Selected Moments of the 20th Century

A work in progress edited by Daniel Schugurensky
Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology,
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT)


Leo Buscaglia teaches Love 1A at the University of Southern California

When Dr. Leo Felice Buscaglia (1924-1998) was interviewed by the Dean of Education at the University of Southern California (USC) in 1967, he was asked about his five-year career plan.  He responded by stating that he wanted to teach a class in love.  By 1969, in response to the tragic loss of one of his students to suicide, Dr. Buscaglia followed through on his dream of “teaching” the first college class on love.

The word ‘teaching’ is placed in quotations because Buscaglia (also known as Leo, Dr. Hugs, or Dr. Love) often stated he did not teach this class but learned in it. It was his general philosophy that teachers’ main role is to facilitate learning rather than ‘teach’ in the traditional sense of the word. In his own words, 

“No teacher has taught anything to anyone.  People learn themselves.  If we look at the word educator it comes from the Latin “educare” meaning to lead, to guide.  That’s what it means, to guide, to be enthusiastic yourself, to understand yourself and to put this stuff before others...” (Living, Loving and Learning, p.6).

Indeed, Buscaglia argued that the “essence of education is not to stuff you full of facts, but to help you discover your uniqueness, to teach you how to develop it, and then show you how to give it away” (Living, Loving Learning, p.10).  He spoke against an education system that aims to “make everybody like everybody else” which can be seen by our rigidity and reward system associated with curriculum in almost every stage of the education system.  Buscaglia discussed the idea that by treating all learners as the same we are missing the point of education and deprive learners of the joy of learning.

This philosophy is similar to that followed by A. S. Neill in the development of Summerhill.  Neill founded Summerhill in 1921 to offer an environment of freedom for children to learn.  The school was structured only through regular democratic self-governed meetings of the Summerhill community.   The children’s emotional well-being is considered of primary importance over academic development as Neill promoted that emotionally healthy individuals will not be inhibited in their learning process.

Buscaglia was the son of Italian immigrants and first learned to speak English when he entered primary school. He was placed in a Special Education class due to his limited English.  This experience led him to become interested in special education and most likely influenced his views of the education system. He worked as a special education teacher, and after receiving his Ph.D. in Language and Speech Pathology he worked as a Professor of Education at the University of Southern California for almost two decades (1965-1984).

Buscaglia’s teachings can be used as an analysis of the current education system.  An example of this can be seen through a website called Dear Habermas.  This website is described as a Journal of Postmodern and Critical Thought Devoted to Academic Discourse on Peace and Justice. On this website one will find the work of Leo Buscaglia highlighted and used as a discussion piece regarding a non-violent response to structural violence.  An education system that denies uniqueness of individuals, places limits on the learners’ outcomes and rewards only pre-determined outcomes would be viewed as structurally violent. (see

Buscaglia’s love class was an instant success. With a limited enrollment of one year, it started with 20 students and quickly progressed to 200 with a waiting list of 600 and full within 20 minutes of registration. By combining the teachings of sociology, anthropology and psychology, Buscaglia facilitated discussions about love, self-actualization and human relationships.  Some of Buscaglia’s influences included the works of Carl Rogers, Carl Jung, and Jean Piaget.

After Love 1A began, Buscaglia wrote a series of best selling books that have been translated into 20 different languages including Love, Living, Loving and Learning, Loving Each Other, The Disabled and Their Parents, and Personhood.  Five of his books appeared on the New York Times bestseller list concurrently.  Many of his taped lectures are also used as fund-raising tools for the Public Broadcasting System.  This is quite a successful career for a man who was placed in a special education class based on an education system that deemed him “mentally retarded” due to his language barriers.

Throughout his career, in his books and lectures and in his modeling of giving, Buscaglia provided an outstanding example of a “teacher” for adults and children alike.  His work and life legacy speaks to much of the ideals of adult education.  Throughout his work one can extract examples of his belief in community for learning.  The concepts of both personal and social transformation can be seen in his work.  For example, in 1989, Buscaglia donated real estate valued at $500,000 towards USC and part of this money was devoted to scholarships for Inner City Teacher Education.  Upon completion of schooling, a student in receipt of this scholarship was required to teach a minimum of 2 years in an inner-city high school in California.

Another example of community/cooperative approaches modeled by Buscaglia can be seen in the Felice Foundation founded by him in 1994  “to give special aid and attention to those who have dedicated themselves to the betterment of personkind through the dynamics of helping one another... structured around the dynamics of sharing and giving, and influencing others to do the encourage and reinforce socially contributive behaviors where the focus is clearly outside the "self," looking instead toward the welfare of others and the community.”  (The World of Leo Buscaglia Website)

Leo Felice Buscaglia died from a heart attack on June 12, 1998.  On July 18, 1998, a tribute to his life was conducted as a “global community event” across the world called the following:  Keep Love Alive.  The direction for this event was: “ people should go to the most beautiful place in their area, hopefully with a loved one or in a group. Dedicate the sunset to Leo's memory, and also state a concrete way that you personally are going to help perpetuate Leo's legacy of love.” (The World of Leo Buscaglia)

Love 1A, the university course started by Dr. Leo Buscaglia is an exceptional example of creativity in education  where learners are encouraged to tap into their own internal resources of knowledge and share them as a community.  Dr. Leo Buscaglia is a tremendous model of teachers’ capacities to influence positive transformation for individuals and societies.


1)  Living, Loving & Learning,  Buscaglia, Leo (1982). Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Toronto

2)  Loving Each Other—The Challenge of Human Relationships,  Buscaglia, Leo (1984). Random House Ltd, Toronto

3)  URL:  The World of Leo Buscaglia. Retrieved Oct. 27 2002 from

4)  URL:  Dear Habermas. Retrieved Oct. 27, 2002 from

5)  URL:  Leo Buscaglia—Internationally known author-lecturer.  Retrieved Oct. 20, 2002 from

6)  URL:  Author Index:  Leo F. Buscaglia. Retrieved Oct. 27, 2002 from  

7)  URL:  Leo Buscaglia index.  Retrieved Oct. 27, 2002 from

8)  URL:  In Memory of Dr. Leo Buscaglia.  Retrieved Oct. 27, 2002 from

9)  URL:  A Brief History of Summerhill.  Retrieved Nov. 15, 2002 from

Prepared By Lisa Bellon (OISE/UT), 2002

Citation: Author (2002). Title. In Daniel Schugurensky (Ed.), History of Education: Selected Moments of the 20th Century [online]. Available: (date accessed).

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