About Carl Rogers
Carl Rogers, Person-Centred Therapy and Me
Written by: Katalin Csizmazia
When I started teaching back in 1984, during my final year at university, I remember I was filled with thoughts about changing the world. I experimented with everything: learning material, the leaving behind of grades, cooperative methods not really known at the time only for it to be different somehow from what I had eperienced. I was alone, I did not really have anyone to share the experiences accumulating within myself with.
Then six years later, I was looking for a school for my child. This was the way I found one of the alternative ventures that were appearin, the pedagogical workshop of Rogers School. I was striken with awe by the work that was being done there. Is this also a way to do things? Exciting discussions about teaching, constant pondering, innovation every day – I was given a frame and peers to all the things I had done so far.
I trod on the road of getting acquainted with these ideas.
A learning enviroment with tolerance and without anxiety
One of the first things I realized became later part of the educational program of the school:
„According to Rogers, tiny groups of people can do the most to live together more peacefully, with a greater understanding of each other. When we learn to pay attention to the other person, then we come to understand his or her intentions and needs enabling us to tkae him/her into consideration when we seek to put across our own notions. For this to realize, a trustful and safe enviroment without anxiety is of greatest importance, in which the acquisition of knowledge and being together are not enforced buta re a source of joy.” (Educational Program of Rogers School)
I fell in love with it. Next summer I read everything that was available from the works of Rogers. Some in Hungarian, some in English. Thanks to Edge Publishing, these books are accessible today, but I used to read a copy of Freedom to Learn which was shedding pages.
I learned that elaboration and conceptualization of the person-centred approach originates from Carl Rogers, that it grew out from person-centred therapy, and in this way does not only signify a methodology but and theoretical system, but a style, a perspective, an approach. Instead of concrete instructions or advice, Rogers laid out those fundamental values which could bring about an environment that assists in learning. These are:
- unconditional positive regard of every person
- open communication
- trust in the other person
I understood that the emphasis should not be put on teaching/learning but ont he assistance in learning, i.e. facilitation, in technical terms: we have to create an inspiring environment. We are seeking an answer to the question, „in what ways, when and why a student learns and what does the learning experience look like from the outside or how does it feel from the inside”. We may only require children to express their emotions and thoughts, to participate int he process in a constructive way if I am also present in this way.
I welcomed it joyfully that Rogers does not interfere with the question of „what to teach.” We receive an essential and all-encompassing thought from him though: „everything and everyone can be a resource for learning.” The teacher is not the omniscient person handing down knowledge, he or she is one of the valuable, accessible sources, but a lot of the other sources are available as well: children, books, other adults, e.g. the parents. But what is the role of the teacher then? The answer slowly came to me: to accept the autonomy of the student, his/her world of thoughts and emotions, to believ that the other knows when to join in or not to join in, to try to understand and empathize deeply with the motives of the other person. To trust the power which enables every human being to choose waht is important and what is not, to solve problems and construct one’s place int he world. To convey trust and give faith:
„A személyközpontú megközelítés jelenlegi nevelési kultúránkban csak akkor létezhet, ha megvan egy bizonyos előfeltétel: egy vezető vagy olyan személy, akit tekintélynek fogadnak el az adott helyzetben, aki elég biztos magában és a többiekkel való kapcsolatában, megvan benne az alapvető bizalom, hogy a többiek képesek a saját fejükkel gondolkodni, maguktól tanulni.”
Three years later I accepted the challenge: to organize a panel of teachers which puts down the infrastructure of the upper primary school grades and of the future high school – at a school that started its fourth academic year at the time. A very rough, more than a decade long road led to the first graduating class in 2004. But it did come into being!
Until we got there, the most definite experience we had was that we were learning. We analyzed the ideas of Rogers in uncountable ways and forms. The ten principles of learning by Rogers always remained clearly visible to our sight, the jist of our professional work revolved around circuiting and defining these ideas:
Ten principles of learning by Rogers:
- Human beings have a natural potentiality for learning.
- Significant learning takes place when the subject matter is perceived by the student as having relevance for his own purposes
- Learning which involves a change in self organization—in the perception of oneself—is threatening and tends to be resisted.
- Those learnings which are threatening to the self are more easily perceived and assimilated when external threats are at a minimum.
- When threat to the self is low, experience can be perceived in differentiated fashion and learning can proceed
- Much significant learning is acquired through doing.
- Learning is facilitated when the student participates responsibly in the learning process.
- Self-initiated learning which involves the whole person of the learner—feelings as wells as intellect—is the most lasting and pervasive.
- Independence, creativity, and self-reliance are all facilitated when self-criticism and self-evaluation are basic and evaluation by others is of secondary importance.
- The most socially useful learning in the modern world is the learning of the process of learning, a continuing openness to experience and incorporation into oneself of the process of change.
We thought a lot about how self-evaluation could earn its proper place. How could we find out what is relevant to a student? How should we lay the groundwork for student initiatives? Our efforts have often failed beacuse of the incomprehension and resistance of the students. We have increasingly come to deal with creating an environment that in itself answers these questions. Even today, we are looking for answers to the everblooming questions with the same momentum. What should we do about the more and more restraining requirements from the outside world? How should we react to the attention-deterring effect of cell phones? What are students honestly interested in these days?
When we created Rogers Learning Academy “non-school” in 2012, these thoughts had determined our course of operation for many decades. The logic of Rogers is persuasive: our present world changes at an unprecedented pace. Only creativity may aid our adaptation to it. The requirement for creativity is free choice, opportunities for experimentation and self-reflection. I believe that providing a facilitative environment is the most we can do for our students today.
What this environment is exactly made of we are still searching for today. Of authentic, understanding adults. Quality human relationships. Successful, non-violent resolution of conflicts – valuable human models. Work that is meaningful to one’s deserts.
To enable students to make their own decisions in the greeatest number of possible fields, it is very important that the exterior pressure burdening the institution is the least as well. That is why we consider an independent mode of operation important, this way parents can supervise our institution directly. And we teachers agree to strive to put this intro practice in the most wholesome way possible. For this reason we constantly educate ourselves: Rogers method-specific training 5 X 1 day per year, organizational development trainig for 5 days annually, teacher panel every week and the continous study and analysis of the books of Rogers.
Today we know how difficult it is for high school students, after so many years of a distinct school routine behind them, to reset their mindset. We must represent our ideas with patience and perseverance so that they slowly come to believe: it is worth taking their destiny into their own hands. It is worth making decisions, trying, failinf and succeeding for all of this becomes personal experience. If they get to feel the taste of their freedom and responsibility once, they are never going to forget it.