For many years I have been claiming that “child centred education” has been the most damaging slogan in schools in the latter part of the twentieth century. When I do so to a group of older teachers there are usually gasps and twice members of the audience have walked out without waiting to hear more.
The phrase has its origins, I think, in the Plowden Report (1967), but is drawn, ultimately, from Carl Rogers and his work on ‘person centred’ counselling.
This weekend I had the pleasure of spending time with a wise and holy person who is a practitioner of Spiritual Direction and who believes profoundly in a ‘person centred’ approach. He introduced me to the work of Brian Thorne and even lent me some of his books:
My objection to ‘child centred education’ is that it is theologically poor (I have talked a good deal about needing to be a God-centred school), and creates an anthropology that places human beings as the centre of attention. When we place God at the centre of our universe we human beings fall into our natural place (worship); when we place children at the centre of the universe we end up with monsters. It has also fostered a knowledge-light curriculum in which children led their own learning and teachers abrogated responsibility. (See a previous blog post on this here).
Similar objections are possible to person-centred spiritual direction (accompaniment, or whatever other phrase is used). There is an additional problem around Carl Rogers famous phrase ‘unconditional positive regard’, which, it seems to me, is an impossible thing for a Christian Spiritual Director to offer. In fact, when I see someone for the first time I explain that I will call sin just that when they bring it to the table, just as my own Spiritual Director does in my life – usually the most important part of my own Direction; our sins reveal far more about us than our spiritual ‘experiences’ (Discuss.)
I need to do a lot more reading on the relationship between Rogerian counselling and Spiritual Direction. But many of the elements of the mini-industry that has become Spiritual Direction (diocesan courses, lists of Directors, paying for Direction, even as ‘donations’) and the expectations this accumulates have created a model of therapeutic counselling that may well be very important and much needed but which is light years away from the traditional Christian ministry of Directing souls. The wholesale adoption of Rogerian techniques by Christians in this manner also needs questioning because of the widespread caution which qualified therapists hold for Carl Rogers. Rogers, as is well known, began training for Christian ministry but lost his faith. Is Rogerian counselling actually a position for those who are nearly post-Christian but want to hold on to something? The Sea of Faith?
I would be grateful for any more suggestions for reading and for conversation partners in this area.