Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Hierarchy of Needs for Education

Gotta love Maslow. He's the dude that tells us that until we fulfill our most basic needs we will not be able to be "self-actualized" (which I define as being the very best a person can be, guided by their own internal compass towards a work and a life that is fulfilling and joyful). Maslow based his work on extraordinary people (Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt and Frederick Douglass, among others) rather than what he termed "...crippled, stunted, immature subjects." Here's a visual of the result:

Maslow's hierarchy.jpg

The first three are the easy three; it's the last two that are killers. Food, shelter and belonging can be rustled up pretty much anywhere in the United States, even if it initially takes a little effort. The last two are the killers, and they are the stages where students (and adults) get stuck most frequently.

Self-actualization can take a lifetime, but esteem is the major roadblock. Some people never get past that stage. Esteem - self-esteem, confidence, achievement, respect for self and others - this is the stumbling block.

And why is this? Is it because kids get hollow praise and a ribbon for just showing up these days instead of working hard and earning a reward? Is it our school system  which emphasizes one right answer instead of many divergent answers, thereby stifling creativity and self-sufficiency necessary to move through the stages to self-actualization? Is it many parents' tendency to rescue their child from suffering or feeling any type of struggle intellectually, eroding the child's confidence in their ability to rescue themselves? Is it because adults in our society increasingly lack persistence and perseverance?

Yes, to all of the above. Esteem is not simply feeling good about oneself for merely existing; esteem is having confidence in what you are capable of, a sense of actual achievement for a job well-done and the self-respect to do it on your own. Esteem is not warm fuzzies that are fleeting, the result of hollow praise received when you know you haven't done your best but you "win" anyway. Esteem is learning through trial and error, success and defeat, setbacks and advances. It is not a smooth one-way street on which there are no potholes or speed bumps.

We need to allow our kids the space and time to struggle and then succeed anyway so that their achievements are real, laudable and their own. Otherwise we are growing generations of people stuck meeting just their basic needs, nevermore. Imagine what we will lose if that happens.

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