This is what I found in Carl R. Rogers’ book Freedom to Learn with clear explanations of what this means for the actions of a teacher. I was preparing to become a teacher of English and French and I needed to find concrete support and arguments for my dislike of what teachers were expected to do in the classroom: transmit the right content knowledge to unmotivated and resistant learners through complex didactical and methodological practices or manipulations. I couldn’t see myself standing in a classroom in a year’s time and performing the subtle or not so subtle game of taming savage animals in a circus.
I was also looking for thinkers about education who would think along the lines of the book I read a few years earlier about Summerhill by A.S. Neill and who could propose something to those of us who were not going to teach in a Summerhill-type school but in the public school system.
And I also found this in Carl Rogers’ book. There were his fundamental principles and thoughts about learning, significant learning which needs to be self-initiated, based on personal involvement and above all permeated by meaningfulness… for the learner I hasten to add. A lot of what happened and still happens in education is perhaps meaningful for the teacher, the school, the educational system, but not for the learners and thus all of this is destined to fail as we can observe regularly.
In addition, there were the accounts of many concrete experiments and concrete classrooms where teachers put these ideas into practice and one of the ideas that struck a deep chord in me was that you do not have to give absolute freedom to make a positive change. Rogers repeatedly states that every teacher can only give as much freedom as she or he can afford to give in their classrooms and although this only goes part of the way, it still makes a decisive difference to the learners and is therefore an important step forward.
This is probably why in my professional life as a teacher, teacher trainer and organiser of teacher education programmes, I have always underlined that it is much better to make a small and concrete step forward than to plan a large leap that remains wishful thinking and is never put into practice.