Monday, August 29, 2011


Parker J. Palmer offers insight that challenges the status quo in education 

A GIFT TO WOULD-BE EDUCATORS. Of the many gifts Parker Palmer has given this American generation, The Courage to Teach is one of the strongest. I wish it could be given to and read by every educator, would-be educator, and everyone who has influence in shaping the American educational system (I know of a local church in Indianapolis that honored all teachers in its area and gave them Palmer's book).

PEDAGOGY, RELATIONSHIP, MILIEU. I reflect on this as I've returned to the classroom--both real and virtual--as Associate Faculty teaching graduate students in the School for Public and Environmental Affairs (Indiana University).  It's not course content that is the challenge so much, it seems to me, as the pedagogy, the relationships, the milieu, and the context that can keep me awake at night wondering how much better learning might be.  I'm grateful for Palmer's reflections, along with the excellent work of the Center for Teaching and Learning at IUPUI, for offering resources to me and to those who endeavor to enter this bloody arena.

INTERRUPT ROUTINE PROTOCOLS.  If what Palmer says is even partly right, routine educational protocols need to interrupted for the sake of letting the quest for learning breathe anew. A few excerpts:

CREATING THE CONDITIONS. “Teachers possess the power to create conditions that can help students learn a great deal--or keep them from learning much at all. Teaching is the intentional act of creating those conditions, and good teaching requires that we understand the inner sources of both the intent and the act.”

A SILENCE BORN OF FEAR. “The silence of our students is the same silence we have known in other settings: It is the silence of blacks in the presence of whites, of women in the presence of men, of the powerless in the presence of people with power. It is the silence of marginal people, people who have been told that their voice has no value, people who maintain silence in the presence of the enemy because in silence there is safety. Student silence is normally not the product of ignorance or indifference or cynicism. It is a silence born of fear.”

EXORCISE FEAR. “I should have remembered from my own experience that students, too, are afraid: afraid of failing, of not understanding, of being drawn into issues they would rather avoid, of having their ignorance exposed or their prejudices challenged, of looking foolish in front of their peers. When my students’ fears mix with mine, fear multiplies geometrically -- and education is paralyzed. If we were to turn some of our externalized reformist energies toward exorcising the inner demons of fear, we would take a vital step toward the renewal of teaching and learning.”

BEYOND “OBJECTIVITY” ONLY. "Though the academy claims to value multiple modes of knowing, it honors only one -- an 'objective' way of knowing that takes us into the 'real' world by taking us 'out of ourselves'… In this culture, the self is not a source to be tapped but a danger to be suppressed, not a potential to be fulfilled but an obstacle to be overcome."

APPEAL TO THEIR INNER TRUTH. "We can, and do, make education an exclusively outward enterprise, forcing students to memorize and repeat facts without ever appealing to their inner truth -- and we get predictable results: many students never want to read a challenging book or think a creative thought once they get out of school…. What we teach will never 'take' unless it connects with the inward, living core of our students' lives, with our students' inward teachers."

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