Third Force Psychology in the Classroom

Third Force psychology was founded by, among others, Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers [1], and William Glasser.  The term "Third Force" was coined by Abraham Maslow.  Third Force psychology is based on the premise that all people are inherently good; that through a conscious evolution of attitudes, values, and beliefs, one becomes a self actualized individual with the inner wisdom and confidence to guide their own life in a manner that is personally satisfying and socially constructive.  Even though Third Force psychology was developed to be used on mentally ill people, Third Force practices have found their way into the classroom and are being used on healthy children. [2]  In this setting, Third Force practices are being used to change the child's existing belief system, the assumption being that such will result in a changed society.

Dr William Coulson, ethnopsychologist, was an associate of Dr Carl Rogers.  Together they developed non-directive education based on the same premise as values clarification [3] — another application of Third Force psychology.  The underlying premise of values clarification is that there are no absolutes, no right or wrong answers; that reality is a matter of perception, not a matter of standards and values passed from generation to generation as are the tribal truths that perpetuate a culture and ensure its continued prosperity.  Dr William Coulson later denounced values clarification as an abysmal failure.  He was horrified to learn that schools were using curriculums incorporating values clarification in the classroom to teach children about sex, drugs, alcohol, etc.  In his latter years, Dr Coulson has tried to warn parents of the dangers of values clarification, the name of which he states has been changed to critical thinking, problem solving, or decision making — or any combination thereof.  (See also What Parents Need to Know about Conflict Resolution and HOTS.)

Another application of Third Force psychology is sensitivity training.  Sensitivity training is intended, specifically, to be used to change the child's existing belief system through a process known as unfreezing, changing, and refreezing the child's belief system; the underlying assumption being that by significantly changing the students' belief system, the result will be a changed society. [4]  A variation of this technique is known as cognitive dissonance defined as creating conflict between what the child knows (cognitive) and what the child believes (affective) to affect a change in psychomotor (how the child acts/behaves).  The point at which the child is willing to change his existing belief system is known as the point of threshholding.  Cognitive dissonance can be affected in any number of ways, is used extensively, and is intended to change the child's existing belief system, to make the child open-minded, nonjudgmental, accepting of diverse views.

Most of the conflict resolution programs being used in school districts lead back to the works of Dr William Glasser.  Among Glasser's beliefs: [5]

*       that schools should recognize the children's identity needs; that children are no longer searching for a goal, but for a role; that this is the primary need of human beings; that schools must change their function to enable the child to identify himself as worthwhile;

*       the imparting of core knowledge promotes individuality; the isolated man, which is bad; whereas collaborative and cooperative involvement promotes the collective man which is good [6];

*       there are no right answers; that there are many alternatives to certainty and right answers [7];

*       in a pass-superior, no failure grading system.

In one conflict resolution program based on Glasser [8], it becomes very apparent that the curriculum is intended to produce a collaborative and cooperative child willing to look to the peer group for his belief system, his social acceptance (groupthink); that the curriculum is intended to produce children who are "critical thinkers," alienated from the tribal truths and the culture of their elders (values clarification).

Abraham Maslow, before his death, denounced Third Force psychology, stating that it was based on false premises; that it failed to take into account the evil (or sin) nature of man.

Carl Rogers, author of Freedom to Learn, disciple of socialist John Dewey at Columbia University, was also known as the "father of the human potential movement." [9]  Those who knew Carl Rogers knew him as a very emotionally stable individual.  Before his death, in 1987, he spoke of the havoc that twelve years of experimenting with Third Force practices had played on his emotional stability; describing his feelings as increasingly "volatile."  This has been confirmed by his colleague, Dr Coulson.

The first edition of Freedom to Learn was published in 1969.  Since then two more editions have been published — the second edition in 1983, the third edition in 1994 with H. Jerome Freiberg, who revised the book, taking care to maintain the philosophical integrity of its original author, Carl Rogers, but removing the chapter in which Rogers effectively renounced Third Force psychology describing the experiments in which he had been involved with Maslow as "a pattern of failure."

The later writings of Maslow and Rogers, disclosing the problems with Third Force psychology and Third Force practices, have been largely ignored by opportunistic behaviorists and educators, eager to bring Third Force practices to the classroom.

Freedom to Learn (1994) [10] is based on Third Force psychology and speaks to the move from the "teacher-centered" classroom (the traditional classroom) in which "[s]tudents do not participate in choosing the goals, the curriculum, or the manner of working," to the "open" classroom (the person-centered classroom or transformed classroom) in which the child participates in all of those activities, in which the teacher becomes the facilitator of learning, the child the self-directed learner.  The book clearly defines the purpose and methodology of education being implemented under the auspices of education reform and Goals 2000,

It is most unlikely that one could hold the three attitudes I have described [Realness in the Facilitator of Learning; Prizing, Acceptance, Trust; Empathetic Understanding], or commit herself to being a facilitator of learning, unless she has come to have a profound trust in the human organism and its potentialities.  If I distrust the human being, then I must cram her with information of my own choosing lest she go her own mistaken way.  But if I trust the capacity of the human individual for developing her own potentiality, then I can provide her with many opportunities and permit her to choose her own way and her own direction in her learning.

It is clear, I believe, that the teachers and principals whose works are described in the preceding chapters rely basically upon the tendency toward fulfillment, toward actualization, in their students.  (highlighting added) (p 160)

The content of the learning, while significant, falls into a secondary place.  Thus, a course is successfully ended not when the student has learned all she needs to know, but when she has made significant progress in learning how to learn what she wants to know. (p 213)

Person centered learning focuses on the whole person—individual values, beliefs and attitudes—not a few skills or actions.  When we focus on changing actions without providing opportunities for individuals to reflect on their values, beliefs, and attitudes, we run the risk of building our learning habitat on shifting sands. (p 249)

The self-actualized student.

In his book, A Way of Being (1980), on page 203, Dr Rogers predicts the "future of education" and lays down the components being incorporated into education reform under Goals 2000 in district after district across the United States.

We need to take a good look at what thirty plus years of Third Force practices in the classroom have brought us.

*       Have Third Force practices made children better learners?

No, as Third Force practices have replaced academics, parents have watched the standardized test scores, measuring the factual knowledge base of the child, drop steadily.  Children are graduating from high school functionally illiterate.  Without factual knowledge, a child has no basis upon which to initiate an informed analytical process resulting in a reasoned conclusion — they can only present an uninformed opinion; they are as computers — "processors" of information devoid of analytical capability.  This is the reality of "critical thinking."

*       Have Third Force practices made children better able to deal with the realities of our world?

No, children have become less able to cope with the world in which they find themselves after they graduate.

*       Have Third Force practices effected a decrease in juvenile crime, gangs, teen pregnancies, drop out rates, alcohol and drug abuse, STD's, etc?

No, they have not; the past thirty years have seen a steady increase in rates in all areas. [11]

And when all this manipulating of children's minds has created increasing problems among the youth of our nation, there have been ready scapegoats — poor parenting skills, bad schools, society in general.  In turn, this has then been used as the impetus and justification for more social programs in the schools.  The cycle has become self-fulfilling and self-perpetuating.  If parents share guilt in this, it is that they have listened to the so-called child "experts" who pander the same child-centered propaganda as the behaviorists/educators do; also that they have willingly given over their child to the so-called "experts" in the education system.

American schools were traditionally set up to teach academic rigor — the cognitive domain, and over and above requiring acceptable conduct while on school premises, leaving the affective and psychomotor domains to the parents — to ensure the right of the individual to be an individual, to perpetuate a free society of individuals in a free nation — a melting pot of diverse races with diverse ideas all living together as one culture in one nation.

In final analysis, heed must be taken to the writings of Maslow and Rogers; to their admission to the dangers of Third Force Psychology.

Click here to learn more about psycho-education in the classroom.


[1]   Rogers studied under socialist John Dewey at Columbia University.  He was honored as "Humanist of the Year" by the American Humanist Association in 1964.  (Freedom to Learn; 1994; p 295).  Abraham Maslow received the same title in 1967. [Back]

[2]   Third Force practices in the classroom did not surface with the advent of education reform, Third Force practices have been integrated into the classroom with increasing intensity for the past thirty plus years. [Back]

[3]   Some claim has been made that Coulson and Rogers were the founders of values clarification.  However, values clarification is a product of the humanistic philosophy, finding basis in the works of many philosophers — Kant, Hegel, Marx and Wundt being but a few.  The pioneering work in values clarification was done by Louis E. Raths. [Back]

[4]   This concept is also incorporated into Fourth Force psychology which brings in the "New Age" perspective. [Back]

[5]   River of Pollution, Joseph Bean, 1972, provides a brief synopsis of Glasser, his theory and concepts, and his connection to Third Force psychology. [Back]

[6]   The very essence of socialism.  Under socialism, knowledge is subsidiary to social or life-related issues. [Back]

[7]   Truth in flux, ever changing according to the situation; no absolutes. [Back]

[8]   The Creating the Peaceable School Curriculum; Bodine, Richard J.; Crawford, Donna K.; Schrumpf, Fred; Research Press, 1994. [Back]

[9]   Jack Canfield, Steven Covey and A.H. Robbins are popular protagonists of the "human potential movement". [Back]

[10]  Freedom to Learn (1994) was endorsed by William Glasser, David Berliner, and Jane Stallings.  David Berliner's book, The Manufactured Crisis (1995) is also endorsed by Jane Stallings.  The Manufactured Crisis seeks to "debunk the myths, fraud and the attack on America's public schools." [Back]

[11]  Child Abuse in the Classroom; Official Transcript of Proceedings Before the U.S. Department of Education, March 1984; Phyllis Schlafly; Pere Marquette Press; 1984. [Back]

© April 1996; Lynn M Stuter