Anyone who has ever taken an Intro to Psych class, whether in high school, college, or studied it independently, will probably recognize Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory in which he placed the largest most fundamental needs at the bottom and the need for self-actualization at the very top. As I understand his theory, if the physiological, safety, and loving/belonging needs are in deficit (not being met), then a person cannot achieve or experience feelings of esteem or self-actualization.
This concept has immense implications in the world of self-directed learning. We are asking our students to make important decisions that guide their education and life. However, if they are experiencing deficiencies within those most basic needs, how on earth can they have enough intrinsic confidence to self-determine?
To be clear; these unmet needs are often derived from individual, personal emotional “stuff”, not simply the physical or external that can be provided by someone else. Yes, you may have a roof over your head, three squares a day, and supportive, loving family and friends – however, if you are depressed or anxious, you probably feel unsafe and unloved. You cannot simply show or tell another person that they have all they need to feel comfortable, safe, and loved - every single person has the authority to determine that for themselves.
I know that when I am suffering from allergies, apprehension, or even physical pain, I cannot focus. I am flighty, hyper, and exceedingly uncreative. Which in turn makes me frustrated and angry at myself. Fortunately, after reminding myself that I have a support system and the tools to deal with all of that negative emotion and angst, I am, in time, able to settle down and become confidently productive.
This blog post comes after a week in which most of us (students and staff) spent a great deal of our time coping with potent and poignant emotional “stuff”. It was not always explicit; however, it did have over-arching effects on everything - from our academics to our personal relationships and social environment. Through-out the week, there were many hugs, instances of strife, tears, times of jealousy, intense mentoring sessions, moments of thoughtfully staring into space, fierce kindness, laughter, and silliness, as well as deep, supportive friendships being tested and reaffirmed. And, I was profoundly honored to witness and participate in it all. Coming back to the Maslow’s Theory and self-directed learning – I believe that because we (again all of us, young people and adults at DRC) make it our priority to stop, reflect, witness, model, support (including a shoulder to cry on), and offer affectionate encouragement (mentoring), our students are able to, eventually (with every expectation that it may take years), learn the tools necessary to move forward to a place of safe, loving, productive, self-confidence and determination.