The Homeostatic Classroom: A New Framework for Creating an Optimal Learning Environment

The Homeostatic Classroom: A New Framework for Creating an Optimal Learning Environment

John M. Montgomery (New York University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9953-3.ch004
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Abstract

This chapter will propose a new theoretical and practical framework that can be utilized in any type of classroom, including multicultural classrooms, and that creates an optimal learning environment while also being highly protective against potentially traumatic experiences for both students and teachers. The chapter will also introduce the “choose love” tool, which can be used in any classroom to connect the students and the teacher to the “homeostatic drive” – a global force or drive within each of us that is biologically and evolutionarily designed to keep us in states of homeostasis, or equilibrium, at all levels, and that is, the chapter will argue, the force of all love and self-love, including all “love” of learning.
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Introduction

The classroom is both an opportunity for deep, enriching, connecting experiences, and also an environment filled with risks for potentially traumatic, disconnecting experiences that can be highly detrimental to students, teachers, and to the classroom environment as a whole. In multicultural classrooms, where differences in social and cultural norms will inevitably strain effective and healthy communication among students and between students and teachers, students belonging to the racial, cultural, or ethnic minority are likely to be particularly prone to damaging experiences such as feeling consistently insulted, slighted, or excluded. Chronic triggering of these painful emotions is likely to be a significant risk factor for developing destructive thought and behavior patterns that can have highly detrimental effects on learning and on a student’s overall school experience and well-being (Hermans et al., 2011).

This chapter will propose a new theoretical and practical framework that can be utilized in any type of classroom, including multicultural classrooms, and that actively promotes connection and well-being in students while also being highly protective against potentially traumatic experiences for both students and teachers. The basis for this framework is the proposal that there are two opposing forces, or overall “drives,” that operate within all people living in modern cultures (Montgomery & Ritchey, 2008). The first is a global “homeostatic drive” that is biologically designed – in humans as in all animals – to keep each person in a state of physical and psychological “homeostasis,” or equilibrium, whenever possible, and to bring people back into equilibrium or homeostasis whenever they become stressed or out of balance.

The second force or drive in modern life, including in nearly all classrooms, is the maladaptive, dysfunctional “non-homeostatic” or “addictive” drive, which has been suggested to arise under circumstances of “evolutionary mismatch” (Montgomery & Ritchey, 2010) – that is, within environments, such as modern cities, that human beings are not well-equipped for biologically and evolutionarily, and that are therefore considered to be “mismatched” environments (Lieberman, 2013). The modern classroom, and particularly any multicultural classroom, presents a number of evolutionary mismatches that, if not specifically attended to, can be a source of significant traumas and difficulties for both students and teachers. The addictive drive that frequently arises as a consequence of evolutionary mismatch effects has been proposed to throw people inappropriately and dysfunctionally out of equilibrium or homeostasis, into unnecessary states of pain or emotional distress (Montgomery, 2012). Studies have suggested that stress hormones, such as cortisol and β-endorphin, that are released by states of non-homeostasis, have many of the same effects in the brain as addictive drugs such as cocaine or methamphetamine (Lekners & Tracey, 2008; Montgomery & Ritchey, 2008). Montgomery and Ritchey (2008) have proposed that the addictive drive develops because thought and behavior patterns that generate painful, distressing states of non-homeostasis can become reinforced in the brain due to the unconsciously rewarding or reinforcing effects of various neurochemicals, such as dopamine and β-endorphin, that are released or triggered by a stress response.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Non-Homeostasis: A state of biochemical and emotional disequilibrium in higher animals that involves the activation of the stress response and the release of stress hormones

Choose Love: A tool or practical technique that reinforces the continual choice we have to choose love, particularly self-love, or addiction. The “choose love” tool is proposed to connect people to their homeostatic drives when implemented in the context of the framework presented in this chapter

Homeostatic Drive: A global drive within all living things that seeks to achieve and maintain homeostasis, or equilibrium, at all levels

Addictive Drive: As defined in this chapter, a drive that can develop within animals living in evolutionarily mismatched environments that creates unnecessary, maladaptive states of non-homeostasis

Addiction (or Addictive Pattern): As defined in this chapter, a specific repetitive, maladaptive pattern that leads a person into a dysfunctional, unnecessary non-homeostatic state

Evolutionary Mismatch: Occurs when an environment, such as a modern city, does not match the environment in which an animal or organism is evolutionarily and biologically designed to inhabit

ß-endorphin: An endogenous opioid, closely related chemically to opiates such as opium and morphine, that is known to be released as part of the normal stress response and that studies suggest is the primary “pleasure” chemical in the brain

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