What are the Implications of Having These 16 Different Types of Students in Your School?

I’ve been re-reading books lately. Promoted by some recent events, I started reading through the book that has fascinated and inspired me more than any other on the topic of higher education. It is a book called To Know for Real: Royce S. Pitkin and Goddard College. The book offers intriguing insights about the early years of Goddard College, a school has has long served as a source of inspiration in my work and thinking about education.

In one chapter, Pitken attempts to describe the diversity of students who attended Goddard. As such, he offered 16 of what some today might call student personas. Each person is obviously more than what is described, and it is certainly common for a student to embody multiple personas. Nonetheless, such an exercise is sometimes used today as a way to better understand the nature of a community or target audience. Following are the 16 that Pitken identifies. Do you see these personas present in your communities? Or, if you were going to create a similar list to represent the different dispositions and people in your community, how might your list look different? Yet, even as I pose these questions, consider that the purpose is not to label or sort people. It is to recognize the diversity of people and to consider the implications for the curriculum and community.

The Scholar

This is a “diligent student, likes books, pursues ideas, enjoys learning about hte past nad exploring along the frontiers of knowledge (p. 48).”

The Mixed-Up Kid

aimless, wavers, uncertain about whether this is the right college or if any college is the right path


searching for meaning in life, seeking to know self, seeking God, grappling with the “mysteries of the mind and universe

Angry Student

sees the world as messed up, looking for a fight, quickly resorts to name-calling, sometimes self-righteous and arrogant, over-confident

Unhappy Student

feels alienated from the community and/or world, feels like a misfit, difficult to engage in conversation, appears withdrawn and lonely


doesn’t accept responsibility in the community, “withdraws from the realities that make life difficult and seeks refuge from the cold winds of the non-college world”


sees problems and prepared for battle against them, sees them in family/school/law/government/”the system”, at work against perceived “injustice, inequity, corruption, stupidity, and power”


on a mission to make a difference, launch a newspaper, organize, stage a demonstration, start a new program…


seeking to bring order out of the chaos, express feelings, reveal insight through music, writing, fine art, theater…

Irresponsible Student

Where the abdicator withdraws, this student acts but with little responsibility for actions, acts without concern for its impact on others or the community

Responsible Citizen

joins or is elected to committees, faithful in attendance and responsibilities, and sees jobs to their completion

Rich Kid

never experienced want…the child of affluent society

Poor Kid

knows life “without shoes”


great vocabulary, perhaps even well-versed in other languages, but the student’s learning is abstract and distinct from the realities of life

Dreamy-Eyed Youth

visionary, years fomr Utopias, builds “castles in the air”, and “looks eagerly for the imminent appearance of the great reformation”


conformist, imitates those the student likes, heavily influenced by media in countless ways

Do you see yourself in one or more of these personas? How about the people in your learning community? If we are not careful, we can simply use such an exercise to label and judge others, but I’m confident that this was far from Pitken’s intent. For him, this exercise was a way to highlight the fact that learning communities represent people with incredibly different motives, dispositions, experiences, goals, fears, dreams, perspectives, and proclivities. Recognizing this is an important part of thinking about curriculum and what it take to co-create a learning community that truly serves and supports each and every student.

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