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'Rules' for teaching and learning; Carl Rodgers

Alexander Technique in Glasgow

Teaching and learning, although often conflated, are very different things. A whole lot of one can happen without any of the other. The psychologist Carl Rodgers clearly understood the difference.

What's more, he saw how learning in the absence of teaching had the greatest effect on the individual.

This led him to question his own role in the learning process. Other blogs in this series incidentally show how the person's communication style reflects their vocation; the artist is passionate; the mathematician is exact; the sportsman is laconic.

So it's no surprise that the advocate of the "talking therapy" is verbose.

I have not edited his words because what shines through them is his own honesty and self-acceptance. And his humility; these were his experiences from the classroom and from therapy. He did not extrapolate them into a guide to what others should do or be.

His own experience had also taught him the usefulness of being open, so these reflections were not a set of private admissions but were declared at a Harvard conference in 1952 (the year always surprises me as his perspective seems so modern).

a. ...My experience has been 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. That sounds so ridiculous I can't help but question it at the same time that I present it.

c. I realize increasingly that I am only interested in learnings which significantly influence behavior. Quite possibly this is simply a personal idiosyncrasy.

d. I have come to feel that the only learning which significantly influences 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. As soon as an individual tries to communicate such experience directly, often with a quite natural enthusiasm, it becomes teaching, and its results are inconsequential. It was some relief recently to discover that Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, had found this too, in his own experience, and stated it very clearly a century ago. It made it seem less absurd.

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 sometimes do, I am appalled by the results, which seem 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, seems to have launched me on a process which is both fascinating and at times a little frightening. It seems to mean letting my experience carry me on, in a direction which appears to be forward, towards 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.

These experiences chime with my own in every realm of education; whether classroom or outdoors, conceptual or practice. Effective teachers do not teach; they facilitate learning. They don't 'know'; they build on what they have already learned. They do not follow a routine; their facilitation responds to their environment.

I believe that in that respect, Alexander Technique practitioners really are 'teachers'; they work with their pupils, responsively and responsibly, to learn things that influence their behaviour.

(For a discussion with Robert Rickover of some of the consequences of these reflections, click here.)

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