Philosophy of Education

“Beware the irrational, however seductive. Shun the ‘transcendent’ and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity for yourself and others. Don’t be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish. Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives, and all excuses. Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you.”

– Christopher Hitchens

Throughout the LNT 501 course, I have often been asked my opinion on education, and whether or not I agree with Carl Rogers, the hero of the LNT program. According to the LNT handbook, this assignment requires me to again consider my philosophy of education, and to reflect on the values set forth by Rogers. It could not have escaped the eyes of my instructors that I am not in the least inclined to accept Rogerian philosophy, at least, for the most part. Explanation is due, and so it may be prudent to examine the points, made by Rogers, that have been listed in the LNT handbook. Below you will find eight characteristics of education, as outlined by Rogers. My responses to each will likely reveal some sense of my own philosophy of education.

1. The teachers are the possessors of knowledge, the students the expected recipients. The teachers are the experts; they know their fields. The students sit with poised pencil and notebook, waiting for the words of wisdom. There is a great difference in the status level between the instructors and the students.

Teachers ought to be possessors of knowledge, and students ought to be recipients. Teachers ought to be experts, or they ought not to be teachers. Status level should be maintained. Carl Rogers would have us believe that the teachers should gather round with their students for a confab, similar to the eastern mystics, and that there will be equal exchange and mutuality between all people involved. This is simply nonsense, and is, in my opinion, mostly derived from Rogers’s transcendental and religious (see my other writings for a more concise definition of “religious”) foundational beliefs. Rogers is a hippy, a gypsy, and a shaman. The last few chapters of his book clearly reveal his philosophy to be, though possessing some merit, founded on ludicrous and demonstrably false statements, such as: “There is a growing body of evidence, which is hard to ignore, that shows capacities and potentials within the psyche that seem almost limitless, and that fall almost entirely outside the field of science as we have known it,” (Rogers, A Way of Being, 312) and, “…well-substantiated reports of telepathic communication between members of the Masai tribe in Africa…,” and perhaps one of the most obvious of his admissions: “I find that when I am closest to my inner, intuitive self, when I am somehow in touch with the unknown in me, when perhaps I am in a slightly altered state of consciousness, then whatever I do seems to be full of healing” (129). Rogers goes on to say that this “healing energy” affected one of his patience so much, that the patient dubbed it a “spiritual experience.”(129). It is obvious that Rogers is calling for a war against intellect, and an embracement of mysticism, no matter how he might dress up his philosophy.

Though Rogers’s philosophy may have certain benefits, and, specifically, may be beneficial in the field of psychology, I find it to be wholly unscientific, irrational, and foolhardy. This is not to say that the end product – his more scientific methodology – is completely without worth; it obviously has its benefits, and has impacted a great number of people. Nevertheless, Rogers gives us no good reason why we should mistrust and hate the intellect or traditional education, other than his distaste for the establishment. At the point when Rogers needs evidence and scientific data the most, he abandons it for mysticism. Fighting irrationally against stricture, authority, and rules, he is left holding an empty sack. This is exactly what one might expect from someone who founds their entire philosophy of psychology and education on intuition, unknowns, and altered states of consciousness.

The LNT department has made a god out of Rogers, and I think it is about time for that god to die. I have very little experience with experimental education, though my undergraduate degree did at times include a few online and custom classes. What I can say, however, is this: even at a traditional university with a traditional curriculum that Rogers might despise, I have often been in contact with person-centered teachers, who, though willing to adapt, communicate, involve, and engage, remained the respected authority and expert in their field. Of those the students that have complained about this state of affairs, it is my opinion that there are likely few who took responsibility for their own education. In short, it is the student who decides what to do with the good information given to them by their instructors. If they want to sit in the classroom open-mouthed and blind-eyed, expecting information to magically appear in the mind – if they expect their teacher to entertain them, coerce them, implore them – then they likely do not benefit from traditional education. The intellect is something to be prized, rightly so, and something that is far more powerful and compelling than fancy, emotion, or confabs – but it requires work, dedication, and self-responsibility. The people who lack the above characteristics are likely the same people that are often quoted in anti-traditional education literature. There they complain that their teacher did not do, for them, what they wanted.

2. The lecture, or some means of verbal instruction, is the major means of getting knowledge into the recipients. The examination measures the extent to which the students have received it. These are the central elements of this kind of education. Why the lecture is regarded as the major means of instruction is a mystery to me. Lectures made sense before books were published, but their current rationale is almost never explained. The increasing stress on the examination is also mysterious. Certainly its importance in the United States has increased enormously in the last couple of decades.

Throughout Rogers’s A Way of Being, he consistently attacks a “from teacher to student” pathway of knowledge. What I would like to know is how Rogers thinks knowledge ought to be dispersed. Sure, he goes to great lengths to explain his methodology and philosophy, and yes, some of this information is useful and likely compelling, but the question is never answered: where does this knowledge come from? Readers of Rogers and likely Rogers himself would tell you that it comes from experience, and from within the person, and that the teacher ought to behave more like a manager and guide his or her students, rather than be a “depositor” of information. It should be clear to those who have read A Way of Being that this unsupported idea stems from a more serious assumption, namely, that there is something mystical about knowledge and learning – something that is unknowable, transcendent, or spiritual. Rogers’s book goes to great lengths to argue expertly for this assumption, but this is disingenuous. He wants us to believe that his assumptions are supported by science. He wants us to believe that knowledge is mystical. He wants us to believe that eastern tradition is equal to scientific methods and psychology. There is just one problem – those things are all untrue.

We are not merely a product of experiences, and the blank slate theory has been thoroughly refuted, or at least, rebutted to the point of creating serious doubt in the assumption. The assumption of a tabula rasa, or, as John Locke called it, a “white paper void of all characters, without any ideas”(Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding) is unsupported and unnecessary. I do not have time to thoroughly refute this broken assumption, but Stephen Pinker has recently done so quite expertly. In his book The Blank Slate, he says that we “have reason to believe that the mind is equipped with a battery of emotions, drives, and faculties for reasoning and communicating, and that they have a common logic across cultures, are difficult to erase or redesign from scratch, were shaped by natural selection acting over the course of human evolution, and owe some of their basic design (and some of their variation) to information in the genome”(Pinker, The Blank Slate, 73). Concurring with Pinker, and considering what we know about DNA and the human genome, I believe that the assumption of a tabula rasa is as outdated, refuted, and unscientific, as the belief that the earth is flat.

Since knowledge cannot be created only be experience, and since there is no rational way to justify a belief in some mystical form of knowledge that magically resides within us, we are left with the old conclusions with which we began: knowledge is gained, not mysteriously, but through the work of the intellect, through the dedication of the student, and through much toil and effort. No amount of “openness” will ever make a philosopher understand the musings of Socrates, or the intricacies of complex mathematical equations. Whether a classroom is a warzone or a comfort zone, learning happens only at the behest of the student. Students who wish to learn ought to take responsibility for their education, and, naturally, stand on the shoulders of giants (nanos gigantum humeris insidentes). In short, they ought to respect the time-honored traditions that we have wrought from the irrational mire of our infancy, and seek solace in the wealth of knowledge that their professors possess.

Education is not a Buddhist mediation clinic; it is an institution built on the backs of slaves – teachers, scientists, researches, and students who worked hard to discover what we now know, and who subjected themselves to the pursuit of knowledge. It is natural that students respect those who have far more knowledge, experience, and capability than they, and that they commit themselves to the work of improving their mind. Rogers and those who follow him call for a revolution, but a revolution is not needed. A good professor does all that Rogers requires while maintaining traditional educational values, and a good student learns perfectly well, if they commit themselves to the task and take responsibility for their own learning. Within the system of traditional education independent study has always, and will always, exist – but only for those that are accountable.

3. The teachers are the possessors of power, the students the ones who obey. (Administrators are also possessors of power, and both teachers and students are the ones who obey.) Control is always exercised downward.

While I will be the first to admit that I have had the occasional professor who misuses or abuses their power, I would never be so bold as to suggest that the authority of the teacher removed or reduced. When a professor makes a student feel unable to ask questions, or to question their authority, it is not an issue of power, but rather how the professor’s power is being used. This is true of all authoritarian systems, but it does not mean that such systems should be revolutionized. How could a government function, if there were not elected leaders? What would a country look like, if everyone had equal say and equal power? How could a school possibly operate and maintain any standard of professionalism, if even incompetent and rebellious students have as much say as a tenured professor? The concept of universality is, on all fronts and in all venues, a failure. On at least some level, there must be a hierarchy of power. Control should be exercised downward.

Some people simply are more skilled, talented, and experienced than others, in their particular area of expertise. This is a fact of reality, and to deny this hierarchy in favor of a lovesick obsession with universality is folly. If a student wishes to be more competent, they only need climb the ladder. Good teachers will help students through this process as they guide them and steer them through their education – a feat the student is not capable of, or at least, not as capable as the instructor, except in very rare cases. In short, the power lies now exactly where it must, if any sort of real learning is to take place. Rather than denying this fact and believing in an unsupported fantasy of intuition and unfathomable knowledge, where realizations magically appear from within the student as products of a blank slate, it makes more sense to embrace the pathway to learning that has worked thus far – the only rational path. Professors should be challenged, and they should be open to criticism. They ought also to engage their students, and be concerned with their learning process. What they ought not to do is relinquish their authority, and place it in the hands of people far less capable.

4. Rule by authority is the accepted policy in the classroom. New teachers are often advised, “Make sure you get control of your students on the very first day.” The authority figure–the instructor–is very much the central figure in education. He or she may be greatly admired as a fountain of knowledge, or may be despised, but the teacher is always the center.

I cannot for the life of me think of why a classroom should be any other way. Rogers’s confusion lies in the fact that he believes his philosophy, which works well in a patient and doctor scenario, applies also to education. This is folly. In a classroom setting, there is one teacher, and a horde of, at the worst, ignorant students, or at best, a group of intelligent minds – neither possibility remotely close the level of competence that should be possessed by a worthy professor. In a wartime situation, it makes the most sense to have one leader who is the most knowledgeable, skilled, and hardened. This general or commander keeps the mass of less-experienced, frightened, and incompetent soldiers focused, alert, and focused on completing their tasks. The same is true of an office situation where a manager, a person dedicated to the task of organizing, controlling, and assisting lesser employees, not only enforces rules and keeps the peace, but also assists those who are less able.

Of course the teacher is the centerpiece. Of course he or she is a fountain of knowledge, and the students the recipient of that knowledge. Of course teachers must control, manage, and organize their classroom. This is what it means to be a teacher. Person-centered approaches may have their benefit, but Rogers’s hatred for institutional education is irrational – a methodology designed specifically for a doctor-patient relationship, misapplied in an educational forum. What would he have us believe, that the students and teachers are all equally capable, equally competent, equally experienced, equally knowledgeable, and that students and teachers should have equal authority? Chaos and nonsense would result from a class that seriously considered that idea. Though there likely have been classes that have implemented Rogers’s techniques with some success, to do so wholesale would be educational suicide.

5. Trust is at a minimum. Most notable is the teacher’s distrust of the students. The students cannot be expected to work satisfactorily without the teacher constantly supervising and checking on them. The students’ distrust of the teacher is more diffuse–a lack of trust in the teacher’s motives, honesty, fairness, competence. There may be a real rapport between an entertaining lecturer and those who are being entertained; there may be admiration for the instructor, but mutual trust is not a noticeable ingredient.

This is simply a baseless assertion with no corroborating evidence. During my academic career, I have come to trust most if not all of my professors, and my instructors have come to know and trust me (even if they are annoyed by my opinions or outspokenness). Trust can and does exist within the confines of traditional education, but a certain amount of management and disciplinary action is necessary. If we drop our standards and embrace universality, than we have no standards at all. Trust is wonderful, but learning is more important. At the end of the day, no one can help a student to learn – they must be accountable for their own learning. I find no evidence to support the claim that trust is lacking in traditional education over Rogerian education, and, in fact, my personal experience of education reveals just the opposite. Moreover, I find this point irrelevant. A student decides when to learn, and they choose how they will learn, and how much. A professor is an authority and resource that the student can use, but, without accountability, no student will learn –regardless of the skill or knowledge of their professor.

If a student does not trust his or her professor, than it is the student’s job to practice their communication skills and establish a rapport with their professor. There are some professors that make it difficult to do this, true, but this kind of trouble exists in all instances of human communication. If trust cannot be established, this is no excuse for a student to stop learning, nor is it an excuse for a professor to stop teaching. A good professor teaches even those students that he or she despises, and a good student learns from all manner of professors. A student ought to try to trust their professor, but if this not possible, then they ought to get on with their learning. A professor, on the other hand, has no obligation to extend trust to students.

Trust is earned, and should not be freely given to those who have not worked to acquire trust. Professors, over their long academic career, have worked hard to develop in themselves a wealth of knowledge that for the most part can be trusted; if their ideas and concepts were completely irrational, they could never have become a professor in the first place. Professors have logged many trust-hours, but students have no such experience. This further illustrates why professors ought to be the authority, and students the subjects. A certain amount of doubt is necessary for all inquiries, but students cannot possibly believe that a professor has made it through his or her masters or doctorate by being completely incorrect and incompetent. No, thanks to traditional forms of education, strict academic requirements exist that ensure that a professor can be trusted. Students, on the other hand, have nothing but their life experiences and their innate characteristics to guide them, and therefore should submit themselves to the expertise of the teacher. As they demonstrate their commitment to academia and learning and accomplish more and more tasks, more trust will be extended to them. Moreover, it is my belief that, despite the fact that students have not earned any trust at all, they are often extended a large amount of trust – they are trusted to be independent researchers and thinkers, to bring valuable discussion to the table, they are trusted with designing and implementing their own projects, and they are allowed to freely voice their opinions and objections. This does not change the fact that it is the professor who is the most knowledgeable, most capable, and most able to lead.

6. The subjects (the students) are best governed by being kept in an intermittent or constant state of fear. Today, there is not much physical punishment, but public criticism and ridicule and the students’ constant fear of failure are even more potent. In my experience this state of fear appears to increase as we go up the educational ladder, because the student has more to lose. In elementary school, the individual may be an object of scorn or be regarded as a dolt. In high school there is added to this the fear of failure to graduate, with its vocational, economic, and educational disadvantages. In college, all these consequences are magnified and intensified. In graduate school, sponsorship by one professor offers even greater opportunities for extreme punishment due to some autocratic whim. Many graduate students have failed to receive their degrees because they have refused to obey, or to conform to every wish of, their major professor. Their position is analogous to that of a slave, subject to the life-and-death power of the master.

The above paragraph is a gross overstatement, and misguided. First, fear is a necessary ingredient for any learning. How can one learn, without the fear of failure to motivate them? If they have nothing invested in their learning, then no true learning will ever take place. Fear and loss go hand in hand; they are opposites sides of the same coin. Only if a student truly cares about his or her education, can fear erupt. Fear, like doubt, must be present. The question is, why is the fear present? What caused the fear? Rogers makes the claim that a student’s fear of failure is the result of ridicule, scorn, abuse, and autocratic whims, but is this the case?

In my own education, I have more than once been faced with a professor that demand I conform to his or her ideologies or concepts, and who attempted to punish me for not doing so, but never once did I fear banishment or utter failure, because I knew that the traditional systems of education did not support teachers who spit in the face of true academia. In every case where a teacher attempted to misuse or abuse their power, the dean and school officials threw them down. There was never a doubt in mind that teachers who play on a students fear, or who are unnecessarily punitive, will be removed, or at the least, severely reprimanded. Rogers makes it sound as if teachers are gods who have all the authority, but this is simply untrue.

Teachers work under a strict code of academia, enforced by the authorities of the school; they live under constant scrutiny, and their abuse of students leads inevitably to their dismissal. There are cases where professors succeed in abusing students without dismissal or punishment true, but for the most part, professors must adhere to a level of professionalism that reflects the educational values of the institution for which they work. Besides, any fear that a professor might instill in a student is the student’s responsibility. Fear only exists in the mind of the beholder – it is not caused by an external; it is created by perceiver. If something about a professor causes a student to create fear within their own mind, it is their responsibility to address that fear, and to use it as motivation for success. People fear a great many things, because they wish to avoid loss, but fear is often the result of non-accountability. If a student realizes that their education cannot be taken from them or given to them – that is only theirs to possess, and entirely their responsibility, they will have nothing to fear.

7. Democracy and its values are ignored and scorned in practice. Students do not participate in choosing their individual goals, curricula, or manner of working. They are chosen for them. Students have no part in the choice of teaching personnel nor any voice in educational policy. Likewise, the teachers often have no choice in choosing their administrative officers. Teachers, too, often have no participation in forming educational policy. All this is in striking contrast to all the teaching about the virtues of democracy, the importance of the “free world,” and the like. The political practices of the school are in the most striking contrast to what is taught. While being taught that freedom and responsibility are the glorious features of “our democracy,” the students are experiencing themselves as powerless, as having little freedom, and as having almost no opportunity to exercise choice or carry responsibility.

Above we read yet another false equivocation; education is not politics, nor should it be a democracy. Educational institutions are designed to impart knowledge, and they have a long history of refinement and academic pride. If a professor or student does not agree with a particular educational institute’s values, they are free to choose another university or school, or to study on their own. Moreover, there is no true democracy in existence, because pure democracy fails on all levels, for the same reasons that I believe Roger’s educational philosophy fails – if everyone has a say, then the only thing that determines the result of an election is how many people have voted. What you are left with, in such a situation, is quite a lot of incompetent and ignorant people grouping together and passing laws, or in this case, creating educational values, that are simply irrelevant, idiotic, or ineffective. If the United States, for example, were a true democracy, our country would implode. No, some people are more able to lead than others, some people are more competent than others, and some ways are better than others. The time-honored traditions that have stood the test of time ought to be reinforced, precisely because they have been shown to be the most effective. Rogers, who disagrees, has merely shown that some students misunderstand the founding values of these systems, or, at least, are disinterested in those values. Nevertheless, the way to education is through hard work and responsibility. Students must stand on the shoulders of giants if they are to achieve anything at all, and if they wish instead to have education given to them or drawn from them, then they have not grasped the nature of learning.

8. There is no place for whole persons in the educational system, only for their intellects. In elementary school, the bursting curiosity and the excess of physical energy characteristic of the normal child are curbed and, if possible, stifled. In junior high and high school, the one overriding interest of all the students–sex and the emotional and physical relationships it involves–is almost totally ignored, and certainly not regarded as a major area for learning. There is very little place for emotions in the secondary school. In college, the situation is even more extreme–it is only the mind that is welcomed. (Rogers, 1980)
I agree that much work is needed to fully develop the whole person, as Rogers describes. I also agree that many emotional desires and interests are ignored and stifled, in some systems of education. Rogers, in A Way of Being, argues well that emotional needs ought to be considered. What he does not succeed in doing, however, is prove that emotional needs and intellect should be considered equally important. Traditional education would be greatly improved if it addressed the needs of the whole person, and indeed, it already does in many ways, and is getting better all the time. Good professors understand these needs automatically; no revolution is necessary. We may have Rogers to thank for the change in the educational climate that has led many professors to more deeply consider the emotional needs of their students, but for Rogers, this is not enough. In his book, he describes the future as one without traditional education – a future where universities likely will not exist. He says that this will happen naturally, because students, in their core, resent the traditional form of education, because it stifles them, and creates an atmosphere where “…only the mind is welcome”(Rogers, 1980). On overemphasis on intellect is to blame, says Rogers. Emphasizing the intellect is, however the most natural thing to do, as the intellect is the prime means of reforming the self.

The intellect, if developed correctly, should be an area of cognition that strives for rationality and objectivity. More precisely, it is the part of our mind that intentionally ignores gut reactions, common sense, and all conclusions drawn from emotional need. The intellect is what gives us logic, mathematics, and other quantitative sciences; it is the cause of the scientific method, and it is responsible for all of humanity’s progress. Though emotion is always present, and indeed, does influence our intellect, it is by purposefully limiting emotional involvement that students are able to reform themselves, to improve themselves, and to gain new knowledge. Before Francis Bacon, science had much emotional influence, and little progress. It was only after we learned to embrace the rational mind – the intellect – that we began to flourish.

Roger’s denial of the intellect stems not from any rational reason, but from his eastern mystic philosophy. He abhors institutions of all kinds; he rejects authority; he hates tradition. While his hatred for traditional psychology may be justified, his contempt for traditional education is unfounded. In order to argue for more emotional involvement, Rogers illustrates clearly why the intellect is superior, by showing us precisely how his emotions have corrupted his conclusions. Yes, the whole person must be considered, but the intellect is, and will always remain, the primary consideration, precisely because knowledge does not come from within, or entirely from our experiences – it is not mystical or unknowable – it is, rather, a product of the intellect.

Conclusion

Below is a summary of the main points of my philosophy of education:

1. Equivocating education with psychology, politics, or any avenue of thought is disingenuous; educational values ought to be considered only within the context of learning.

2. No true democracy exists, and no true democracy could ever be successful. The same is true of educational institutions; an educational democracy would destroy any semblance of academia. A hierarchy of power must exist within educational institutions.

3. Traditional values ought not to be scorned or distrusted. Much like the scientific method, which we continue to implement because of its high predictive capability and its demonstrated success, so we rely upon the time-honored and demonstrably successful traditions of our education.

4. Control should be exercised downward, lest chaos erupt. The natural flow of power is from the professor to the student, and any denial of this or attempt to place power into the hands of the incompetent is as foolhardy as placing the presidency of the United States in the hands of a child.

5. Trust should be earned, not given. Professors have earned a position of trust; they have already proven themselves, throughout their long academic careers. Students have not yet demonstrated that they can be trusted. If a student wishes to be trusted more, they ought to work hard to gain the trust of their professor.

6. Fear is necessary to learning. If a student lacks fear, they lack investment.

7. The student, and the student alone, is responsible for his or her learning, and accountable for his or her failures. It is not the job of the professor to give information to the student, or to do anything for the student. The professor is a wealth of knowledge that makes information available to the student, who then must take responsibility for understanding the information. The professor may assist, but ultimately it is the student’s responsibility to learn.

8. Universality is a broken concept. Some people are more skilled, more artistic, smarter, or more intellectual than others. Denying this fact is irrational. Professors are more experienced and wise than most students, and so deserve to be respected as the authority and centerpiece of the classroom.

9. The intellect is and shall always remain the primary focus of education. Though education could be improved by adding further focus to the emotional needs of students, the intellect is the primary concern. Only through the intellect can learning be achieved.

10. Knowledge is not mystical, it is not spiritual, and intuition is hopelessly erroneous and unreliable. Scientific methodologies are successful precisely because they avoid conclusions based on such things. Knowledge does not come from within, knowledge is created through the refinement and exercising of the intellect, and the hard work of the student.

As I have hopefully illustrated above, I reject many of Rogers’s conclusions concerning education; they are predicated on fancy, mysticism, and an irrational equivocation of ideas. Within A Way of Being, Rogers’s bias becomes blatantly clear, and his predilection for the mystic and spiritual obvious. I do, however, agree with a few points that Rogers has made, such as the need for educating the whole person, the need for independent studies and interdisciplinary fields to broaden and saturate, and the need for professors to be open and welcoming to their students. I disagree, however, with the assertion that education is in need of revolution or drastic reform. Educational values that have been crafted and demonstrated worthy over hundreds of years of mankind’s struggle for knowledge should be upheld, authority should continue being exercised downward, and much of traditional education ought to stay exactly as it is today. A good professor will understand all of the good that Rogers has offered us, and for good students, Rogers’s complaints will be irrelevant – those students will take responsibility for their educational success, and be accountable for their failures.

Though this essay has been a harsh treatment of Rogers’s materials, it must be understood by the reader that there are many benefits to Rogers’s philosophy. Students do desire and likely need more personal and emotional involvement. Students need to be heard and understood. In short, many of Rogers’s complaints are valid; the problem lies with his conclusions. A Way of Being does not describe an institutional problem, but, rather, describes only the difference between a good teacher (who applies what Rogers suggests within traditional academia) and a bad teacher (someone who creates problems that Rogers would seek to alleviate). A revolution is not needed. Like the scientific method, our methods of learning rest upon the intellect, hard work, and accountability – and this is precisely why they have worked, and will continue to work in the future. With a little bit of Rogerian influence, but not reform, traditional education ought to find its way to a happy medium.

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