Sunday, November 14, 2010

Carl Rogers on Teaching and Learning

The following excerpt from an essay by Carl Rogers (the noted humanistic psychologist) struck a very deep chord within me when I first encountered it just a few years ago. It has changed the way I approach teaching. I often share this article with students in my classes.

I wonder how many classroom teachers would come to this point in their thinking if they reflected deeply on their own experiences of learning.

Personal Thoughts on Teaching and Learning (1952)

I wish to present some very brief remarks, in the hope that if they bring forth any reaction from you, I may get some new light on my own ideas.

a) My experience is that I cannot teach another person how to teach. To attempt it is for me, in the long run, futile.

b) It seems to me that anything that can be taught to another is relatively inconsequential and has little or no significant influence on behavior.

c) I realize increasingly that I am only interested in learnings which significantly influence behavior.

d) I have come to feel that the only learning which significantly influence behavior is self-discovered, self-appropriated learning.

e) Such self-discovered learning, truth that has been personally appropriated and assimilated in experience, cannot be directly communicated to another.

f) As a consequence of the above, I realize that I have lost interest in being a teacher.

g) When I try to teach, as I do sometimes, I am appalled by the results, which seems a little more than inconsequential, because sometimes the teaching appears to succeed. When this happens I find that the results are damaging. It seems to cause the individual to distrust his own experience, and to stifle significant learning. Hence, I have come to feel that the outcomes of teaching are either unimportant or hurtful.

h) When I look back at the results of my past teaching, the real results seem the same - either damage was done - or nothing significant occurred. This is frankly troubling.

i) As a consequence, I realize that I am only interested in being a learner, preferably learning things that matter, that have some significant influence on my own behavior.

j) I find it very rewarding to learn, in groups, in relationships with one person as in therapy, or by myself.

k) I find that one of the best, but most difficult, ways for me to learn is to drop my own defensiveness, at least temporarily, and to try to understand the way in which his experience seems and feels to the other person.

l) I find that another way of learning for me is to state my own uncertainties, to try to clarify my puzzlements, and thus get closer to the meaning that my experience actually seems to have.

m) This whole train of experiencing, and the meanings that I have thus far discovered in it, seem to have launched me on a process which is both fascinating and at times a little frightening. It seems to mean letting my experiences carry me on, in a direction which appears to be forward, toward goals that I can but dimly define, as I try to understand at least the current meaning of that experience. The sensation is that of floating with a complex stream of experience, with the fascinating possibility of trying to comprehend its ever-changing complexity.

I am almost afraid I may seem to have gotten away from any discussion of learning, as well as teaching. Let me again introduce a practical note by saying that by themselves these interpretations of my experience may sound queer and aberrant, but not particularly shocking. It is when I realize the implications that I shudder a bit at the distance I have come from the commonsense world that everyone knows is right. I can best illustrate this by saying that if the experiences of others had been the same as mine, and if 1 had discovered similar meanings in it, many consequences would be implied:
a.) Such experience would imply that we would do away with teaching. People would get together if they wished to learn.

b.) We would do away with examinations. They measure the inconsequential type of learning.

c.) We would do away with grades and credits for the same reason.

d.) We would do away with degrees as a measure of competence partly for the same reason. Another reason is that a degree marks an end or a conclusion of something, and a learner is only interested in the continuing process of learning.

e.) We would do away with the exposition of conclusions, for we would realize that no one learns significantly from conclusions.

I think I had better to stop here. I do not want to become too fantastic. I want to know primarily whether anything in my inward thinking, as I have tried to describe it, speaks to anything in your experience of the classroom as you have lived it, and if so, what the meanings are that exist for you in your experience.

No comments: