I've been following the comments on Amy Julia Becker's latest Her.meneutics post with some interest. When the time came for my husband and I to make and act on a decision regarding the schooling of our eldest (a decision-making process that began long before said child was even conceived), I made a mental list of friends and acquaintances who were going to criticize our decision, no matter what choices we made. If we public school, these people will criticize; if we private school, those people will criticize; if we homeschool, still others will criticize. I didn't make the list in order to sway our decision one way or the other, simply to be ready for the inevitable backlash we would—did—face.
Reading the comments on Amy Julia's post, I'm saddened at some of the replies. Why is it that so many people, perhaps especially parents, feel the need to justify their own decisions by criticizing the decisions of others? At the risk of sounding like all I want is to hold hands and sing "Kumbaya," why can't we all decide to support each other, acknowledging that every family is different and that God has different plans for our lives? Imagine if we could spend half the time we currently invest in criticizing other Christian families asking, instead, how we might best support them in the choices they have made, as their brothers and sisters in Christ?
It's interesting that this conversation should take place at a time when psychologists are considering a shift to famed psychologist Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Long a fixture in the training of educators and workforce managers, Maslow's pyramid argues that humans' basic needs (food, water, air, sleep) must be met before they can begin to seek other, "higher" fulfillments. It makes sense: bereft of basic needs, people can't concentrate on bigger goals. I saw this pyramid again and again when in college, minoring in education, used to stress that a child who feels hungry, tired, and unsafe is really not going to care about learning algebra, and with good reason.
Now, though, a team of four researchers headed by Arizona State University social psychology professor Douglas T. Kenrick is challenging the top tier of Maslow's pyramid. They write in a paper recently published in Perspectives on Psychological Science that Maslow's ultimate goal, the pinnacle of human achievement, is not "self-actualization" or the accomplishment of such higher-order functions as creativity, problem-solving, and morality. It is—wait for it—parenting.
Kenrick isn't completely discounting motivations to do things like create art or engage in complicated problem-solving, formerly top-of-the-pyramid, "self-actualization" achievements. As Lisa Belkin writes, quoting Kenrick, in The New York Times:
If the only purpose of art, music and literature is self-fulfillment, how does that abet the survival of the species? After all, [Kenrick] argues, "the time you spend playing the guitar or creating poetry or contemplating the meaning of life could be otherwise spent finding food." Kenrick isn't saying the pursuit of art and such has no evolutionary purpose; he just sees it as subordinate to the main act. "Look at it this way," he says. "If you are a good poet or a good musician, there is a reproductive payoff: women are attracted to men with these abilities. What a man is saying when he is playing his guitar up there is 'look at my good genes.' "
I'm not ready to completely rethink my children's education on the basis of one study, but it is interesting to consider how a reshaping of Maslow's pyramid might affect those choices. If the ultimate goal of human existence is not art, creativity, or problem-solving, but rather the continuation of the species through parenting (which, I might add, involves quite a bit of art, creativity, and problem-solving), how might that impact the choices we make when it comes to how we educate our offspring?
Then again, the Westminster Catechism poses this same question of our highest attainment as created beings, and provides an answer:
Question: What is the chief and highest end of man?
Answer: Man's chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.