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THE COURAGE TO TEACH: EXPLORING THE INNER LANDSCAPE OF A TEACHER'S LIFE. Parker J. Palmer.

San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1998. 199 pp. $22.00


A Book Review by Dr. Warren S. Benson When To Know As We Are Known was published many of us began to read Palmer with a new zest. He was talking our language. Now he is giving greater understanding to the importance of our inner qualities that enhance and inevitably mark our teaching. If you truly love teaching and helping others find the way, this book will be of value. If teaching is not a passionate commitment, pass on this one. Palmer claims that "truth is an eternal conversation about things that matter, conducted with passion and discipline" (p.104). The reviewer certainly does not embrace all that this gifted teacher and writer sustains. Palmer never espouses some of the theological presuppositions that I contend are most crucial in the pedagogical dimension. Yet his commitment to teaching and the commitment of one's soul to this enterprise are so foundational that Christian education professors and Christian education specialists would do well to listen to a person who calls us to examine our self-knowledge and measure our true mastery of our content. Palmer suggests that in our determination to reform education we must not forget that "restructuring schools, rewriting curricula, and revising texts" are only part of the process. None of these "will transform education if we fail to cherishand challengethe human heart that is the source of good teaching" (p.3). And this is where our good theology must kick in! The author is not quibbling regarding the "what or how or why questionsexcept when they are posed as the only questions worth asking," but Palmer argues that "the inner landscape of the teaching self" is of greater value (p.4). What is happening to us inside as we teach? As he interprets three key wordsintellectual, emotional, and spiritualhe defines spiritual as "the diverse ways we answer the heart's longing to be connected with the largeness of lifea longing that animates love and work, especially the work called teaching" (p.5). When methodology and strategies are presented Palmer says that the proper role of technique is this: "As we learn more about who we are, we can learn techniques that reveal rather than conceal the personhood from which good teaching comes . . . we no longer need to use methods to mask our true selves as the professional culture urges us to do." (p.24). There will come a period in which we do not need mentors. Our identity and integrity will be allowed to blossom fully. We need to face our fears squarely as we teach. And conversely, often our students have fears within themselves that are to be answered with love and perceptive responses. Palmer did a faculty workshop on a campus which he cannot forget. After the workshop he had agreed to replace a prof who had to be absent that hour. While no other profs observed, Palmer proceeded to identify one of those students as a troublemaker, one he mentally designated the "Student from Hell." While the other students receded from his attention he riveted all of his pedagogical powers on this Student from Hell. He could not reach this male student. Following the class he met with the Dean of the college and several profs who were lavish in their praise of Palmerbut the past hour had devastated him.

A school van picked him up to take him to the airport. The driver? The Student from Hell! An hour and a half with this seemingly ungrateful person. The driver begged to speak first, realizing their antithetical classroom relationship. Out poured the story of his alcoholic father's displeasure with his going to college and the hate that the student experienced in his home. Daily his drive to get an education was ebbing and his father's determination to make him quit schooling was winning. That began a friendship which flowered into a thriving correspondence relationship. Palmer realized the fears of the young man and in time realized his own fears that distorted his understanding of the student. No technique would have brought a ready solution to Palmer's dilemma. The student's fearful heart equalled the fear of his own. Utilizing Erik Erikson's reflections on adult development, teachers face a choice between "stagnation" and "generativity." We dare not choose the "armor of cynicism" as we work with our students. Rather, we must dedicate ourselves to personal growth in our ministry with the young. The volume is filled to the brim with wisdom for our pedagogy and judicious perceptions for the act of teaching. Used with Permission: Warren S. Benson

Source: http://www.wardconsultation.org/Readings/Benson%20review%20of %20Palmer.htm