In this chapter, Rogers presents the experience of five very diverse individuals (a science teacher, a department chairman, a mathematician, a teacher of teachers and a counsellor) in order to show that person-centred education is not about “a method or a technique”, but instead…
A person-centered way of being in an educational situation is something that one grows into. It is a set of values, not easy to achieve, placing emphasis on the dignity of the individual, the importance of personal choice, the significance of responsibility, the joy of creativity. It is a philosophy, built on a foundation of the democratic way, empowering each individual.
In each of the five sections, the facilitators of freedom present their experience, after which Rogers comments on each, drawing out what he sees as the main points in developing a person-centred approach to learning.
1. Courage, integrity and one mistake
A science teacher’s bold effort at creating freedom in his classroom is marred by one mistake. The lecturer in Environmental Science at an English university prepared an innovative course for his students using ingenious research methods. He relates his preparation, the experience of the course and his feelings about the experience.
The ‘one mistake’ was, at various points, to give the course over to the students in its entirety – a very radical and democratic impulse, but one which left him without a voice in the shaping of the course. As Rogers says, the facilitator trusted his students but failed to trust himself to be a trusted member of the group, that he “lost the opportunity to be a co-participant … a co-learner.”
2. Geology goes radically democratic
A department chairman who believes in the democratic process and goes the limit in empowering both students and faculty. The academic department of geology and the earth sciences at St. Lawrence University agreed to implement a plan for “focusing on its people rather than any narrow construct called a discipline”. The plan involved the following elements:
1. Universal independent project work
2. Student self-evaluation
3. Portfolios instead of exams
4. Student and faculty governance of the department
5. Freedom for students to define what they wanted to study, when, for how long, and with whom.
6. Shared responsibility to create “a rich and stimulating learning environment for the benefit of all”.
7. Department open to all in the university.
8. Agreement by all not to use power or control over people.
9. Open communication, friendship, mutual support and close interpersonal relationships would be sought.
10. Everybody is a teacher and a learner.
11. Flat administrative structure with a rotating chairman.
12. The department would evolve from narrowly ‘preprofessional’ to a more liberal department.
Rogers calls this experiment ‘daringly democratic’ and asks “Why is it that we so much prefer to teach democracy than to practice it?” One big issue was around grading – in particular, satisfying the grading needs of the institution. A compromise was reached. The other main issue was that some instructors felt uncomfortable with the lack of structure – so a dual structure was run, with 60% of students in project groups and the rest in more traditional courses. Even this is a positive, in that nobody is forced to be free – “it is even democratic enough to permit divergence from innovation.”
3. Creative knowledge – born of love and trust
A mathematician who learns what constitutes a nurturing environment for creative thinking. The maths teacher describes his experiment in creating a human, person-centred learning experience and describes a multidisciplinary seminar which is remarkable for the questions examined, the energy in the room that meant the seminars ran significantly over time on every occasion and the number of visitors wishing to observe. The seminar was satisfying in a very deep way, treasured, and this was attributed in a moment of insight to ‘Love and Trust’.
Rogers: “For a mathematician to be striving toward the establishment of love and trust as the basic elements in his classroom is so ‘far out’ as to be almost unbelievable. Yet a human climate fosters learning in mathematics, in philosophical issues … in ‘hard’ sciences, as well as in psychology and the humanities.”
The mathematician: “Society as a whole, education as a whole, has not dared to trust, and certainly not dared to love. Yet the teacher who is bold enough to include these ingredients is opening a gate to creative learning for both student and instructor.”
4. Fantasy in teacher training
A teacher of teachers who employs affective, open education (including the use of contracts) uses childhood memories as a way of changing teacher attitudes. She always begins by exploring 'traditional' education and how it prevents learning, creates an unpleasant atmosphere of fear and resentment and stifles motivation and curiosity. Then the teachers explore what does work by asking questions such as 'what does enhance learning?', 'what promotes curiosity?' and so on. The fantasy activity involves imaginatively taking the teachers back to their own experience of traditional education and what it was like for them. Small groups then build up a shared diagram of those experiences, of what their classroom was like. The teachers then experience the affective, open education for the rest of their course - leaving open the conundrum for them of 'what now?' when they return to their traditional classroom settings.
Rogers points out that these teachers remembered everything to do with their negative emotions and NONE of the content of their formative education. This is incredible - the content is what they are supposed to be there for. This is troubling.
5. Freedom part-time and its consequences
A counsellor in a conventional school who cultivates a limited garden plot of freedom, the fruits of which are highly nutritious and long-lasting. She created an (8 year) experiment to create a climate in which "the creative urge to growth and the excitement of learning would be nurtured". The main tools were the flexible and interactive 'living textbook' and a film series called 'Being and Becoming', which presented self-actualising men and women at work and at play. "Teachers learned that students ... accomplished more without the goad of grades, and that discipline problems diminished, much to their surprise." The program left a lasting impact on participants. The next sections are the account of a student-participant.
Looking back: shock and confusion
It took a while to adjust to this 'carnival funhouse' of non-directive education but she soon found that she "began to gain a sense of independence and enthusiasm and self-respect"
Looking back: learning and self-discovery
Then, one of the resources triggered a specific interest, which she was free to follow: "As I stopped doing things for someone else I began to realise what I was interested in; what I wanted to learn..."
Looking back: freedom vs rigidity
This new experience sharply contrasted with the other traditional classes as life compares to death.
The present impact
She has taken her learnings from this experience into her teaching work with emotionally disturbed children, helping to make their learning experience meaningful and personal.
Rogers points out that this radically free learning environment within a conventional school would not have worked but for the support of the principal. He concludes that "an experience of freedom to learn, even if only for a few hours a week, can have a positive influence which lasts for many years."
6. Concluding remark
"I trust that the point has been made that any facet of education is drastically altered when the person responsible for it holds a humanistic, person-centred view. Revolutions - major or minor - occur."