Maslow’s Changes




Based on a twitter thread

Patty Krawec on twitter pointed out something that has been discussed by Indigenous education theorists and philosophers for decades even as it’s mostly been ignored by non-Indigenous educational theorists and philosophers.

And she’s right. Maslow’s work is elite capture, his work before visiting the Blackfoot is so incredibly different from his work after that he clearly had to fully transform his understanding of people because of it.

You can see much smarter people than me discuss it here and here.

But we also need to remember the difference between what Maslow originally wrote, as he was trying to shift western education away from an oppressive system, and how it’s been used since then, in many ways to entrench an oppressive system.

Maslow talks about how by hierarchy he means that the things higher up the hierarchy require and include the things below it. So in his conception of the hierarchy self actualization includes the other needs, inverting the common diagram that we use for Maslow’s hierarchy into something much more resembling what a Niitsitapi knowledge keeper or educational philosopher would say.

His writings when they discuss how culture should support self actualization, based on it doing that among the Blackfoot he lived with briefly, make me think that though he is doing elite capture, the rest of western psych has spent the 70 years since trying shift it away from what he learned from the Blackfoot.

It makes me think of a man seeing his psychologically broken culture, then seeing a culture that wasn’t broken despite being subjected to worse conditions than his own, and trying to make sense of it. His understanding of the world was that his culture and context was the natural result of the conditions within which it existed, but here was another culture who hadn’t gone down that path.

The rest of psychology seems to have just taken what he wrote and said “but what if we ignored how broken our culture is…”

Maslow isn’t perfect. He is very clearly taking concepts from the Blackfoot, and while he does credit them to a certain extent, it’s still a very colonial elite capture of the concepts.

But he is also the person who tore Terman’s work on IQ to shreds back in 1944, decades before the rest of Educational Theorists realized that it was worthless. He is on record as the person, like Dewey before him, pointing at the education system and saying “that’s not how it has to work, it can be better”.

So yes, Maslow’s hierarchy maybe not quite bullshit, but it is problematic. But it’s problematic not because of what it is, but because of how it’s been extended, implemented, and stripped of its connection to the Indigenous philosophies and culture on which its based.


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