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Rationale for Language Development Among Aboriginal Children with FASD: Instructional Approaches in a Two-generation Preschool


This artifact was my final paper for Educ 636, Language and Learning Disabilities. While it does not explicitly refer to particular theories in special education, I believe it is still a very good representation of my understanding and critical thinking around the application of theory in practice and the development of theory through research. This paper analyzes the benefits and limitations of a two-generation preschool designed to mitigate language learning delays and disabilities and the resulting lower academic achievement and lower life outcomes that are disproportionately experienced by Aboriginal learners from low income families. The interventions offered through this preschool seem to lean heavily on Maslow’s theory of human motivation and concept of the ‘hierarchy of needs’ as well as Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory. However, in this artifact, I point out that the success of the preschool may be limited by ethno-centric assumptions which exclude and may not apply to or even alienate people from Aboriginal cultural backgrounds, which is one of the same concerns and criticisms leveled at Maslow’s theory.


In his model of the hierarchy of needs in Theory of Human Motivation (1954), Maslow stated that physiological needs, then need for safety, then need for love and belonging, then need for self-esteem must be met before individuals can work on their need for self-actualization (which includes academic goals). In the CUPS One World preschool featured in this artifact, there is an attempt to meet the physiological needs of the learners and their families through the provision of food, healthcare, safe transportation, childcare, and access to affordable housing, legal services, counselling and recreation. There is also an attempt to meet the needs for love and belonging as well as self-esteem through providing a six-week educational program for caregivers on child development, positive parenting approaches and life skills in order to reduce caregiver stress and boost self-esteem and confidence. All of these services are offered alongside if not before the actual language development program offered to the preschoolers.


However, Maslow’s theory is criticized because while he claims this is a universal order of human needs, his ranking can be seen as ethno-centric, as these needs may be ranked differently by people in different cultures. Collectivist societies, such as First Nations communities here in Victoria, often place a higher priority or value on an individual’s ability to contribute to their community than their personal self-actualization, unless the latter is seen as constantly improving oneself so as to be able to offer greater service to others.  In addition, critics argue the prioritization of needs can change given the age of the individual in question as well as their context. For example, these needs may change for individuals living in a state of war. When confronted by physical attack, people may sacrifice their personal safety or physiological well-being in order to help those they love or achieve glory as a hero, which as forms of self-actualization or at the least, expression of the need to belong, run counter to Maslow’s understanding of human motivation.


In much the same way, this artifact is a demonstration of my understanding that this ethnocentric preschool may not have been quite as effective in improving language outcomes as it could have been if it was based more on Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological systems theory, which takes into account exclusion and discrimination experienced by the individual at the microsystem, mesosystem, exosystem and macrosystem level. While the preschool does recognize and try to mitigate some impacts of these spheres of influence on the individuals involved, they still haven’t recognized the more nuanced and therefor universal applicability of Ecological systems theory. If Bronfenbrenner had been a greater influence than Maslow, the organization running the preschool would have made sure to include Aboriginal community members on their board and staff and included culturally-appropriate food, curricula and learning materials in order to empower Aboriginal language learning and resiliency at every level.

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