Updated: Apr 3
WHAT IS ‘MASLOW BEFORE BLOOM’?
The phrase Maslow before Bloom is popular in education circles. It is typically used to communicate how humans need their basic needs met before academic learning can be fully embraced. With students now experiencing school-at-home during this COVID-19 epidemic, we all may gain some insight from this phrase Maslow before Bloom.
WHAT ARE THE IDEAS BEHIND MASLOW AND BLOOM?
The phrase Maslow before Bloom refers to two 20th century American psychologists, Abraham Maslow and Benjamin Bloom. If you’re familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Bloom’s Taxonomy, feel free to breeze through this section but do consider refreshing your memory a bit.
Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) is known for his "Hierarchy of Needs" which frames five tiers of human needs. These tiers include Physiological, Safety, Belonging, Esteem, and finally Self-actualization. Maslow's final work was never published and includes one additional tier he referred to as the tier of Self-transcendence, but this tier is typically excluded because it is seen as an unfinished concept by Maslow.
Benjamin Bloom was another 20th century American psychologist (1913-1999) who is known for his Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, tiers of verbs that organize higher- and lower- levels of cognitive skills for learning. These verbs are organized into Cognitive tiers labeled knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. There is also another less popular Bloom taxonomy, Affective tiers, described later in this article.
Maslow’s two lowest tiers physiological and safety needs involve our most basic needs such as food, water, shelter, as well as security to relax socially and financially. These levels extend to things like sleep, clean air, exercise, clothing, warmth, and other physical or bodily needs. For those families struggling to afford these basic necessities or without a space to relax without fear of physical or mental stress, children may find this tier keeping them from Bloom’ing at school. Families that struggle to meet these needs for their children each day often have little energy to address the higher tiers in positive ways.
The next two tiers have to do with belonging (love) and esteem needs. These two tiers are together because, as Maslow himself is quoted as saying, for some, “self-esteem seems to be more important than love” and is “the most common reversal in the hierarchy”; this occurs when individuals see that esteem is rewarded with belonging and so they approach esteem as a means-to-an-end rather than for self-esteem itself. For families that provide basic needs and securities for their children, these next two tiers are often the focus of their concerns at school and in the community. What is interesting is that struggling communities and families, too, focus on these tiers - but for a variety of different reasons. This is addressed in the next section.
The last tier is one that presumes all other tiers are positively being met, self-actualization. This tier is a tricky one because it addresses the fact that humans, upon finding themselves in a place of comfort and satisfaction, will find new discontent and restlessness for which they must then reach some degree of satisfaction. This constant search for personal and professional growth, dependent on all other tiers being met, is encompassed in Maslow’s words, “what a man can be, a man must be”. It’s this phrase that best describes the idea behind Maslow’s tier of self-actualization.
As for Bloom’s Taxonomy, there’s a reason why the phrase Maslow before Bloom is so important. How a person develops through Maslow’s hierarchy directly impacts their capacity and attention toward learning, both academic and social-emotional learning. What Bloom’s taxonomy provides is more than a list of verbs used in a school. It identifies three categories of learning that rounds out all of human learning in any context: Knowledge (cognitive), Attitude (feelings), and Skills (psychomotor).
The cognitive stages of Bloom’s taxonomy are the most popular. The taxonomy has been revised since their original publishing in 1956, but I prefer the original version. What’s important is that a person must not be required to move specifically through each stage; more complex stages may require basic knowledge to be first learned. For example, the highest level of the original taxonomy is labeled evaluation, to explain or justify the value of ideas or materials. This is far different than the lowest level of the taxonomy labeled knowledge, to recite or list information.
The affective stages of Bloom’s taxonomy are much less popular. First is receiving phenomena, an awareness or willingness to hear new information. Next is responding to phenomena, a motivation to respond with understanding. Third is valuing, seen in the visible actions due to the belief in presented information. This is followed by organization, which involves prioritization and balancing of values. Lastly is internalizing values, exercising beliefs across different contextual situations. These stages are explained by Bloom et al to be codependent with the cognitive stages such that knowledge and complex thinking is as necessary as a person’s capacity for valuing and organizing their beliefs toward their own cognitive and affective development (Bloom, 33).
WHAT IS THE CONNECTION BETWEEN 'MASLOW BEFORE BLOOM' AND COVID-19?
Schools have closed their doors because of this global epidemic and the students and families who once relied on schools for some of Maslow’s lowest tier needs are now needing to find other solutions. That’s where some insight may be found in connecting Maslow before Bloom with COVID-19.
With families and students now experiencing school-at-home, it is not only teachers that are seeing how important it is for students to Maslow before being expected to Bloom. Academic success for any person is wide-ranging simply based on Bloom’s cognitive and affective development. Yet, this range of academic success is skewed when the wide-ranging development of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs comes into play. Prior to this school-at-home situation, families struggling with lower-tier needs could rely on schools to assist their children in addressing Maslow before Bloom. This is no longer the case and communities are now having to manage the impact stress is having on student academic learning.
Even before COVID-19, with the support schools have been providing, students were still coming from these same communities with stress. You have likely known, or are now beginning to know, how Maslow before Bloom impacts students in and out of schools. This will need to also be accepted as a focus for insight into a community's well-being, and the impact it has on academic success in a school-at-home learning environment - it’s not just our students needing to Maslow. Adults, too, are struggling to secure their own basic needs such as paying rent, going to the grocery store, and socializing during this global health crisis. Family and community well-being is now being tested as a predictor of student academic success. Maslow before Bloom supports the idea that all people, not just students, should be provided the appropriate safety nets similar to what schools have been trying to provide their students for decades out of need.
In fact, it is interesting to note that Peggy Carr from the National Center for Education Statistics in a recent interview is quoted as saying:
"Compared to a decade ago, we see that lower-achieving students made score declines in all of the assessments, while higher-performing students made score gains."
The average of this statistical observation could be seen as a virtual plateau of all state test scores averaged over time. However, if we account for which students from which communities are increasing and decreasing, we may have the insight necessary to put the phrase Maslow before Bloom to work in those communities most in need as much as we have already put that phrase to work in schools.
GREAT! SO HOW DO WE ‘MASLOW BEFORE BLOOM’?
The best way to help students to Maslow before Bloom is by first recognizing the importance of creating the environment that supports the idea in the first place. Resources given to a person who is placed in an environment without accepted support for using them will likely result in the misuse or neglect of those resources. As adults, we must address the fact that we have likely not been taught to use such resources related to Self-Regulation and Conflict Resolution. What we did learn, we did so largely on our own through experiences limited to our own environment growing up with select family members, teachers, or coaches who happened to introduce a variety of different ideas.
We can begin by addressing aspects of an environment that supports the capacity to Maslow before we address the capacity to Bloom.
The first tiers, physiological and safety needs, will largely depend on factors outside of an individual’s control such as opportunities for employment and training as well as the impact by others who may also be struggling with needs at this tier. For those with little food, shared shelter, and low economic security, stress and conflict will likely arise more often than for those without these concerns. This is where Self-Regulation and Conflict Resolution can provide insight as larger factors are addressed. When we want our home to be free of stress and conflict but find ourselves absorbed in situations we cannot control, stress and conflict appear seemingly against our will. Learning about the three basic functions of the brain can help to develop coping strategies for strong emotions but, like any resource, support and understanding of those strategies will need to be valued by others in your environment. This is where coaching our children by modeling these strategies ourselves becomes a primary focus. When strong emotions like fear, anger, and sadness create stress and conflict, identifying those emotions, describing their impact on others, and exercising specific coping strategies become important exercises for self-regulation. When strong emotions become unruly or unregulated, awareness of the impact these emotions have on our decision-making process can help us focus on specific conflict resolution strategies. These are only two aspects that contribute to an environment for which people can control while addressing those factors that may be outside of their control. Be sure to do what you can to separate the problem from the people involved and make every attempt to balance short- and long-term solutions as often as you can. (Factors out of our control are discussed in the next section.)
As for the upper belonging (love) and esteem tiers, it is important to know that identifying knowledge as a strength and knowing how knowledge can result in addressing dangers and concerns will help you and your family and friends open up and share important information with each other (e.g. I understand what thunder is and that it will not hurt me so I will not be afraid). This matters when you reach out to others who know to share with you their fears and concerns so that, as a community, researching and sharing coping strategies and potential solutions can strengthen your collective knowledge.
These upper tiers also benefit from learning to celebrate what we have with those in our lives. This can alleviate some stress about things we might not yet have. Another benefit comes from sharing with others how you feel safe with someone or that you value a relationship. Using this language not only models for children how to use these ideas but can also help alleviate stress throughout a community. Do what you can to ward off learned reactions of others who may be struggling to develop positively through these tiers.
Particularly during this time of school-at-home, be sure to prioritize the Maslow before Bloom idea so that families across your community are pulling together to create this foundation of Maslow before letting the stress of Bloom take over and damage what is most important to you in your lives. Without family and friendship, we will be unable to Maslow and find it more difficult to Bloom.
WHAT IF I DON’T HAVE THE TIME OR ENERGY TO ‘MASLOW BEFORE BLOOM’?
There are many families and communities that simply do not have the time or energy to focus on developing strategies for self-regulation and conflict resolution. As mentioned above, there are likely factors outside of our individual control responsible for the lack of time and energy to Maslow before Bloom. It is important to recognize that the factors outside of our individual control are actually in control of our collective voice. It is easy to focus on an idea like pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and and forget that one of our country’s mottos is e pluribus unum, latin for “out of many, one”. It is important we remind our elected officials that it is in the benefit of all who participate in our country’s political, social, economic, and education systems that we are afforded bootstraps, so we might choose to pull them well beyond the lower and higher tiers of Maslow and Bloom, and be able to provide others their own bootstraps.
Right now, there are schools across the country who are providing those lowest tiers to their communities. School lunches seems like it has always been a reasonable expectation but more schools have had to adopt breakfast services and afterschool food services as well. It's hard to believe but even in my own experience in public and charter schools, students will strategically collect extra school food to have enough to eat when they get home. In fact, the USDA has its own School Breakfast Program to promote healthy eating in schools, but school services addressing these lower tiers of Maslow's Hierarchy are only the beginning. In March of 2019, The New York Times highlighted how "schools in Kentucky, Missouri, New Jersey, Colorado and elsewhere across the country, especially those serving low-income populations" are providing washing machines, laundry service, and lessons on laundry practices to students. Even providing the clothes has become a school function for many schools. In Portland, Oregon, parent-teacher associations (PTAs) have provide a Clothing Center "to furnish age-appropriate clothing... allowing them to dress as their peers... encouraging positive self-esteem, academic success and regular class attendance."
If we believe Maslow before Bloom can improve our global education ranking, communities must start recognizing their role in convincing local governments to pressure county and state representatives to begin providing the safety nets for communities who have found themselves struggling to Maslow before Bloom. Else we continue ranking schools based on their capacity to Bloom while communities continue to spend time fundraising in order to Maslow. Learn more about your community’s local and state officials here and find out how your leaders are supporting schools and their surrounding communities to effectively Maslow before Bloom.
April 2nd, 2020
Exploring the Core LLC
Fore more information on Maslow and Bloom:
(1) Abraham Maslow, A theory of human motivation, originally published in the Psychological Review, 50(4), 370-96, 1943,
(2) Benjamin Bloom (et al), Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: The Classification of Educational Goals, originally published by David McKay Company, Inc., 1956.