Humanistic education is an approach to on the work of humanistic psychologists, most notably Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers. Carl Rogers has been called the Father of Humanistic Psychology and devoted much of his effort toward applying the results of his psychology research to person-centered teaching where empathy, caring about students, and genuineness on the part of the learning facilitator, were found to be the key traits of the most effective teachers. He edited a series of books dealing with Humanistic education in his "Studies of the Person Series," which included his popular book, Freedom to Learn and Learning to Feel - Feeling to Learn - Humanistic Education for the Whole Man, by Harold C. Lyon, Jr. In the 1970's the term "Humanistic Education" became less popular after conservative groups equated it with "Secular Humanism" and attacked the writings of Harold Lyon as being anti-Christian. That began a successful effort by Aspy, Lyon, Rogers, and others to re-label it "Person-centered teaching" replacing the term "Humanistic education." In a more general sense the term includes the work of other humanistic pedagogues, such as Rudolf Steiner, and Maria Montessori. All of these approaches seeks to engage the whole person: the intellect, feeling life, social capacities, artistic and practical skills are all important focuses for growth and development. Important objectives include developing children's self-esteem, ability to set and achieve appropriate goals, and development toward full autonomy.
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Choice or Control
The humanistic approach a great deal on student choice and control over the course of their education. Students are encouraged to make choices that range from day-to-day activities to periodically setting future life goals. This allows for students to focus on a specific subject of interest for any amount of time they choose, within reason. Humanistic teachers believe it is important for students to be motivated and engaged in the material they are learning, and this happens when the topic is something the students need and want to know.
Humanistic education tends to focus on the felt concerns and interests of the students intertwining with the intellect. It is believed that the overall mood and feeling of the students can either hinder or foster the process of learning.
The Whole Person
Humanistic educators believe that both feelings and knowledge are important to the learning process. Unlike traditional educators, humanistic teachers do not separate the cognitive and affective domains. This aspect also relates to the curriculum in the sense that lessons and activities provided focus on various aspects of the student and not just rote memorization through note taking and lecturing.
Humanistic educators believe that grades are irrelevant and that only self-evaluation is meaningful. Grading encourages students to work for a grade and not for intrinsic satisfaction. Humanistic educators disagree with routine testing because they teach students rote memorization as opposed to meaningful learning. They also believe testing doesn't provide sufficient educational feedback to the teacher.
Teacher as a Facilitator
"The tutor or lecturer tends to be more supportive than critical, more understanding than judgmental, more genuine than playing a role."  Their job is to foster an engaging environment for the students and ask inquiry based questions that promote meaningful learning.
Field Studies on Humanistic Education
David Aspy and Flora Roebuck performed the largest field study ever done, in 42 States and 7 countries in the 1970s and 80s funded by the National Institute of Mental Health over a 12 year period focusing on what led to achievement, creativity, more student thinking and interactivity, less violence, and both teacher and student satisfaction. Their conclusions corroborated the earlier findings of Carl Rogers's that the more effective teachers had the traits of empathy, caring or prizing their students, and were authentic or genuine in their classroom presence. In 2010 Jeffrey Cornelius-White and Adam Harbaugh published a large meta-anaylsis on Learner Centered Instruction including in their analysis all the higher quality studies on person-centered or humanistic education ever done since 1948. In 2013 Rogers, Lyon, and Tausch published On Becoming an Effective Teacher -- Person-centered Teaching, Psychology, Philosophy, and Dialogues with Carl R. Rogers and Harold Lyon which contained Roger's last unpublished work on teaching and documented the research results of four highly related, independent studies which comprise the largest collection of data ever accumulated to test a person-centered theory in the field of education.
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The environment in a school which focuses their practice on humanistic education tends to have a very different setting than a traditional school. It consist of both indoor and outdoor environments with a majority of time being spent outdoors. The indoor setting may contain a few tables and chairs, bean bags for quiet reading and relaxation, book shelves, hide-aways, kitchens, lots of color and art posted on the walls. The outdoor environment is very engaging for students. You might find tree houses, outdoor kitchens, sand boxes, play sets, natural materials, sporting activities etc. The wide range of activities are offered for students allowing for free choices of interest.
A number of contemporary school movements incorporate humanistic perspectives within a larger, holistic context: these include the Waldorf, Montessori, Reggio Emilia, and Neohumanist schools. These originated independently of the humanistic psychology movement and at least some of them incorporate spiritual perspectives absent from the traditional humanistic approach.
Humanistic education has its roots in Renaissance philosophers who emphasized the study of the humanities: grammar, rhetoric, history, poetry and moral philosophy; these in turn built upon Classical models of education.
- Democratic school
- Humanistic psychology
- Humanism (learning theory)
- Learning theory
- Liberal education
- Progressive education
- Sudbury school
- Waldorf education
- Power, F. Clark. Moral Education. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 218. ISBN 0313336474.
- Hall, Eric; Carol Hall (1988). Human relations in education. Psychology Press. p. 14. ISBN 041502532X.
- Rogers, Carl R. Freedom to Learn. Columbus, Ohio: Charles E. Merrill, 1969
- Lyon, Harold C. Jr. Learning to Feel - Feeling to Learn. Columbus, OH: Charles E. Merrill. 1971.
- "The Waldorf Schools offer an approach to humanistic education which has stood the test of time." Sarah W. Foster, "An Introduction to Waldorf Education", The Clearing House, Vol. 57, No. 5 (Jan., 1984), pp. 228-230
- Timothy Leonard, Pedagogies of the Imagination: Mythopoetic Curriculum in Educational Practice, Springer 2008, p. 232
- R. C. S. Trahair, Utopias and Utopians: an historical dictionary, Greenwood Press, 1999, p. 348
- Rowan, J. (n.d.). Humanistic education. Retrieved from http://www.ahpweb.org/rowan_bibliography/chapter17.html
- Aspy, David, and Roebuck, Flora: (1977) Kids Don't Learn from People They Don't Like Amherst, MA: Human Resources Development Press.
- Cornelius-White, J. and Harbaugh, A: (2010) Learner Centered Instruction Los Angeles: Sage
- Rogers, CR, Lyon, Harold C. Jr, and Tausch: (2013) On Becoming an Effective Teacher- On–Person-centered Teaching, Psychology, Philosophy, and Dialogues with Carl R. Rogers and HaroldLyon. London Routledge
- Lucila Telles Rudge, "Holistic Education: An Analysis of its Pedagogical Application", dissertation, Ohio State University
- Paul Oskar Kristeller, Renaissance Thought II: Papers on Humanism and the Arts (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1965), p. 178.