Homeschool Essentials

Whether unschooled or highly structured, religious or secular, all homeschools encounter the same challenges. All successful homeschools exhibit the same essential qualities. This weblog will help you understand and apply those qualities, minimize frustration, and enjoy more success sooner.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Learning in the Heirarchy of Needs

Children need to learn. If they show resistance to learning, then there’s something wrong in the learning environment. It’s almost certainly not learner focused. In spite of our best intentions, we parents take over center stage.

I’m going to talk straight here, at the risk of offending some parents. There’s no gentle way to say this. Children rarely resist learning, but they often resent and resist our efforts to teach them. This remains true, whatever the setting, whether at home or at a formal school. Children learn because they possess an inherent need to understand their world. Adults teach in order to satisfy appetites of their own. Whether it’s to be seen as a competent parent, or to demonstrate our ability at long division, we lecture and instruct for our purposes, not to meet children’s needs. Maybe we do it because we fear our children are “falling behind,” and that reflects poorly on our homeschooling. We rationalize that it’s for their own good, but we’re only fooling ourselves.

"Whatever educates us merely for its own use, without regard to us as living beings, whatever takes us for granted, degrades and impoverishes us. It does not matter that we are told it is for our own good.” Haniel Long


When we buy into the notion that children are mentally lazy by nature, that we have to force them to learn, we have turned learning into a contest with our children, a contest which we cannot win. “Nothing is harder than the human head,” one of my college professors told me. No one can doubt that when attempting to teach an inattentive seven-year-old the sound of “oi,” or the sum of two numbers.

Psychologist Abraham Maslow formulated what we know as “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.” This hierarchy of needs can be useful in understanding human nature. For our purposes, they demonstrate the fundamental importance of learning. When we cooperate with these needs, children learn quickly and without need for external motivation. Frustrate these needs, and learning quickly becomes more and more difficult.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

1. Physiological. These include such things as oxygen, food, water, shelter. Things which, should we lack them for long, would kill us. We see the truth of this all over the world. In secure these, people are willing to run terrible risks, because they have to in order to survive.

2. Safety. No sooner do we secure sources of food, water, and other physiological needs, than we begin to contemplate safety. Should our physiological needs be endangered, we would once again forget safety in order to secure survival. But as soon as we know where our next meal is coming from, we want to be around to enjoy it.

3. Love, Affection and Belongingness. In order to escape loneliness and overcome alienation, we all need relationships where we can give and receive love, affection, and experience belonging. Peer groups actually punish achievement. Children may avoid or hide competence in order to belong.

4. Esteem. We all need an abiding sense of personal worth. Without it, we lack the confidence necessary to life a fruitful life.

5. Self-actualization. The U.S. Army tapped into this need with it’s long-running, “Be All That You Can Be,” advertising campaign. This speaks to our “destiny,” or our “calling.” Each of us has something to do, some skill to develop and express, some path to follow, unique to ourselves. If we find and fulfill this calling, it gives us the greatest sense of personal fulfillment. Until we do, we will feel restless and discontent. If, however, the lower levels of needs are threatened, we will have to attend to them in preference to this one.

These five types and levels of needs form a hierarchy, because we seek to meet the most important of these needs before all else. Only when satisfied that the first levels of needs will continue to be provided, do we turn our attention to the next and higher levels. Taking nothing away from Maslow’s insights, which I value greatly, these seem self-evident at each level. Like all great truths, once someone articulates them, we wonder why no one ever saw it before.
When we look at this hierarchy in terms of learning, we discover the need to learn permeates these levels from top to bottom. We can also see how various learning tasks fit into the hierarchy. Finally, we can see how frustrating these needs blocks learning.

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