Humanistic Theory

Humanistic "theories" of learning tend to be highly value-driven and hence more like prescriptions (about what ought to happen) rather than descriptions (of what does happen).

The school is particularly associated with

While the tenor of humanistic theory is generally wishy-washy liberal, its approach also underlies the more committed stance of “transformative learning” (Mezirow) and “conscientization” (Freire).

My heart is with humanistic theory, but I sometimes find it hard to make connections with the reality of routine practice. Its most fertile ground is with intrinsically motivated adult learners. It is not as potent now as it was in the '70s, when it often seemed to be used as an excuse for the abrogation of the realistic authority of the teacher—or perhaps we have just become more mature in our use of it. As the politicised variants show, it poses considerable challenges not only to approaches to teaching, but also to the construction of the curriculum as a whole. As society has become more fragmented and "post-modern", these challenges have become even more problematic.

Figures in Humanistic models of Learning

Carl Rogers

(1902-1987) Principally known as the founder of person-centred psychotherapy and almost the inventor of counselling, also a leading figure in the development of humanistic approaches to education. See Rogers (1980)

In the field of adult learning, do not confuse with Alan Rogers, or Jennifer Rogers!  [Back]

The excellent Theory into Practice site on Rogers And the equally excellent Informal Education site

John Holt

(1923-1985) Radical thinker and maths teacher,best known for How Children Fail. [Back]

A site about Holt, emphasising his promotion of home-schooling


Paulo Freire

(1921-1997) Brazilian educationalist: pioneer of adult literacy programmes as a means of raising the consciousness (conscientization) of South American peasants and urban underclass. Critic of the "banking" model of education (below), in which the elite own and construct the knowledge, and the poor are excluded. Very influential in politicised adult education. Not easy to read. See Freire (1972)  [Back]

The Freire Institute page on Freire 

The Banking concept of Education:

a. the teacher teaches and the students are taught;

b. the teacher knows everything and the students know nothing;

c. the teacher thinks and the students are thought about;

d. the teacher talks and the students listen—meekly;

e.the teacher disciplines and the students are disciplined;

f. the teacher chooses and enforces his choice, and the students comply;

g. the teacher acts and the students have the illusion of acting through the action of the teacher;

h. the teacher chooses the program content, and the students (who were not consulted) adapt to it;

i. the teacher confuses the authority of knowledge with his own professional authority, which he sets in opposition to the freedom of the students;

j. the teacher is the Subject of the learning process, while the pupils are mere objects.

Freire P (1972) Pedagogy of the Oppressed London; Sheed and Ward / Penguin ch.2 

(Dickens got there first.)