Overcoming Struggle Through Education

It is important to remember that we teach humans and all humans have struggles that they are trying to overcome.

“Daniel, a student at Philadelphia Elementary School lost all his belongings in a house fire. However, teachers and students, fastened to the good which supersedes all evil, came together to help Daniel remember the glimmer of light that is always there, in every moment.”

Chris Perez • 2ndTeacher & Writer1d • Edited • Anyone

We often frame this as a disadvantaged child, but the truth is that all of us can be more or less disadvantaged during our life-time of learning. Daniel lost his house to a fire and the video of his classmates with their presents goes to the next level of caring when they simply surround him and all of them hug him at the same time!

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (1943)

Of course we all want our students to be stable but we must not forget how hard it is to attain and/or maintain stability. Saul McLeod tells us that Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs” is not a simple linear organization of needs, but rather, an indication of the uneven development that as one’s needs begin to be met on a more regular basis, the higher order thinking skills, including creativity, become more available and that this development can be lost, regained, and re-secured over time.

Updating Maslow

“Contemporary research by Tay and Diener (2011) has tested Maslow’s theory by analyzing the data of 60,865 participants from 123 countries, representing every major region of the world. The survey was conducted from 2005 to 2010.”

Respondents answered questions about six needs that closely resemble those in Maslow’s model: basic needs (food, shelter); safety; social needs (love, support); respect; mastery; and autonomy. They also rated their well-being across three discrete measures: life evaluation (a person’s view of his or her life as a whole), positive feelings (day-to-day instances of joy or pleasure), and negative feelings (everyday experiences of sorrow, anger, or stress).

The results of the study support the view that universal human needs appear to exist regardless of cultural differences. However, the ordering of the needs within the hierarchy was not correct.

“Although the most basic needs might get the most attention when you don’t have them,” Diener explains, “you don’t need to fulfill them in order to get benefits [from the others].” Even when we are hungry, for instance, we can be happy with our friends. “They’re like vitamins,” Diener says about how the needs work independently. “We need them all.”

Expanded Hierarchy of Needs

“It is important to note that Maslow’s (1943, 1954) five-stage model has been expanded to include cognitive and aesthetic needs (Maslow, 1970a) and later transcendence needs (Maslow, 1970b).”

1. Biological and physiological needs – air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep, etc.
2. Safety needs – protection from elements, security, order, law, stability, etc.
3. Love and belongingness needs – friendship, intimacy, trust, and acceptance, receiving and giving affection and love. Affiliating, being part of a group (family, friends, work).
4. Esteem needs – which Maslow classified into two categories: (i) esteem for oneself (dignity, achievement, mastery, independence) and (ii) the desire for reputation or respect from others (e.g., status, prestige).
5. Cognitive needs – knowledge and understanding, curiosity, exploration, need for meaning and predictability.
6. Aesthetic needs – appreciation and search for beauty, balance, form, etc.
7. Self-actualization needs – realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences.
8. Transcendence needs – A person is motivated by values which transcend beyond the personal self (e.g., mystical experiences and certain experiences with nature, aesthetic experiences, sexual experiences, service to others, the pursuit of science, religious faith, etc.).

Characteristics of self-actualizers:

Maslow envisioned the top of his heirarchical needs as leading to self-actualization. Schools can learn to set up success for all students by reviewing these needs and setting their sights on designing learning environments that support each student’s education leading to self-actualization.

1. They perceive reality efficiently and can tolerate uncertainty;

2. Accept themselves and others for what they are;

3. Spontaneous in thought and action;

4. Problem-centered (not self-centered);

5. Unusual sense of humor;

6. Able to look at life objectively;

7. Highly creative;

8. Resistant to enculturation, but not purposely unconventional;

9. Concerned for the welfare of humanity;

10. Capable of deep appreciation of basic life-experience;

11. Establish deep satisfying interpersonal relationships with a few people;

12. Peak experiences;

13. Need for privacy;

14. Democratic attitudes;

15. Strong moral/ethical standards.

Behavior leading to self-actualization:

So learning experiences should be designed to help students gain the experience of learning life like a child, even into their adulthood. For example, taking on new challenges with wonder, curiosity, and immersion:

(a) Experiencing life like a child, with full absorption and concentration;

(b) Trying new things instead of sticking to safe paths;

(c) Listening to your own feelings in evaluating experiences instead of the voice of tradition, authority or the majority;

(d) Avoiding pretense (‘game playing’) and being honest;

(e) Being prepared to be unpopular if your views do not coincide with those of the majority;

(f) Taking responsibility and working hard;

(g) Trying to identify your defenses and having the courage to give them up.

Overcoming Struggle Through Education

Daniel’s basic needs for a house were lost to a fire, but his classmates and the leadership of their teacher and principal, helped to stabilize him enough to return to school and learn. It seems that the act of learning, going to school, and interacting with other students and their ideas are the very essence of a protective factor that all students need to help them overcome their struggles through education. However, it is up to teachers and principals to enact that protective factor by designing and implementing an instructional environment that engages every student, immerses them in the process of learning, and asks of them to produce a product of their learning that demonstrates what they know and can do.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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