Maslow before Bloom

I have experienced it many times yet I am still amazed by the willingness of students to share information online they would not divulge in person. Through a private chatroom, messaging or a similar (private) medium, I have found out things I simply would not be privy to otherwise.

The main reason for it is pretty obvious: students feel safe and comfortable there. The power relationship is leveled, there are no raised or hushed voices, everything is recordable (no “teacher’s word against student’s”), trust is open, implicit and mutual, students are comfortable with the medium, they have time to consider, change, delete what they say… in short a differently powerful way of communicating that can be very effective and empowering for students and teachers alike. Oh yes, we ‘dislike’ or ‘ban’ that sort of stuff at schools around the country…

During a brief private chat with one of my students today, an old idea sprang forth. The idea isn’t exactly about technology but the priorities we (learn to) assign and value.

Since the 1950’s Bloom’s taxonomy has been widely quoted in edu-circles. The pyramidical, cognitive domain (do you know the other two Bloom wrote about?) has been a particularly prominent marker in deciding what goes on in classrooms. Lately, the original cognitive canon of “remember, understand, apply, analyse, evaluate, create” has even been revised to its ‘21 century’ digital incarnation and increasingly used by a range of people from parents, teachers, administrators to computer sellers.

But here is another one of those pyramids that came out about a decade before Bloom. Created by Abraham Maslow, the pyramid shows the hierarchy of human needs . Basic needs like food, shelter, water etc on the bottom, creativity, problem-solving and other, ‘higher order’ needs much touted by the digital peddlers like me at the top. If you haven’t come across it here is the classic diagram.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Human Needs

Now, this isn’t rocket science. If a kid is hungry, feels threatened, unsafe, not well, insecure or lacking to satisfy any of those needs towards the bottom, he or she might but is not very likely going to scale the heights of Bloom, no matter what you do or what shining resources you throw at them.

But unless we ask and/or observe carefully we might actually miss those signs. We push ‘Bloom’ and so often forget or take ‘Maslow’ for granted. Maslow ain’t digital either but digital tools can help, a lot.

I sent out a tweet last night with a link and a question about this. One reply (thanks Colin, @cytochromec ) was particularly poignant:

I had a prof who discusses pyramid on the first day. Only teacher who openly inquired if we were safe/healthy/fed/housed

“Only teacher”! Will you be that teacher or will you just go ahead and try to educate their head (often in vain)?

Yes sure, Maslow had his fair share of critics too but (just like Bloom) his ideas are still useful as a rough guide. It is not a gospel but can be a good daily reminder about what comes first.

Have a good day at school tomorrow.


  1. Kim Donovan

    I can’t remember how times I’ve learned the “hierarchy of human needs” but have never quite thought of the significance of it. As a 5th grade teacher I am often concerned about my students’ home lives and even social lives. It becomes apparent which kids either have it hard at home or are being picked on and how they are dealing with it. One of the things that has really helped me is the teacher network site I have made a lot of teacher connections in this online community and received the best advice on how to handle a situation in which I think a student is in trouble.

  2. Matt

    Hey mate…

    Just wondering, how long have you been teaching year 9 students at belmont city college, and is there any way i can contact you. Say, email? MSN?

  3. Paul Reid

    Bloody computer sellers. They get it wrong every time 😉

    You’re right though. It’s naive to assume the parents are looking after the Maslow side of the needs equation.

    I wonder what Maslow and Bloom would think of the internet. I also naively hold hope that equipping even disadvantaged kids with the means to communicate (eg. OLPC) beyond the conventional spheres of influence empowers them.

  4. Tomaz Lasic

    @ Paul

    You’re right about those hardware peddlers Paul, who needs them 🙂 (FYI, an inside joke, Paul is a good friend of mine AND works for tech company..)

    Many of these terms are admittedly very shady (as I said, it ain’t ‘gospel’) and loaded with cultural values. Could you not, eg. be creative and problem-solving while looking for food to eat? The ‘creativity’ most people would have in mind is probably not that one… It is, as stated, a rough guide, a reminder about what is important and what could indeed hinder a climb up the pyramid.

    Glad you bring up OLPC – what a fantastic project. Yes, a child in eg. an impoverished remote community could indeed defy Maslow and do/create amazing things that would raise his self-esteem etc etc (top of the pyramid) while possibly hungry, unsafe etc. I just hope that dropping off a few laptops in the ‘middle of nowhere’ does not make people forget about a few other things those people need (and probably more than laptops).

    Of course, all of this (creativity, for example) need to be put in context. A kid creating a fancy slideshow about say Vietnam War and having no clue about it is a waste of time…. On that note, have a read of this (“…three ways of using technology in class – horrible, neutral and great) well worth a read!

    Cheers & thanks for dropping by.

  5. Pingback: Science teacher: An edublogger poll on fraudulent responses

Post a comment

You may use the following HTML:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>