Traditional and Person-Centred Education Compared

Traditional education

Rogers describes the major characteristics of “conventional education as we have known it for a long time in the United States”:
  1. The teachers are the possessors of knowledge, the students the expected recipients.
  2. The lecture, or some means of verbal instruction, is the major means of getting knowledge into the recipients. The examination measures the extent to which the students have received it. 
  3. The teachers are the possessors of power, the students the ones who obey (Rogers adds that Administrators are also possessors of power, and both teachers and students are the ones who obey – and that control is always exercised downward).
  4. Rule by authority is the accepted policy in the classroom – the authority-figure – the instructor – is very much the central figure in education.
  5. Trust is at a minimum – the teacher does not trust the students to work well without supervision and constant checking, students distrust the teacher’s motives, honesty, fairness, competence. 
  6. Students are best governed by being kept in a state of fear – not any more physical punishment, perhaps, but fear of being seen as ‘not good enough’ and a constant fear of failure.
  7. Democracy and its values are ignored and scorned in practice – Goals, curricula, manner of working, all are chosen for students, so that “while being taught that freedom and responsibility are the glorious features of ‘our democracy’, the students are experiencing themselves as powerless, as having little freedom, and as having almost no opportunity to exercise choice or carry responsibility.”  
  8. There is no place for whole persons in the educational system, only for their intellects. 

Person-centred education

This is sharply different in its philosophy, its methods and its politics. Given our inherited educational system, it can only exist if one precondition is satisfied: 
A leader or a person who is perceived as an authority figure in the situation is sufficiently secure within herself and in her relationship to others that she experiences an essential trust in the capacity of others to think for themselves, to learn for themselves.
Essentially, she regards human beings as trustworthy organisms. If this precondition exists, then the following aspects become possible, and tend to be implemented: 
  1. The facilitative teacher shares with the others - students and possibly also parents or community members - the responsibility for the learning process. 
  2. The facilitator provides learning resources, from within herself and her own experience, from books or materials or community experiences. 
  3. The student develops her own program of learning, alone or in cooperation with others. 
  4. A facilitative learning climate is provided.
  5. The focus is primarily on fostering the continuous process of learning.
  6. The discipline necessary to reach the student's goal is a self-discipline. 
  7. The evaluation of the extent and significance of the student's learning is made primarily by the learner. 
  8. In this growth-promoting climate, the learning tends to be deeper, proceeds at a more rapid rate, and is more pervasive in the life and behavior of the student than is learning acquired in the traditional classroom. 
from Freedom to Learn "Section III: For the Teacher (part five) – The politics of education"
(Rogers, C. R. (1983). Freedom to learn for the 80's. Ohio, US: Merrill Publishing)