Monday, May 23, 2011

alfie kohn + carl rogers

I'm on vacation this week, and one of my reading selections is educator-activist Alfie Kohn's Feel-Bad Education; and Other Contrarian Essays on Children and Schooling (Boston: Beacon Press, 2011). It's a collection of previously-published essays. Among them is an article originally written for the New York Times in 2009 about conditional and unconditional parenting. In it, he cites the mid-twentieth century American psychotherapist Carl Rogers, a pedagogical thinker who was deeply influential for the faculty who founded the Oregon Extension.
More than 50 years ago, Carl Rogers suggested that successful psychotherapy relies on three key ingredients. Therapists must be genuine rather than hiding behind a mask of professionalism. They must understand their clients’ feelings accurately. And they must put aside judgment in order to express “unconditional positive regard” for those they seek to help.

That last one is a doozy – not only because it’s so difficult but because of what the need for it says about how we were raised. Rogers believed that therapists need to accept their clients without any strings attached so that the clients can begin to accept themselves. And the reason so many have disowned or repressed parts of who they are is because their parents put “conditions of worth” on their care: I love you, but only when you’re well-behaved (or successful in school, or impressive to other adults, or quiet, or thin, or deferential, or cute . . .)

The implication is that loving our children isn’t enough. We have to love them unconditionally – for who they are, not for what they do.

As a father, I know this is a tall order, but it becomes even more challenging now that so much of the advice we are given amounts to exactly the opposite. In effect, we’re given tips in conditional parenting, which comes in two flavors: turn up the affection when they’re good, withhold affection when they’re not.
You can find the article as it appears in the book on Alfie Kohn's website.  I can't link directly to the article as it is a pop-up (annoying), but it is found under "Parenting" and is called "Parental Love With Strings Attached."

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