits students to determine their own archetypes and then offers a repertoire of stories and novels and art work, including film that represent various examples of archetypal characters with whom the students can personally relate.




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