Dr. Laura L. Runge
LAE 6389 Practice Teaching Literature
Parker Palmer, Courage to Teach
2 syllabus workshops
Notes and Discussion Questions:I have assigned this book because it is often referred to in contemplative pedagogy scholarship. Parker does not use the term himself, and this work may actually predate the movement that has been coalescing for the last decade and a half. I believe this book presents some important insights about teaching, but I also believe it has limitations. Rather than create a bias with my own judgment, I leave it to you to evaluate and respond as honestly and thoughtfully as you can.
The Courage to Teach has a companion guide called The Courage to Teach Guide for Reflection and Renewal which includes a DVD with mini lectures and suggested workshops for discussing issues raised in the book. As a group we will choose a few to watch and conduct during class.
This resource is less practical than it is a call for teachers to become more aware of the complexity of the teaching scene, which includes awareness of the inner life of the teacher and student, the spirit or vitality of the subject and the relationships among all of these in a community. The description of his ideal classroom, the community of truth, shares many elements that have become the hallmarks of contemplative pedagogy. For those of you interested in imagining what a contemplative classroom might look like, this is the closest we will come to a practical guide.
For those of you interested in the type of work that Palmer continues to do, please view the website for his Center for Courage and Renewal. You will find further articles, links and a blog written by people in various professions, including teaching, religious service and community organization.
For more information on contemplative pedagogy, please visit the site for The Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education. This multidisicplinary organization hosts webinars (I've taken 2), workshops (I attended a week-long session at Smith College) and conferences that train people in contemplative pedagogy and continue the conversation in research on or practice in CP. The website is also rich in resources.
The Courage to TeachFocusing on the teacher, Palmer asks us to become introspective along three trajectories: the intellectual, the emotional and the spiritual. He writes: "Reduce teaching to intellect, and it becomes a cold abstraction; reduce it to emotions, and it becomes narcissistic; reduce it to the spiritual, and it loses its anchor to the world. Intellect, emotion, and spirit depend on one another for wholeness. They are interwoven in the human self and in education at its best, and I have tried to interweave them in this book as well" (4).
"Mentors and apprentices are partners in an ancient human dance, and one of teaching's great rewards is the daily chance
it gives us to get back on the dance floor. It is the dance of the spiraling generations, in which the old empower the
young with their experiences and the young empower the old with new life, reweaving the fabric of the human community
as they touch and turn" (25).
What about your subject calls you to study it and what might that tell you about yourself?
In the second chapter he labels educational institutions cultures of fear, and he tells the story about THE STUDENT FROM HELL. Perhaps you can relate. But then he asks us to consider the inner life of the student: How do we properly diagnose students need in the classroom when fear can manifest in the same ways as ignorance? (42-6).
He claims that the inner life of students need to be known or at least honored. To what extent are students marginalized in society? How might you "hear them into voice" (a la Nelle Morton)? (47)
The last part of the chapter discusses our fearful way of knowing, which he sees as objectivism. "Objectivism, fearful of both the knowing self and thing known, distances self from world and deforms our relationships with our subjects, our students, and ourselves. But an even more telling case can be made against this mode of knowing: it fails to give a faithful account of how knowing actually happens, even at the heart of science itself" (55).
What are the problems with objectivism pp. 55-7? How does his "community of truth" in chapter IV answer the problems of objectivism?
On pp. 76-80, he outlines six paradoxical experiences in good teaching, and in discussing these he offers some useful insights:
Choosing a good text: "By a good text I mean one that is fundamentally sound and - another paradox - one with enough unexplained gaps that it cannot be followed like a cookbook" (81).
Choosing the right questions: "chosen because I thought they might be hot buttons, and so they were. They got my students' attention, emotionally and intellectually, drawing them so deeply into the learning space that they could hardly avoid the challenge to think real thoughts" (82).
Running effective discussion: depends heavily on the teacher's ability to facilitate rather than dictate discussion. "[T]he group does not have a voice until the teacher gives it one" (83). "[I]t is indisputable that the moment I break the silence, I foreclose on all changes for authentic learning" (85).
How do you respond to these suggestions?
The idea of community arises again for us. Remember our discussion of community vis-a-vis Rebekah Nathan's My Freshman Year? Palmer proposes three dominant models of community at work in education today: therapeutic, civi and marketing. Do these ring true to you? What are the problems with these?
Palmer claims our culture is in the process of losing the sacred; is there evidence of this? How does this affect the teaching of literature (p. 114).
Chapter V Teaching in Community: Discuss how teaching from the microcosm might operate in a literature course. How might a literary work on your syllabus be taught as a “problem” to solve (perhaps thinking of its mysteries and gaps as “problems”)?
p. 136 What can we usefully take from Palmer’s description of creating a learning space?
Chapter VI Learning in Community: Consider the conversation of colleagues. He calls for a move away from discussing methods to discussing critical moments in teaching (creating a timeline of teaching critical moments together in workshop, which opens up conflicts and fears in a neutral way). What are some of these critical moments in teaching?
He also suggests that we talk about the metaphors we have for teaching and what they say about us. “When I am teaching at my best, I am like a [blank]?”
1. Individual living the undivided life
2. Communities of Congruence
3. Going Public
4. Altering the institution that caused the movement
Where do you think the process of reforming education is / has come since 1997?
Afterword to Tenth Anniversary Edition: The New Professional: Education for Transformation: Palmer traces significant events in development of a movement toward transformative education (calls it “integrative teaching and learning” (193).
Ex. Of medical resident in accidental death of organ donor – How can the education of the healer (or teacher) support the student/teacher to name what he or she sees happening in the institution and DO something about it to bring about change? How might this apply to institutions of Higher Ed –(think about the letter from the 8th grade teacher we read at the beginning of the term).
Active learning and discussionTeaching Strengths and Weaknesses
We will conduct a workshop like that described by Parker Palmer on pages 69-76. In order to prepare, please narrate a moment from your teaching experience that you remember as particularly successful and then narrate a moment that was particularly bad, for whatever reasons. Be sure to pay attention to not only what happened, but how you responded and what you thought about it.
These do not have to be long, and for the purposes of the workshop should probably be no longer than one page double spaced (each). We will share these in small groups and work on the paradoxes of teaching.