Freedom to learn

I’m revisiting a book I read a long time ago called Freedom to Learn by Carl Rogers. After a bit of browsing a few of his points and questions caught my attention. I’m not yet responding with my own thoughts much. I just want to put some ideas in the book out there for contemplation. This is the thrust of the book as well, that no one can teach someone else anything. We can only learn together.

One area that interests me is the question of values. Rogers talks about how the infant knows what it wants but we then values are imposed on us and we learn over time not to trust ourselves. He says that in therapy we slowly learn to trust ourselves once again.

The reason this interests me is because one of the questions that comes up for new students to logotherapy is this question of trust. How can we trust the client’s innate ability to discern right from wrong? Can’t a person want what is cruel and harmful and say this is his conscience speaking? In this regard I found Rogers’ paragraph on page 254 most fascinating. He says:

“I find it significant that when individuals are prized as persons, the values they select do not run the full gamut of possibilities. I do not find, in such a climate of freedom, that one person comes to value fraud and murder and thievery, while another values a life of self-sacrifice, and another values only money. Instead there seems to be a deep and underlying thread of commonality. I dare to believe that when the human being is inwardly free to choose whatever he deeply values, he tends to value those objects, experiences and goals which contribute to his own survival, growth, and development, and to the survival and development of others.”

Frankl would call what Rogers has described in the above paragraph the will to meaning.

This still leaves open the question of learning and seeking understanding of what is growth-inducing, that not everything is known to the person. We will leave this as an open question.

Another part of the book I want to explore is Rogers’ discussion of freedom. (p. 268) Here he refers to Frankl and says, “In the first place, the freedom that I am talking about is essentially an inner thing, something which exists in the living person quite aside from any of the outward choices of alternatives which we so often think of as constituting freedom. I am speaking of the kind of freedom which Viktor Frankl vividly describes in his experience of the concentration camp, when everything – possessions, status, identity – was taken from the prisoners. But even months and years in such an environment showed only ‘that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s own attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.’ (From Death Camp to Existentialism, Frankl, 1959, p. 65)

The chapter titled “Personal Thoughts on Teaching and Leaning” is also worth mulling over. It consists of short statements like:

“My experience has been that I cannot teach another person how to teach.” or:

“I have come to feel that the only learning which significantly influences behavior is self-discovered, self-appropriated learning.”

One of the statements that best highlights the relationship between learning and therapy is this one:

“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.”

As Rogers says in this same chapter, a learning cannot be directly communicated to another, so I can only put these ideas down in the hope that you will do something meaningful with them. Hopefully I will also get around to sharing what it means to me, as Rogers writes in another point,

“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.”

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