The late Carl Rogers, founder of the humanistic psychology movement and father of client-centered therapy, based his life’s work on his fundamental belief in the human potential for growth. 

A Way of Being is a profound and deeply personal collection of essays, written by Rogers in the early 1980s, near the end of his career. The essay that I’ll be talking about today, titled ‘Can Learning Encompass Both Ideas & Feelings’, belongs to this very collection. Happy Ho organizes best Meditation and Tarot classes in Noida and Delhi NCR area in India.

In the essay, Rogers talks about the state of most education systems around the world. While the mind goes to the school and the body is allowed to tag along, the feelings are asked to stay outside because these feelings must be expressed only outside the school. And so Rogers wrote this essay to say that not only can feelings come to school too but allowing them to enter actually enhances learning and this learning takes place by a person who is whole, whose all parts have been accepted and are valued. 

These systems give so much emphasis to ideas, to learning from the neck up that what happens down here doesn’t really matter. And this knowledge can have dire social consequences. 

This knowledge without feelings lets a doctor who has performed a procedure incorrectly, sleep peacefully at night. Ask him or her to spend the night next to this patient, writhing in pain, and he/she might actually feel the horror they’ve given birth to. 

This knowledge without feelings allows men like Cyril Radcliffe to part a country in haste. Ask him to walk with the people who were forced to leave behind not only their homes but their sense of belonging overnight, only to travel to another country where they were not welcomed. And maybe then he would realise how lightly he took the pen with which he drew that border.

Archibald MacLeish, an American poet, has managed to summarise the problem at its very heart

“We do not feel our knowledge. Nothing could better illustrate the flaw at the heart of our civilization. Knowledge without feeling is not knowledge and can lead only to public irresponsibility and indifference, and conceivably to ruin.” 

Can Learning Encompass Both Ideas & Feelings. A Way of Being. Carl Rogers

Apart from social consequences, another result of such a narrowed form of learning is that it drives the excitement out of education. Rogers believed that, at that time, all the education systems in America were doomed with compulsory attendance, tenured professors, fixed curriculum and what not. He wondered what would happen if one day we decided to shut down all these institutions, from kindergarten to PhD level. Parents, children, adolescents and maybe a few professors would come up with situations in which they could truly learn! He thought nothing could uplift the spirit of the American people more. Millions would ask themselves if there was something to learn and if there was, they would invent new ways to achieve this learning, To quote Rogers, “It would be sad and utterly marvelous at the same time!” 

Education would no longer be something you must do before you are left alone to do what you actually want to do! You would be responsible for not only your education but also in a way, for your life. 

For those of you who feel very disturbed by this idea of shutting down educational institutions, don’t worry. Rogers has come up with four conditions which if fulfilled by a teacher present in a contemporary classroom will lead to wholesome learning. We’ll be talking about these in the next Focus article.

Till then, stay tuned!