Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Parker Palmer on Living and Teaching with Integrity

Parker Palmer’s Story
“What I know about living a divided life starts with my training as an academic. I was taught to keep things in airtight compartments: to keep my ideas apart from my feelings, because ideas were reliable but feelings were not; to keep my theories apart from my actions, because the theory can be pure, but the action is always sullied.

“For the teachers I meet around the country, the decision to live divided-no-more means teaching in a way that corresponds to the truth that they know, rather than according to the latest pedagogical fad or to whatever pressures the institution may be putting on them. These are teachers, for example, who are integrating emotional work with cognitive work in the classroom.”

“At a certain juncture, some people find they must choose between allowing selfhood to die or claiming their identity and integrity. What I mean by divided-no-more is living on the outside the truth you know on the inside.”

Choosing to Live ‘Divided-No-More’
Parker Parker:

“Let me tell you a story about two teachers, a story I tell in The Courage to Teach.”

“Alan and Eric were born into different families of skilled rural craftspeople. Each grew skilled in working with his hands and developed a sense of pride in their respective crafts. Both also excelled in school and became the first in their families to go to college, eventually earning doctorates and choosing academic careers.”

“Here their paths diverged. Eric, who attended an elite private college, suffered culture shock and was always insecure with fellow students and later with academic colleagues. He learned to speak and act like an intellectual, but he always felt fraudulent. This insecurity didn't draw Eric into self-reflection; instead, he bullied his way through his professional life, made pronouncements rather than probes, listened for weaknesses rather than strengths in what other people said. In his classroom, Eric was critical and judgmental, quick to put down ‘stupid questions,’ adept at using trick questions of his own, and merciless in mocking wrong answers.

“Alan's is a different story. He attended a land-grant university where many students had backgrounds much like his own. He was not driven to hide his gift, but was able to honor and transform it by turning it toward his work in academia. Watching Alan teach, you felt that you were watching a craftsman at work. In his lectures, every move Alan made was informed by attention to detail and respect for the materials at hand.”

“Beyond the classroom, students knew that Alan would extend himself with great generosity to any of them who wanted to become his apprentice.”

“Alan taught from an undivided self – an integral state of being in which every major thread of one's life experience is honored, creating a weave of coherence and strength. Such a self is able to make the outward connections on which good teaching depends.”

Read more of this Interview:

Sarah Ruth van Gelder, Integral Life, Integral Teacher-An Interview With Parker Palmer, Yes! A Journal of Positive Futures, 2 November 1998.

Dr Geoff Pound

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Image: Parker Palmer.