Importance of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

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Seven years ago I was a member of a group composed of 17 international students for whom English is a second language. The purpose of this group was to improve language proficiency in order to reach specific academic and personal goals. A second purpose was to introduce participants to the lifestyles, attitudes, customs and traditions which are characteristic of Americans. In addition to learning about life in the United States, students also attempted to analyze it. Why is the divorce rate so high? Why do so many American mothers work? Why is there racial tension in the USA? Why do so many adults attend school? These are some of the questions that we wondered about and discussed. Together with my classmates, we studied not only how Americans behave but also what they believe: American philosophies of education and government; American attitudes toward religion, marriage, and family life; the American outlook on life in general; and, of course, the American dream. Classmates explored all these themes in group projects.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs can be a valuable aid when dealing with the process of education. Achieving each of the levels of Maslow’s needs- physiological, safety, social, esteem, and self-actualization- at different times in the educational process makes it difficult to instruct a group of students, each in their own place along Maslow’s pyramid. According to his theory, needs that are in the lower hierarchy must be at least partially met before a person will try to satisfy higher- level needs.

Lately, I have been thinking about why there was so much tension in this particular ESL class and why some of the students did not want to participate. Maslow’s theory helped me understand the importance of those needs. I found many outside influences that may have affected those needs to be met among some of my classmates.

One of the possibilities for example, could be financial concerns. Limited income may force families to live in impoverished housing, forgo medical or dental care, or compromise nutrition. Lack of proper nutrition, personal hygiene and sleep can affect a student’s ability to learn. These basic needs must be met before an individual can reach the next level. Student safety needs also play a critical role in achieving academic success. That is why I would like to mention legal issues. For example, one of the students never obtained proper visas or permission to be in the United States and, as a result, lived in fear of being deported. Others may have entered legally but now hold expired visas. Some were trying to apply for permanent residency and dealing with paperwork that has been delayed for months or even years. In my view, these challenges explain why some students did not want to participate in particular group projects (discussions about childhood, family, customs and background).

We must not only feel safe in the classroom physically, but emotionally and psychologically as well. Developing friendships with classmates and teachers was one of the most significant influences in student’s adaptation to a new culture. However, ways of thinking or cultural values that vary from our own sometimes caused a source of tension, misunderstanding, or even mistrust. Students must feel a degree of safety in all aspects of the classroom and school environment before progressing to the next step in the Maslow’s theory- belongingness and love needs. I have to say that, it was sometimes challenging to learn in this particular group full of students who were diverse not only in English ability but also in culture, age, and literacy skills. There was some tension between learners due to cultural differences and l life experiences. I believe that tension may be caused by the fact that some classmates held prestigious jobs in their home countries, and were facing the frustration of being unable to work in their field of expertise. Settling for a low – paying job just to survive can take a toll on...
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