Early Childhood Education

Rogers, Carl (1902-1987)


Carl Ransom Rogers, an American founder of humanistic psychology, viewed human nature as essentially good. He developed a nondirective psychotherapy known variously as client-centered therapy, the person-centered approach, and person-centered psychotherapy. The phenomenological theory of personality that informed his clinical practice focused on subjective reality; central to subjective reality was the concept of self-Rogers’ most important construct. He believed that a healthy self-concept would develop only if a person encountered unconditional positive regard, which is essential to achieving self-actualization.

Humanistic psychologists such as Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow advanced the importance of enhancing children’s self-esteem during the early years. “All About Me” curriculum units, for example, became very popular in early childhood education during the 1970s in part due to the impact of humanistic ideas. Early childhood practices that encouraged creativity and children’s self-expression also flourished during this period because they related to actualizing one’s human potential.

Carl Rogers was born on January 8, 1902, in Oak Parks, Illinois. His father, a civil engineer, provided well for the family, although fundamentalist Christian beliefs strictly controlled the Rogers household. When Carl was twelve, his family moved to the country, where he and his five siblings grew up isolated from harmful influences. Socially secluded and devoutly religious, Rogers pursued solitary activities, such as reading, that helped him graduate from high school with superior grades.

Rogers enrolled in 1919 at the University of Wisconsin, where he remained active in the church, hoping eventually to enter the ministry. He completed a BA in history in 1924 and, shortly thereafter, married Helen Elliot, a Wisconsin classmate and childhood friend. The couple subsequently had two children, David in 1926 and Natalie in 1928.

Although Rogers initially attended Union Theological Seminary in New York City, he became increasingly skeptical of religious doctrine. He transferred to Teachers College, Columbia University, to study clinical and educational psychology instead, completing his MA degree in 1928 and PhD in 1931.

Rogers’ first professional position as staff psychologist at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in Rochester, New York initiated his work with distressed children. The highly successful publication of Clinical Treatment of the Problem Child in 1939 led to a faculty appointment in psychology at Ohio State University, a move that launched Rogers’ academic career. By 1945, he had become Professor of Psychology and Director of Counseling at the University of Chicago, where he completed his major work, Client-Centered Therapy: Its Current Practice, Implications, and Theory (Rogers, 1951).

Rogers returned to the University of Wisconsin in 1957, but, disillusioned with academia, he resigned his position in 1964 to become a resident fellow at the Western Behavioral Sciences Institute in La Jolla, California. In 1968, Rogers accepted a position at the Center for Studies of the Person, where he applied his theory to industry and education. He also became involved in the encounter group movement as a means of facilitating human growth and potential. Throughout his career, Rogers modeled compassion, empathy, and an unflagging commitment to helping others reach their full potential.

Further Readings: Kirschenbaum, Howard (1979). On becoming Carl Rogers. New York: Delacorte; Rogers, Carl (1969). Freedom to learn: A view of what education might become. Columbus, OH: Charles Merrill; Rogers, Carl (1961). On becoming a person: A therapist’s view of psychotherapy. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin; Rogers, Carl (1951). Client-centered therapy: its current practice, implications, and theory. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin; Rogers, Carl (1939). The clinical treatment of the problem child. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin.

Web Site: Carl Roger Biography, http://www.nrogers.com/carlrogersbio.html

Ann C. Benjamin