Monday, March 15, 2010

Some thoughts on parenthood, children's rights and Maslow

I've always admired Heidi DeWet's writing, and her opinions never fail to resonate with and educate me. She's kindly given her permission for us to reproduce the following:

Reading some of the commentary on home education in the past few days joined some dots in my head. I don't have a blog to publish this on, and I don't have the gift of writing incisive, well-rounded commentary that some of my awesome friends have, but I'm hoping this will help inform the debate in some small way.

Baroness Deech: “… home educators who have flooded their MPs, and my blog site, with their views … cannot amount to more than 6 or 7 per cent, but the rage and resentment they express, their mishmash of ideological views, their rejection of state interference, their indifference to the rights of the child, their accusations of totalitarianism and their superiority over those who would like to help the child do not paint a good picture of home educators. They made me determined to speak up for the rights of the child, when I had taken hardly any notice of home education until recently.” [my emphasis]

Chris & Ophelia de Serres: “A number of comments questioned why we would want to change the existing system to ’save a few kids’. In our organization, every child counts, and we are committed to saving every one.” [Link]

These people, among others who’ve published their commentary recently, have a perception that home educators are opposed to children’s rights and/or unconcerned about children’s welfare.

As a group, we are no less concerned than most adults with children’s rights – probably more, as all of us are fully engaged with the upbringing of our own children in a way that parents who utilise schools for a significant portion of their children’s waking hours don't have to be. And all of us who take the time to contact our MPs and comment on ill-informed and prejudicial blogs do so precisely out of our concern for the rights and welfare of children – predominantly, but not solely, our own children.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs describes five types/levels of need which motivate people: physiological needs, safety needs, social needs, esteem needs and self-actualisation. He proposed that it is necessary to fulfil all needs at a lower or more fundamental level before it’s possible to move on to the higher-level needs. Interestingly, “family” appears under Safety needs and Social needs, in both cases in terms of the family satisfying the needs of the person in question; there is no mention of the desire to protect and nurture one’s children, which is a very fundamental drive indeed. There’s a lot of evidence that child-nurturing is influenced by hormones in the parent’s body, particularly the mother’s, and in my opinion it would be no stretch to define this need as a physiological need; if not, it certainly qualifies as a safety need.

A parent is biologically and psychologically designed, programmed, conditioned – call it what you will – to care deeply about the wellbeing of their child. If the child is threatened, or the parent’s ability to nurture the child to the best of their ability is threatened, the parent cannot help but defend themselves, their children and family. Moreover, the parent is unable to be motivated by, and give a normal response to, needs that come higher up the hierarchy until this fundamental need has been satisfied.

Baroness Deech is concerned about the rights of children in an altruistic fashion, that is in the abstract. Perhaps for her it’s at the fifth level of self-actualisation (morality) or perhaps it extends down to the fourth level, esteem (achievement, wanting to make a difference, wanting to be respected). As an abuse survivor, perhaps Ms de Serres’s own second-level safety needs are bound up in her desire to make all other children safe from abuse. I think these observers expect us to respond to the perceived needs or rights of the Abstract Child in the same way they do, and they’re taken aback when we don’t. But it’s not because we don’t care – it’s because as parents we are blocked from responding to the issue of the Abstract Child until our far more basic need to protect our own, absolutely Real Children has been satisfied.

And we are simply not biologically capable of putting the theoretical needs of theoretical children before the concrete needs of our own children, and saying “yes, we’ll open our homes and expose our children to the abuse of educational bigots and potential paedophiles in the tenuous hope that some day, somewhere, it will allow the authorities to detect, and possibly even do something useful about, the abuse of a home-educated child who otherwise would have remained hidden.”

By Heidi DeWet


Blogger Tech said...

As I've already said to Heidi - it's about time she got a blog!

11:31 am, March 15, 2010  
Blogger Gill said...

I agree. That would be a powerful resource.

2:07 pm, March 15, 2010  
Blogger Gill said...

Just wanted to link to this too.

6:14 pm, March 16, 2010  
Blogger Katherine said...

I think that nowadays we have plenty of evidence that family is the very basis of physiological needs.
Attachment theory, physiology of babies and neuroscience quite clearly tell us that it is impossible to draw a line between a child's physiology and its relationship with its carers.
The Science of Parenting by Margot Sunderland looks at it in detail for babies.

I guess what we are missing from a science point of view is the pieces of how this relationship then develops as a child gets older. As parents though we know that it doesn't just stop that we are a part and parcel of our children's happiness, ability to face the rest of the world and have self-esteeem and confidence in themselves.

8:55 am, March 29, 2010  

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