By Bruce Deitrick Price / September 8, 2014 / American Thinker
Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) was an American psychologist who created a theory of psychological health based on fulfilling inborn human needs, from the most basic to the most sophisticated, culminating in self-actualization.
Maslow’s ideas were upbeat and positive. Self-fulfillment was possible; everybody should get busy making it happen. Maslow was not concerned with the usual litany of mental illnesses. He spoke to the ordinary person and said, move to a higher place.
The Human Potential Movement (HPM) arose out of the counterculture milieu of the 1960s and was much inspired by Maslow’s thinking. This movement believed in cultivating the potential that was thought to lie largely untapped in most people. Humans can experience an exceptional quality of life filled with creativity and fulfillment.
All the themes here are idealistic and hopeful. The ultimate goal is to attain personal growth and understanding. Indeed, not only could one do this, one should do this. Maslow believed that the individual can only be truly happy through constant self-improvement and greater self-understanding. One of the steps along the way was the cognitive level, where individuals intellectually stimulate themselves and explore.
Which is curious because at this same time our Education Establishment had introduced a different message into the public schools, namely, that it really wasn’t fair for some children to advance ahead of others. Everybody should be kept at the same mediocre level. It could be argued that everything the Education Establishment was trying to do was an interdiction of everything Maslow was trying to do.
If you read at a low level, don’t know how to do arithmetic, and don’t know much basic information, the public school might still pronounce you a success. And yet we feel the paradox, we feel the raving contradiction. If the cognitive and intellectual domains are not tended to, indeed fired up, then the human journey is not going to reach its proper heights.
Putting it bluntly, what chance does a dumbed-down public school student have to achieve self-actualization?
he Education Establishment sent a very loud message: forget all that fancy stuff. Just putter along the way you are. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t reach for more. Settle for less.
The very essence of the social engineering that John Dewey and his socialists imposed on this country was that individualism was a bad thing. Individual achievement was a bad thing. Cooperative behavior was praised, because only the group matters. Mediocrity was built into the fabric of Dewey’s banner.
It may be that Maslow and the human potential gurus were engaging in a Pollyanna-ish quest. Maybe a lot of people aren’t capable of self-actualization. Or, more exactly, once they have it, we see that it is not anything very grand or impressive. But unmistakably, these people are at least trying. They are reaching!
Just as unmistakably, our Education Establishment did not really value intellectual activity or cognitive development. Oh, they had to give it lip service. They had to talk about the wonders of education. But the only wonder they were truly passionate about was the one where they made all the little kids behave more or less the same. And that’s exactly the opposite of the self-actualization that Maslow was preaching.
Reflect on socialism’s early days. Its promise was to raise everybody up to their potential, unlike capitalism which supposedly crushed everybody down to the same miserable low level. Wasn’t that socialism’s essential claim?
According to one academic, “Socialism was a response to the horrible working and living conditions of the early industrial revolution. It was highly idealistic, drawing inspiration from a tradition of early Christian communal societies. In fact, it was often too idealistic and democratic…”
The sad irony here is that socialism, when it got the chance, immediately abandoned its promise. The socialism of 1800 or 1850 was saying things very consistent with Maslow and the human potential movement. But as we watched John Dewey and the early educators take over the public schools, it was clear they weren’t aiming for anything high. No, they were dreaming of something mediocre, a world where everyone would be ordinary.
John Dewey and our socialist Education Establishment betrayed the promise of the socialism that had spawned them. They were so focused on getting power for themselves and their movement that they could not be interested in empowering people. They say poweer corrupts. Even more true, the hunger for power corrupts. That seems to be what happened in American education for the last century.
First the socialists, and then Maslow, articulated a vision where everyone would reach their highest possible form. Realistic or not, this was an ecstatic vision. Simply to pursue this vision would probably lift a person. John Dewey and his gang were clearly not interested in lifting anyone, or only marginally. They hated the idea of the individual and of individual success. They liked leveling. They liked the happy group where nobodycould claim any special gift or spark.
The second half of the 20th century was a shootout between Dr. Dewey and Dr. Maslow. Turns out John Dewey was the real gunslinger. Big Bad John. He told self-actualization to get out of town.
Bruce Deitrick Price explains educational theories and methods on his site Improve-Education.org