I have found it useful to revisit the ideas which helped launch us on to the humanistic route.  We remember Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a paradigm still completely relevant today.  We can only achieve higher needs such as the need for self actualization if we have met some of our “lower needs”, having enough food to eat, clean air to breathe, being able to sleep at night without fear, to feel part of something, cared for somewhere by someone, to hold a sense of self-confidence and of feeling valued and finding one’s place in the world.

And so in additional to understanding how the human psyche is structured we also have to embrace ways of understanding, describing, engaging with and then resolving the challenges we face as teachers working with fellow humans.  Teachers need to be concerned with both their own personal work with students AND how the systems of education operate.

Maxine Greene, professor at Teacher’s College, Columbia university, has talked about a way of looking at educational systems/schooling and the individual teachers, administrators and students within these systems.  She talks about seeing small as from a distance; and seeing big – close up, personal, detailed.  Greene is interested in how teachers engage with both systems of education and individual students.  She says,

“How can teachers intervene and say how THEY believe things ought to be?. . .Interested in shifting perspectives and different modes of seeing,” Green continues, “I find myself turning to Confessions of Felix Krull, Confident Man (1955), a novel by Thomas Mann. . .at the start young Felix asks himself whether it is better to see the world small or to see it big.  On the one hand, he says, great men, leaders and generals, have to see things small and from a distance, or they would never be able to deal as they do with the lives and deaths of so many living beings.”  Yes, in this reference Felix is talking about generals and leaders but I see this as relevant also to curriculum planners, text developers, administrators and others who deal with lots of people and ideas.  In the next section Green says, “To see things big, on the other hand, is to ‘regard the world and mankind as something great, glorious, and significant, justifying every effort to attain some modicum of esteem and fame’.

To see things or people small, one chooses to see from a detached point of view, to watch behaviors from the perspective of a system, to be concerned with trends and tendencies rather than the intentionality and concreteness of everyday life.  To see things or people big, one must resist viewing other human beings as mere objects or chess pieces and view them in their integrity and particularity instead.  One must see from the point of view of view of the participant. .

When applied to schooling, the vision that sees things big brings us in close contact with details and with particularities that cannot be reduced to statistics or even to the measurable. . .  The vision of seeing things small looks at schooling through the lens of a system – a vantage point of power or existing ideologies –  – – most frequently these days, it uses the lenses of benevolent policy making with the underlying conviction that changes in schools can bring about progressive social change.”  (Greene, p.9-11).

So we’re supposed to trust those who “see things small”, those who design system-mandated curricula and standardized testing to bring about social change?  Maxine Greene doesn’t believe this and neither do I.  I’ll explore this more in the next post.