The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

How “right” is Maslow? (pt. 1)

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We had our de rigueur motivational speaker during our initial day of teacher inservices last Monday.  I’ve sat through eighteen years of speakers, all too many of whom had something to sell.  Regardless of their motivations, some have been stellar; others have been stinkers.  Rarely do they bring anything knew for me, but that’s more a function of having taught for 18 years now.  I didn’t get anything new on Monday, but I did get something that I’ve been rolling around in my head quite a bit.

She almost lost me from the start by busting out Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and focusing on the bottom part of the upper echelon:  Esteem.  I typically react to the promotion of esteem the same way Catholic school nuns react to the f-bomb, so for the speaker to start off that way at 8AM on the first day of school was almost enough for me to zone out and merely pretend that I was paying attention.  It would have been easy enough to do, being but one face in a sea of 300 teachers, administrators, and support staff, and unfortunately I wouldn’t have been the only one.  But my emotions connected to esteem kicked in and got me thinking beyond what she was presenting, and I bore her out if only to hear where else she was going to go.

I can remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs as far back as Psychology class my senior year in high school.  I saw it again two years later in an undergraduate Intro to Psychology course.  A year after that, I started to see it frequently enough to think it was tatooted on my irises–it’s one of the cornerstones of teacher education at the undergraduate level, and as I can now attest 22 years later, it never really goes away.  Abraham Maslow first proposed the whole thing in 1943, and laid it out like this:

Since it’s hierarchical, you can only get to the top by fulfilling every need at every level from the bottom up.  If there is a deficit in any level, then a person is stuck in that level and acts on motivations (whether consciously or unconsciously) that will meet those deficits.  So if you don’t have a sense of familial love, you can forget about having respect for or getting respect from others.  You’re stuck on the third level of the hierarchy.  Maslow noted, too, that only 1 person in 100 will ever reach Self-actualisation.

Maslow’s theory has been supplemented, despite his having died in 1970.  A recent variation on the heirarchy looks like this:

Esteem has been subordinated to the top of the lower echelon, and guess what is directly above it?  My job.  There’s the root of the problem I was having when esteem was trumpted at the opening of Monday’s presentation.  Ask most educational psychologists, school administrators, student services personnel (counselors, social workers, psychologists), and teachers, and they’ll tell you how vital esteem is in the grand scheme of all we try to do.  What they won’t tell you is how too often esteem is the ends instead of the means.

I wrote down a ton of notes Monday, which helped me remember a few things and raise more than a few questions.  I had never before questioned Maslow’s Hierarchy as a theory.  To me, it was a system of thought with a decent argument behind it– same as the Big Bang Theory.  Or had I drank the Kool-Aid way back in undergrad and bought into Maslow all along?  Maybe it was me who was part of the faceless masses mindlessly uttering the one thing that will kill an institution:  We’ve always done it this way.  I realized then why I had such a strong reaction when esteem was used to kick things off.  Education on the whole, especially some schools with which I am intimately familiar, treat Maslow’s Hierarchy as Gospel rather than theory.  Hang around long enough, and you’ll find out why Maslow is revered and why too few people treat him with healthy skepticism–because it saves people from thinking and questioning at the deepest intellectual levels that are most beneficial to an institution.  Blind acceptance keeps many people in a safe and comfortable place despite the hierarchy being theoretical and having no numbers to back it up.  The hierarchy has unfortunately become a gateway into mediocrity, and the springboard is right there in the middle.

(continued…)

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Written by seeker70

September 3, 2012 at 1:11 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. […] what constitutes a meaningful relationship is a very subjective, and like I said about parts of last year’s kick-off speech, too many people look at the idea of building relationships as the end instead of the […]


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