With all of that hope, we need to consider how we have shaped the learning experience to help those dreams come true. I recently presented at a session where I asked the participants to consider which of the following thinkers from the past continues to have the most profound influence on today’s schools. The three choices I provided were Frederick Winslow Taylor, B.F. Skinner and Abraham Maslow. The simple question was whose DNA is most evident in the structure, culture and operating norms of schools today?
B.F. Skinner has also had a profound impact on schools, families, our justice system and all facets of society. Our memory of schooling and its history over 150 years is replete with hierarchical relationships based on compliance and control/reward and punishment. It was what we knew/It was what we did. A behaviourist approach – underpinned by unquestioned authority/obedience has been around for a long time, including but not limited to the schoolhouse. It has its limitations. A foundation built on exerting external controls doesn’t create the kind of environment where kids learn to thrive.
But what of Maslow and his pyramid shown here, starting with a foundation of basic life needs and building from there?
There’s work to be done in this area. While lots of schools are well along the road to reshaping learning cultures, there are other places that are more Taylor and Skinner than Maslow. We haven’t yet managed to fully focus on what kids need rather than to perpetuate a system that was based on other priorities. It is a work in progress – meant both ways. Here’s a brief video clip to inspire that journey: http://dalailamacenter.org/educate-heart/watch-video
We can also reference and borrow from the Olympic Games motto of Faster, Higher, Stronger. It isn’t a directive or a command, but a shared aspiration – a beacon to guide our path, a challenge to which we can aspire. What’s our schoolhouse version of Faster, Higher, Stronger and how do we help every learner achieve that?
We might consider Maslow’s Hierarchy and particularly the high bar of self-actualization (personal growth and fulfillment) as our own version of Faster, Higher Stronger. It might be stated in a commitment like Every Child, Every Chance, Every Day, and we now have a much clearer understanding of what it takes to get there. As the opening bell rings, let’s take a look at how our schoolhouse shapes its structures, cultures and norms to meet that test. As with all important questions in education, it isn’t simple or easy – just essential.