My classroom is out there, by the lagoon. There is always so much to learn. When I look at the incomprehensible beauty of the scenery, I try to understand, not only with my intellect, but with my whole being. The blue mountains with snow caps, the sky with soft feathery clouds, the forests, the gardens, the lake, the fountain, the swans, seagulls, mallards, geese, pigeons, raccoons, and squirrels all seem to be teaching me something, so very beautiful, lively and grand, more than anything I have learned from books, from society.
The masses take pride in being practical and scorn imagination. They have no idea that their whole lives have been shaped by imagination, and they fall for it all the time. The imagination of Homer alone created the foundation of Western culture. The tale of Creation still reins the crowd. They believe in a future state. They go to churches to worship. They spend money on festivals, games, rituals, fluffy movies, and escapist fiction. Yet they mock “imagination”. They mock their innermost longing.
The masses drink coffee to stay stimulated, take drugs to be ecstatic or free from anxiety and depression, but refuse to do any serious work to improve their minds. Shortcuts are always preferred. The outer quality of life always outweighs the inner quality of life. You can boast about a trip to the tropics, and get plenty of oohs and aahs, but your friends won’t envy you if you have just read a thought-provoking book. That’s simply not cool, man. You’ve got to go out more. Travel rocks.
I want to find out what screwed up the lovely and lively children the majority of adults once were. What in society, in education, in employment replaced their beauty with ugliness, depleted their spirit, made them mean and coarse? If we can find these things, can we change them? Can each person develop from a lovely and lively baby to a lovely and lively adult? Why not? Is society anti-human by nature? Does growing up have to be the death of the spirit? Why?
We are really still in a primitive stage, despite all our technologies and sciences. Despite the complexity of all the derivatives, we are basically still animals living a life of feeding and breeding. Everything else is just decoration.
The human side of us is still far from developed. Most people do not live a life of the mind. Most people cannot appreciate the finest poetry and music. Most people work for pay, not passion. Their jobs often bring neither satisfaction nor growth. Many of them blind their conscience to be able to do their job. Many people do not have the urge to live life in an honorable way. Look at all the spammers, and even worse, scammers.
About 60 years ago, Carl Rogers, one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century, gave a presentation at a conference organized by Harvard University. The conference members were experienced, sophisticated teachers. He had been invited to give a talk on “Classroom Approaches to Influencing Human Behavior.”
Although he was allotted two hours, his presentation was short. It was simply a few points that expressed some of his deepest views on education. Inspired by Kierkegaard, whose honesty he had always admired, he wrote his points out as honestly as he could and presented them in his usual modest way. Then he opened the floor for discussion.
What happened afterwards was not what he had expected. He was besieged by a storm of emotions, with attacks coming from every quarter. His educator colleagues demanded he confirm that he did not mean what he said. Occasionally, there was a voice of agreement from a teacher who had not dared to utter such thoughts.
Many participants lost sleep that night. Although Rogers made no attempt to have his statement published, it was widely duplicated by members of the conference. A few years later, two journals obtained his permission to publish it.
So what was all the furor about? What did he say?
The main points are:
- Nothing significant can be taught.
- The only learning which significantly influences behavior is self-discovered, self-appropriated learning.
- Such self-discovered learning cannot be directly communicated to another.
- When teaching does happen, the results are detrimental. It seems to cause the individual to distrust his own experience, and to stifle significant learning.
Rogers affirmed that many consequences can be implied from these points. For instance, we would do away with
a) Teaching. People would get together if they wished to learn.
b) Examinations. They measure only the inconsequential type of learning.
c) Grades and credits.
d) Degrees as a measure of competence.
e) The exposition of conclusions, for we would realize that no one learns significantly from conclusions.
The complete list of points can be found in Personal Thoughts on Teaching and Learning (1952) , included in his book, On Becoming a Person (1961), which is very valuable reading.
This book also includes an illustrative example of his oddly effective “teaching” as experienced by a participant: Carl R. Rogers and Non-Directive Teaching, by Samuel Tenenbaum, Ph.D. The four-week course described by Tenenbaum took place in the summer of 1958 at Brandeis University. The students were a diverse group of teachers, doctoral candidates in psychology, counselors, psychologists, priests (one from a foreign country). Whoever wishes to “teach” effectively and whoever wishes to take control of his/her own learning should read Tenenbaum’s record. It is eye-opening that real learning can be accomplished in such an awkward way, while the teacher refuses to take on his traditional role and is willing to take blows.