Book Review: To Know as We Are Known: Education as a Spiritual Journey By Parker J. Palmer
I was first introduced to Parker Palmer when The Courage to Teach was assigned in one of my classes at Trinity Lutheran College. I don’t think I was in the right place in life to be able to truly appreciate his work. Now over eight years later, I am continually inspired when I read his writing. To Know as We Are Known does not disappoint.
Palmer begins the book with a call to see the world through two-eyed lenses. We often live one-eyed lives or lives seen primarily through the mind’s eye. He writes the mind’s eye sees a world that is a “cold and mechanical place” (p. xxviii). But when we open the second eye, the eye of the heart we see a “world warmed and transformed by the power of love” (p. xxvii). The book is designed to help readers broaden their perspective from the one-eyed view that pervades education to a two-eyed vision of the world.
Palmer uses various analogies to describe what he means by the term “spirituality.” He challenges conventional process of education and contemporary views of knowing and truth. In developing the ideas of truth and knowledge he brings in scripture, words from Jesus, dessert fathers and mothers, and other spiritual and theological leaders from different faith traditions.
He presents three characteristics that create a learning space; openness, boundaries, and an air of hospitality. He defines obedience as being able to “listen with a discerning ear and respond faithfully to the personal implications of what one has heard” (p. 89) Through obedience one is responsible for listening to one another and to the subject. The seeking of truth is a communal process. Palmer advocates for a classroom where learning happens by “interacting with the world, not by viewing it from afar” (p. 35). In this model, learners are responsible for critically thinking about their own learning and understanding of the world, but also accountable to the community of learners and the subject. He gives several examples including adding silence to the classroom, inviting students to introduce themselves and collectively evaluate the class, requiring groups to work together and collaborate, contemplative reading, and lectures designed to make students think versus just absorb information.
I recommend this book to anyone interested in education. As a children’s ministry director the book challenged me to think deeply about how the current paradigm in children’s ministry that is focused on fact and a way of knowing that enables us to control the world can shift toward a paradigm of knowing that empowers us to be co-creators in the world. I plan on encouraging my Sunday school teachers next year to read and discuss this book throughout the year. I believe it provides a level of depth into the subject of holistic education , that goes beyond many typical books on children’s ministry, but can provide important insight.