Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Invoking Creativity

In my undergraduate studies, like many others I am sure, I learned about Abraham Maslow and the hierarchy of needs. This was related to education by my professors. They all assured me that students had to go up the four levels before they could be creative.
Abraham Maslow, as I understand, studied 'healthy' people and not 'unhealthy' people. In his 1954 book, he says, "...the study of crippled, stunted, immature, and unhealthy specimens can yield only a cripple psychology and a cripple philosophy."
However groundbreaking that research was at that time, it does not take into account many creative people. Consider for example of Stephen Hawking, who suffers from a degenerative disease, is confined to a wheelchair, and uses a voice synthesizer. By Maslow's criteria, he would not qualify. He is only one example.
The wonders of assistive technology are enabling growing numbers of people with challenges to enter academia, the arts, gainful employment, & the culture at large.
Take me for example. While far from any genius level and much closer to the moron level, I would not be considered by Maslow as healthy. How many of us would?
So right now, there are vast numbers of people who are still at the first level of Maslow's Hierarchy. Their hope of progressing up to self-actualization, where creativity is possible, is about zero. Are we therefore dismissing these people because of the situations into which they are born?
Perhaps a more relevant question to me, working in k12, is how to foster creativity in all learners at my school. I also wonder, did Maslow only study Caucasian's? I'm sure someone reading this will know...

Reference: Maslow, A. (1954). Motivation and Personality. New York: Harper.


Jason Priem said...

I agree with you on the need to be cautious about accepting the too-pat distillations of psychological theories. While I admire Maslow's work and philosophy quite a bit, I might, like you, disagree with him a bit on the hierarchy 'o needs; I think a sufficiently cold and hungry person may in some ways (hut-building, food catching) experience rather enhanced creativity. I'm glad you post this, because I think it's easy for us in education to simply cite some of the big names (Maslow, Dewey, Gardner, etc) without really engaging with their work.

I also worry that we in education often divorce psychological ideas from their larger contexts, missing important subtleties and differing perspectives in the process. Maslow's work is a frequent victim of this sort of transformation from theory to sound-bite (Gardner's MI work also comes to quickly to mind).

In fact, I think that your main argument may in fact be based on a misunderstanding of Maslow's work. When he speaks of not wanting to study "cripples," he's not talking about physical handicaps, but mental. Further, he didn't have anything against this per se; his problem was that psychology seemed to be fruitlessly dominated by the study of pathology. As a humanist, he worried that this preoccupation was giving us a twisted and pessimistic picture of ourselves, and wanted to turn that around by studying what he though were the healthiest people. If we knew more about them, he figured, we could looking at the psyche as full of ailments to cure but of potentials to be realized. And of course, I oversimplify, but that's the gist.

Also, he wouldn't have put anyone's chances at self-actualization at "about zero;" a major tenet of his "third way" (humanism) was that everyone has the potential to become self actualized, just by virtue of being human (although, of course, teachers and parents can do a lot to help or hinder).

And I couldn't say for sure without rereading some of his studies, but I'd be willing to bet he used mixed-race samples.

Cory Plough said...

I teach at an online charter school. 25% of our student population have special needs. 70-80% are at-risk.

Often my most creative students are the ones who are the 'unhealthiest.'

Trying to define healthy today seems like trying to define normal. What is normal?

/gradster(1)/ said...

I studied Maslow too, though certainly not in as much depth as you apparently have. I disagree immensely with him, though, on the hierarchical nature of his needs. They are needs, to be sure, and some may not be solved until others are first, but mostly are not hierarchical in nature.

For example, I write (express myself and my [often theological] views) best when I am sleep-deprived, hungry, and existentially depressed. Hmm.

Umm... "networkchallenge".