A Closer Look #12 To Know as We Are Known

A Closer Look

Today I have a review of To Know as We Are Known: A Spirituality of Education by Parker Palmer, a book exploring how a teacher might understand him or herself better in order to understand his or her students better and thus more greatly impact his or her students’ education. You can also read, rate, and comment on my review at Amazon.

This is the first book I’ve read by Parker Palmer although I’ve read essays, chapter excerpts, and several authors who cite him several times over the years. I was excited to have a full work by Mr. Palmer to take in and I found it exceptional even if I perhaps found myself perplexed from time to time (I’m sure Mr. Palmer would say that’s a good thing).

Immediately, Mr. Palmer presents a central metaphor of learning to do life “whole” by opening both the mind’s eye which sees “a world of fact and reason” and the eye of the heart to see “a world warmed and transformed by the power of love.” (Intro) A teacher, then, uses both eyes and becomes a “mediator between the knower and the unknown.” (29) All throughout the book Palmer lends sound wisdom and keen insight into teaching in meaning-filled and meaning-creating ways. He reminds the reader of the need for a learning space to be one that has openness, boundaries, and hospitality. (70) Conventional classrooms offer hurdles of “hidden curriculum” to rethink such as focusing on someone else’s (teacher’s) vision of reality, a hesitation to be held up for inspection and scrutiny as the teacher / authority / expert, and a structure set up to build isolation easily and often. (34-39) No-brainer wisdom? Perhaps, yet Mr Parker presents these pieces in a whole that is unified in tone and written in accessible, beautiful prose that won’t leave the reader saying, “I already knew that!” but instead, “Of course!”

This quote particularly struck me as something I’ve articulated several times in my life: “Several times in my teaching career I have become someone else’s student, and each time the experience has had a marked impact on my own teaching. I was forcefully reminded that education is not just a cognitive process, not just the transmission of facts and reasons.” (115) This duality is yet again a way Palmer hopes people will see the value in being a “whole person” seeing and living with both eyes open. It was as if Mr. Palmer looked at my life mixed with playing the student and the teacher role and said, “I know exactly what you mean.”

As for occasionally feeling perplexed, I think I was surprised by how often I felt like the text was non-succinct even thought it has a relatively short page count and narrow focus. I had to fight moments when I was tempted to think, “Yes, you said that; please move on.” One example is the story of Abba Felix which, while a great story, runs through the book more like a thick scratchy rope than a thread and while I was captivated by the many examples and stories in chapters 5-6 I had to push myself in earlier chapters. With that said, there are too many gems in this book to dismiss it as rough. Thanks for reading. thelifemosaic

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