Freedom to Learn Section I: Difficulties and Opportunities (part two)

(This section follows on from the first part)

1.   As a Teacher, Can I be Myself?

1.1         Can we be human in the classroom?

A teacher friend of Rogers’ said “of course not!” – the reasons following…

1.1.1     The Usual Class

It is risky – better to play safe, keep a distance. She has been conditioned to think of herself as “the expert, the information giver, the keeper of order, the evaluator of products, the examination giver, the one who, at the end, formulates that goal of all ‘education’, the grade.She firmly believes she would be destroyed if she let herself emerge as the human being she really is” - the consequences of ‘letting her mask slip’. And students also have their façade to maintain, too, a similarly protective way of being that will help them simply pass the course – and not risk being themselves, showing their true feelings. In such an ‘educational’ atmosphere, students become passive, apathetic, bored. Teachers become case-hardened stereotypes, and eventually burn out.
Rogers asks “Is this angry dissatisfaction necessary? Could a classroom be a place of exciting, meaningful learning … a place where mutual learning takes place?” This is why he wrote this book…

1.1.2     My Own Learnings

Beginning as a psychological counsellor working with students, Rogers learnt, slowly, from his own experience, that giving advice and explaining facts did not help. He learnt that if he trusted them as essentially competent human beings, was truly himself with them, and tried to understand them as they felt and perceived themselves from the inside, then a constructive process was initiated. Rogers found that his “classrooms became more exciting places of learning, as (he) ceased to be a teacher.”
Rogers believed that he passed some sort of ‘crucial divide’ when he was able to begin a course with a statement something like:
This course has the title ‘Personality Theory’ (or whatever). But what we do with this course is up to us. We can build it around the goals we want to achieve, within that very general area. We can conduct it the way we want to.   
This kind of statement said in effect, “We are free to learn what we wish, as we wish.” It made the whole climate of the classroom completely different. This was the point at which Rogers changed from being a teacher and evaluator to being a facilitator of learning.
However, this level of freedom in the classroom didn’t suit all persons, all students, so, with more experience of setting the climate in this way, Rogers learnt that “freedom seems less frustrating and anxiety-laden when it is presented in somewhat conventional sounding terms as a series of ‘requirements’.

1.2         Requirements

There is a lot of explanatory detail, but in brief the main requirements are:
1. Submit a list of readings you have done for the course, along with an indication of the way you have read the book;
2. Write a paper about your own most significant personal values and how they may or may not have changed as a result of the course;
3. Submit your own evaluation of your work and an appropriate grade;
4. Your personal reaction to the course as a whole.
The idea behind these requirements is to offer freedom within an apparently conventional framework (that the institution will inevitably require).

1.2.1     A New Type of Classroom

These are not prescriptive – everybody has to find their own way, but the examples here show how it is possible and desirable to develop a climate of free and creative learning in the classroom. “If students and instructor discuss the issue openly, ways might be found in which all could be whole human beings in the classroom.”

1.2.2     An illustration of Classroom Changes

This section is an account of a letter Rogers received from a high school student telling of dramatic – and extremely positive and most welcome - changes in his maths teacher. The nub of the tale is that the teacher had been exposed to Rogers’ ideas of genuineness, empathic understanding and loving acceptance of persons as productive of both learning and personal growth. Not only that, but the teacher took a risk and metaphorically crossed a bridge towards a troubled student, fully empathising with him and herself experiencing change in the process. As she says, “I could no longer tolerate the walled-in teacher that I had been. I had to change my teaching  because I had to be true to myself. Teaching in the traditional way hurt me.”
Rogers acknowledges the suddenness of this change, that it is unusual. However, the change itself, whether sudden or gradual over time, is overwhelmingly welcomed by students: “To find a teacher who is human, to be treated as a human being in a class is not only a very precious experience, but one that stimulates the learning of facts, as well as self-understanding and improved communication with one’s fellows.”

1.3         How Can I Become Real?

Rogers approaches the question of ‘being real’ or ‘being one’s real self’ from a number of angles, the foundation of which are eternal questions asked by both young and old:
·         Who am I, really?
·         Can I ever discover or get in touch with my real self?
·         Will I ever feel any assurance or stability in myself?”

1.3.1     The Search for Identity – a Modern Problem

Our age has abandoned fixed role identities, leaving us to engage in a struggle to discover our identity, the person we are, and choose to be.

1.3.2     Pathways to Self

There are a number of ways in which individuals pursue this goal of becoming themselves.        One Pathway – Psychotherapy

Success depends heavily on the person and the attitudes of the therapist – there are three attitudes or ways of being, that are important: realness or genuineness, non-judgemental caring, listening and understanding empathically.        The Intensive Group – Another Pathway

This could be encounter group, T-group, human relations group, sensitivity group, or in this context, those held in connection with university courses. When facilitated by an experienced person, holding the attitudes in above, the outcomes are very meaningful for most participants (although not all), helping to make progress in discovering who they are underneath the usual façade.

1.3.3     The Lifetime Task of Self-Discovery

This process of self-discovery and self-acceptance, the search to become the person we most uniquely are, is a lifetime process.

1.3.4     Becoming Real

Finding one’s real self is a process, a direction, not some static achievement – and nobody is ever completely successful in finding all her real and ever-changing self.
There are certain characteristics of the process:
1.    Persons move away from hiding behind facades and pretences and move toward a greater closeness to, and awareness of, what they are inwardly experiencing.
2.    They find this experiencing to be exceedingly complex and varied and yet move toward accepting these experiencings as something they can own.
3.    The more they own, accept, and are unafraid of their inner reactions, the more they can sense the meanings they have for them.
4.    The more this inner richness belongs to them, the more they can be their experiences.  Thus they are closer to finding and being all of themselves in the moment.

1.3.5     The Excitement of Self-Discovery

Rogers recounts a short passage from a teacher who was taking his first steps in finding and being himself, expressing feelings of inner excitement and writing for himself, for his sense of his ‘me’ – something he would not have even considered in the past, never mind had the courage to do.

1.3.6     The Challenge

The Challenge in this section is to reflect on the rest of the chapter and realise it is a glimpse of what is beyond – a door to being fully alive in the classroom and in yourself. The challenge is to open or not to open that door…