Archive for Deep learning

Peter Diamond on a world of abundance

Please use the next 18 minutes to watch this video:

if this is your first TED video, you have flood of good news awaiting you. Go to – find a video you love, tell your friends about it.
One that i have seen more than 15 times is by Jill Bolte Taylor. But you will find your own ones, and will pass them on.
Is it possible that we will find solutions to all our problems? Yes, and I think it is likely. Of course fiercer problems will arise out of their ashes, but that is all right.
It is our destiny, to see through ever-tougher problems, to never stop learning. We are the learning animal.
In Gaia (see James Lovelock for this wonderful vision), the single organism that Earth is, we are the nervous system. Truth is our ultimate food.


Peter Coney


Fact is not yet learning



Friends in Dream Deep!

I am just a beginner, and I have not learned very much at all about this wonderful tool. I am glad that there are so many of us who are interested in the sorts of things that seem important to me. I just found a place to click in Word Press which let me know that there are 243 of us who are Deep Dreamers.
I thank you very much for your interest and trust in me, and I am going to learn how to communicate more effectively. I just heard an inspiring audio clip from a man who loves the USA, and loves the many good things we have given to the world (he mentions roller skates – I didn’t know that that was our idea, hooray for invention!) in whatever part of the globe. He has a plan: he wears red and white striped pants, as part of the flag. I think it is fine to be for the good things in the US (but that we should never close our eyes to the negativities that come close to canceling out the positives. But I am rooting for this guy to get his video out to many people, so that they can share his dream.

As you will see below, I bought this book (I describe it below), and what it told me about myself I found very true. It didn’t ask me directly about the five themes – the questions were more oblique – I remember none of them. But one might have been: if you have a book and a dvd of “the same thing”. do you watch first or read first? Stuff like that.
And after you have answered them all, the website sends you back something like I am sending you tonight.

Those of you who know me outside the blog can judge for yourselves whether you think that the things that the program says about me are true or not. The blog is very much me too – those of you who just know me from the mix of stuff that I have sent out to you – you can make up your minds too.

Anyway. Again, I thank you for your interest, and I am amazed that so many people, from quite a few countries, as far as I can tell, have signed on, despite the total lack of advertising about Dream Deep. I guess it is just going from friend to friend, which is something that I hope will persist. If this whole thing – to say nothing of the world tout court – is not based on love, it deserves to be the dust that it will surely soon turn into.

I am remembering a line from a Beatles’ song:

the love you get is equal to the love you give

I would like to close for tonight with a beautiful quote from a man whose work has been a great support for me: Jack Kornfield. This quote is one he has included in his book, which I am reading now: A Path with Heart. I found a website with quotes from this book:

Here’s the one I wanted to share with you all:

“The best-adjusted person in our society is the person who is not dead and not alive, just numb, a zombie. When you are dead you’re not able to do the work of society. When you are fully alive you are constantly saying “No” to many of the processes of society, the racism, the sexism, the polluted environment, the nuclear threat, the arms race, drinking unsafe water and eating carcinogenic foods. Thus it is in the interests of our society to promote those things that take the edge off, keep us busy with our fixes, and keep us slightly number out and zombie-like. In this way our modern consumer society itself functions as an addict.” (A.W. Schaef – When Society Becomes an Addict )

May we all get aliver! Rock the boat. Be simultaneously round AND square pegs! Fit in nothing.

Peace –


From StrengthsFinder 2.0 – Hardcover (Feb. 1, 2007) by Tom Rath

This is a book which lets you find out what your strengths are. You buy the book, and get to answer a whole lot of questions about what is important for you. I seem to remember that it is online – only one person can take the test. If a friend wants to find out about themselves, they have to buy the book, and use the code that is in their copy.

My great friend and advisor Bonnie Sue told me about this book, and suggested it might tell me things I should know about myself. Ever vain/curious/nosy/fascinatable, I took the test, and thought that maybe you would like to see what it told me about MYself, so that you would have some idea about whether this is the kind of thing you would like to know about YOURself. I found it valuable. See whatcha think.

What makes you stand out?
© 2000, 2006-2008 The Gallup Organization. All rights reserved.
Ideas For Action

Your Top 5 Themes




You are likely to get bored quickly, so make some small changes in your work or home life.
Experiment. Play mental games with yourself. All of these will help keep you stimulated.
Finish your thoughts and ideas before communicating them. Lacking your Ideation talents,
others might not be able to “join the dots” of an interesting but incomplete idea and thus
might dismiss it.
Not all your ideas will be equally practical or serviceable. Learn to edit your ideas, or find a
trusted friend or colleague who can “proof” your ideas and identify potential pitfalls.
Understand the fuel for your Ideation talents: When do you get your best ideas? When
you’re talking with people? When you’re reading? When you’re simply listening or
observing? Take note of the circumstances that seem to produce your best ideas, and
recreate them.
Schedule time to read, because the ideas and experiences of others can become your raw
material for new ideas. Schedule time to think, because thinking energizes you.
You are a natural fit with research and development; you appreciate the mindset of
visionaries and dreamers. Spend time with imaginative peers, and sit in on their
brainstorming sessions.
Partner with someone with strong Analytical talents. This person will question you and
challenge you, therefore strengthening your ideas.
Sometimes you lose others’ interest because they cannot follow your abstract and
conceptual thinking style. Make your ideas more concrete by drawing pictures, using
analogies or metaphors, or simply explaining your concepts step by step.
Feed your Ideation talents by gathering knowledge. Study fields and industries different from
your own. Apply ideas from outside, and link disparate ideas to generate new ones.


Consider roles in which you listen and counsel. You can become adept at helping other
people see connection and purpose in everyday occurrences.
Explore specific ways to expand your sense of connection, such as starting a book club,
attending a retreat, or joining an organization that puts Connectedness into practice.
Within your organization, help your colleagues understand how their efforts fit in the larger
picture. You can be a leader in building teams and helping people feel important.
You are aware of the boundaries and borders created within organizations and
communities, but you treat these as seamless and fluid. Use your Connectedness talents to
break down silos that prevent shared knowledge.
Help people see the connections among their talents, their actions, their mission, and their
successes. When people believe in what they are doing and feel like they are part of
something bigger, commitment to achievement is enhanced.
Partner with someone with strong Communication talents. This person can help you with the
words you need to describe vivid examples of connection in the real world.
Don’t spend too much time attempting to persuade others to see the world as a linked web.
Be aware that your sense of connection is intuitive. If others don’t share your intuition,
rational argument will not persuade them.
Your philosophy of life compels you to move beyond your own self-interests and the
interests of your immediate constituency and sphere of influence. As such, you see the
broader implications for your community and the world. Explore ways to communicate these
insights to others.
Seek out global or cross-cultural responsibilities that capitalize on your understanding of the
commonalities inherent in humanity. Build universal capability, and change the mindset of
those who think in terms of “us” and “them.”
Connectedness talents can help you look past the outer shell of a person to embrace his or
her humanity. Be particularly aware of this when you work with someone whose background
is very different from yours. You can naturally look past the labels and focus on his or her
essential needs.



You probably will excel in any role in which you are paid to highlight the positive. A teaching
role, a sales role, an entrepreneurial role, or a leadership role will make the most of your
ability to make things dramatic.
You tend to be more enthusiastic and energetic than most people. When others become
discouraged or are reluctant to take risks, your attitude will provide the impetus to keep them
moving. Over time, others will start to look to you for this “lift.”
Plan highlight activities for your friends and colleagues. For example, find ways to turn small
achievements into events, plan regular celebrations that others can look forward to, or
capitalize on the year’s holidays and festivals.
Explain that your enthusiasm is not simple naiveté. You know that bad things can happen;
you simply prefer to focus on the good things.
You may get your greatest joy by encouraging people. Freely show your appreciation of
others, and make sure that the praise is not vague. Consistently seek to translate your
feelings into specific, tangible, and personal expressions of gratitude and recognition.
As you share your Positivity talents, be sure to protect and nurture them. As necessary,
insulate yourself from chronic whiners and complainers, and intentionally spend time in
highly positive environments that will invigorate and feed your optimism.
Don’t pretend that difficulties don’t concern you. Other people need to know that while you
find the good in virtually every situation, you are not naïve. Recognize challenges, and
communicate the reasons for your optimism. Your positive approach will be most powerful
when others realize it is grounded in reality.
Because people will rely on you to help them rise above their daily frustrations, arm yourself
with good stories, jokes, and sayings. Never underestimate the effect that you can have on
Avoid negative people. They will bring you down. Instead, seek people who find the same
kind of drama and humor in the world that you do. You will energize each other.
Deliberately help others see the things that are going well for them. You can keep their eyes
on the positive.


Refine how you learn. For example, you might learn best by teaching; if so, seek out
opportunities to present to others. You might learn best through quiet reflection; if so, find
this quiet time.
Develop ways to track the progress of your learning. If there are distinct levels or stages of
learning within a discipline or skill, take a moment to celebrate your progression from one
level to the next. If no such levels exist, create them for yourself (e.g., reading five books on
the subject or making three presentations on the subject).
Be a catalyst for change. Others might be intimidated by new rules, new skills, or new
circumstances. Your willingness to soak up this newness can calm their fears and spur them
to action. Take this responsibility seriously.
Seek roles that require some form of technical competence. You will enjoy the process of
acquiring and maintaining this expertise.
As far as possible, shift your career toward a field with constantly changing technologies or
regulations. You will be energized by the challenge of keeping up.
Because you are not threatened by unfamiliar information, you might excel in a consulting
role (either internal or external) in which you are paid to go into new situations and pick up
new competencies or languages quickly.
Research supports the link between learning and performance. When people have the
opportunity to learn and grow, they are more productive and loyal. Look for ways to measure
the degree to which you and others feel that your learning needs are being met, to create
individualized learning milestones, and to reward achievements in learning.
At work, take advantage of programs that subsidize your learning. Your organization may be
willing to pay for part or all of your instructional coursework or for certifications. Ask your
manager for information about scholarships and other educational opportunities.


Honor your desire to learn. Take advantage of adult educational opportunities in your
community. Discipline yourself to sign up for at least one new academic or adult learning
course each year.
Time disappears and your attention intensifies when you are immersed in studying or
learning. Allow yourself to “follow the trail” by scheduling learning sessions during periods of
time that will not be interrupted by pressing engagements.


Once you have identified your own greatest talents, stay focused on them. Refine your
skills. Acquire new knowledge. Practice. Keep working toward strength in a few areas.
Develop a plan to use your most powerful talents outside of work. In doing so, consider how
your talents relate to the mission in your life and how they might benefit your family or the
Problem solving might drain your energy and enthusiasm. Look for a restorative partner who
can be your chief troubleshooter and problem solver. Let that person know how important
your partnership is to your success.
Study success. Deliberately spend time with people who have discovered their strengths.
The more you understand how marshaling strengths leads to success, the more likely you
will be to create success in your own life.
Explain to others why you spend more time building on great talent rather than fixing
weaknesses. Initially, they might confuse what you are doing with complacency.
Don’t let your Maximizer talents be stifled by conventional wisdom, which says you should
find what is broken and fix it. Identify and invest in the parts of your organization or
community that are working. Make sure that most of your resources are spent in the build-up
and build-out of these pockets of excellence.
Keep your focus on long-term relationships and goals. Many make a career out of picking
the low-hanging fruit of short-term success, but your Maximizer talents will be most
energized and effective as you turn top potential into true and lasting greatness.
See if you can make some of your weaknesses irrelevant. For example, find a partner,
devise a support system, or use one of your stronger talents to compensate for one of your
weaker ones.
Seek roles in which you are helping people succeed. In coaching, managing, mentoring, or
teaching roles, your focus on strengths will prove particularly beneficial to others. Because
most people find it difficult to describe what they do best, start by arming them with vivid
Devise ways to measure your performance and the performance of others. These measures
will help you spot strengths, because the best way to identify a strength is to look for
sustained levels of excellent performance.


Peter Coney: Universities as sanctuaries, preserves

Peter Coney, a distinguished University of Arizona professor, now deceased, understood what was required of a university to nurture growth and discovery. He articulated it persuasively:

“I have always felt as I pass from the turmoil of urban streets through the gates and onto the campus of an institution of higher learning, anywhere in the world, a sense of relief and comfort, solemnity and freedom. The feeling is not unlike that when one enters a national park, for this is what colleges and universities are — they are sanctuaries, preserves — of civilization. They are the only institution in the course of human endeavor whose sole purpose and mission is to know the course, content, and directions of civilization, to understand, preserve protect, and transmit these findings, and to seek further advances and new insights into the truth of ourselves and the world…[The] environment should…assure exposure to all the necessary skills and the best ideas and conceptual frameworks of the time, and provide stimulation from an active, well-read thoughtful, positive, innovative, and open faculty, all in an atmosphere of freedom and tolerance. Like libraries that have to have all the books to make sure they have the one somebody needs, we have to have the freedom at universities to tolerate and encourage all sorts of individual diversity, both in faculty and students, so that we can be sure that the best mind gets the exposure to the best cognitive resource which might enable that one-in-a-million new idea that can change the course of a discipline, or civilization.”


Haj Ross: Network Learning

Network Learning
Haj Ross
Linguistics Department,
Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais,
Belo Horizonte
Circle – Noetic Services

“It is in fact nothing short of a miracle that modern
methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled
the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant,
aside from stimulation, stands warmly in need of
freedom; without this, it goes to wrack and ruin
without fail.”

Albert Einstein

In what follows, I want to try to give a rough characterization of a set of ideas and practices that have been slowly emerging in my own teaching over a period of around a dozen years. I would not like this to be thought of as a contribution to methodology, a concept which I am terminally suspicious of in any context as full of real, particular, unrepeatable individuals as any serious learning encounter necessarily is. I keep rediscovering that what worked once for me in one context is dead wrong in another. If I am really after “magical learning,” as I am (more on this term below), I find that I have to always be willing to throw away all notes, all my little tricks which once worked, and improvise, improvise, improvise. Without that, the educational encounters that I participate in seem to get leaden.
Thus what I suggest for you, dear reader, is to read behind the suggested practices, to try to imagine the state of frustration, in my own mind, as well as in the minds of my fellow co-learners, which prompted me to try some of these unorthodox activities in the classroom. If you understand, because you too have felt, the frustration, then I ask you to let me know what you have done about it. What has worked for you? Maybe if enough of us work on ways to achieve truly incredible synergies in classrooms, we will slowly amass a body of experiments like those I report on below to help ourselves out of the bind that I see us as being in now.
I have, also with severe misgivings, been using a name for this more or less subversive activity: network learning. The reason that I dislike names is that too often, they turn into seeds for institutions, and institutions are crummy at improvisation. I think that I would be a bit happier with a name like “gorilla learning,” which seems to self-destruct nicely as a possible kernel for any future institution, but I have let myself be seduced by the glamor of the title of this paper – it makes what I am about to say have a sheen of respectability. Ergo: caveat lector!

1. The basic notion: replacing the standard asymmetry of teacher (the one with the power, who gives grades, who knows what is the Right Answer, who rewards you for quoting it correctly on exams, in papers, etc.) vs. student (those who know nothing before they enter the course, who all learn exactly the same way, in the same sequence, at the same speed, who are lazy and irresponsible, and who would never learn anything on their own, without being pushed into it, etc., etc.) with the totally symmetrical, mutual, and collective notion of co-learning, an activity that is equally fascinating and challenging for all who meet in the educational encounter.
Co-learning seems to depend on two happenings, which can be distinguished logically, but which in practice occur in either order, or simultaneously. In short, they interpenetrate:

A. The group of people in the encounter, including those called professors, teachers, coaches, guides, etc. become a kind of collective being, or a superindividual. A bit like a network, or a circle of friends. Ideally, this being will come to life on the basis of a relationship of trust, respect, or in the best of cases, friendship, between each pair of people in the group.

The Jewel Network of Indra

In the heaven of Indra, there is a
network of jewels, each pair of which is
connected by a ray of light. Thus when
any one of the jewels begins to shine
more brightly, the radiance of the whole
network increases.

The Buddha
Avatamsaka Sutra

B. The collective being decides what it wants to learn, and goes about learning it. This being has many voices, only one of which being that of the professor, teacher, etc. Often, perhaps even in a majority of cases, the most important information will come from one of the other voices. Everyone must learn to be on the qui vive, because no one can know for sure from which direction the next important fact or interpretation will emerge. It may well come from them themselves.

2. Absence of all asymmetries of power. Any use of compulsion, on the part of a professor, etc. (or on the part of anyone else, for that matter) interferes with the coming into being of the superindividual. Thus there are no grades, tests, homework, nothing assigned. No “musts.” The relevant verb, for any teacher in the group (i. e., for anyone – we all become “the” teacher) is invite. If someone finds something interesting which they think that the network would profit from reading, then they suggest just that. Tests and homework are even possible, under two conditions: (a) people are invited to participate – nobody is forced to, and (b) the grades for anything are never to be communicated to any authority outside the classroom, unless the person who got the grade so desires. Primarily, they are not intended to be used as a yardstick for comparisons, but rather only as a sort of mirror, so that each person can see for themselves how well they are doing on mastering the material. The invitation to take a test, perform an experiment, write on some topic, etc., can come from anyone.

3. All communications are one-many, not many-one. Thus, instead of everyone turning in something to a teacher, if someone has found something of importance that they think the network would profit from knowing, then they xerox it and pass out copies to everybody. One very important many-many communication: at the end of the learning encounter, everyone is invited, including “the” professor, to write a letter to the class, telling everyone else how it all was for them – what things worked, what things were a flop, saying goodbye to all their friends, etc. This way, a group of, say, thirty people can leave a learning experience with thirty different perspectives as to what that experience was, rather than just their own reaction. There is a richness of texture that such a “Dear Us” letter creates which has to be experienced to be understood.

4. Dialogue journals. If it is at all possible, this way of midwiving the network’s birth should definitely be attempted. It is the only activity in which there is a functional asymmetry between teacher and anyone else. The teacher invites everyone to turn in at the end of each week a notebook, in which they have written something, writing, however, only on the right-hand pages. The left-hand pages are left blank, so that the teacher can reply. Over the weekend, the teacher responds to whatever was written.
What can the students write about? Absolutely anything at all. If the course, is, for example, a French course, the student can ask for help about any problems of grammar or interpretation, and so on. But – and this is extremely important – the journals are private: the teacher does not have the right to show them to anyone else, without the prior approval of the author. Thus the student can write about more private things: their fear that they are about to get fired, because of the salary cutbacks; their joy at the fact that they have been engaged for two years and now are finally going to get married in two months; the fact that they are foreign students, who have never lived in a violent country before, and that now, they can only afford a room in a dangerous part of the city – that they are afraid to go home at night. Or that their most favorite uncle of all has just been admitted to the hospital, with abdominal pains, and they fear for him, because there is a history of cancer in the family.
The teacher can also write about anything. If there are technical questions to answer, of course they will be answered from the perspective of any specialized knowledge that the teacher may have. And as for any personal things, where the teacher is not any special kind of expert, just someone who cares, the teacher will listen as attentively as possible, and will give the student their reactions, from sharing their joy, to expressing condolences, as any other ordinary person would.
Each journal can become a place of complete freedom for a pair of people. Teachers, of course, never will know what will await them as they open a journal, and will probably often be surprised to see what they find themselves answering. The students, too, will typically not know from week to week what they will want to write about next– they may want to take off from the teacher’s remarks the last time the journal was turned in, or they may choose to go off in a completely new direction. Journals are almost always a surprise, to whoever works with them.
Dialogue journals have been used for many years, with an extensive set of populations, ranging in age from children who have just learned to write, up through graduate students working on doctoral dissertations. There is even a bulletin that is published several times yearly for the network of people who are interested in the implications of the dialogue journal experience for wider educational issues. A central node in the network, who has been involved in this research since its inception, is:

Jana Staton, 629 Beverly Avenue,
Missoula, Montana. 59801-5919

5. Other things that have sometimes worked for me in helping the collective being of (1A) above emerge:

A. Seating: in a circle, of course. It’s much harder to learn from someone if you can only see their back.

B. Introductions: on the first day, while getting acquainted, instead of going around the circle of people, it has often helped to break up into “triangles” – groups of three people, chosen if possible in such a way that no two people in any triangle knew each other previously. The members of the triangles talk for a while among themselves, until the members of each triangle are acquainted with one another, and then, when we come back to reform the big circle, two members of a triangle present the third member.
Also, this presenting is not necessarily done triangle by triangle – rather, the introductions run, as much as is possible, like a conversation. For example, suppose that someone from one triangle has just been introduced, one facet of whom is their interest in hang gliding. If there is another hang-glider in the room, the other two members of that triangle would naturally next introduce the other hang-glider to the class. Many unexpected coherences among the group’s members can come to light more easily in this way, I believe.

C. Games. If anyone knows how to juggle, and how to teach juggling, bringing some balls to class and letting people start throwing them around, and of course, dropping them, is often a great ice-breaker. Another is a game that I call Human Topology, which goes like this: everybody stands in a circle, holds out their arms straight in front of them, and then puts their right arm over their left arm. Then each person holds the hand of one person with one hand, and another hand with the other hand. Neither of the people who you link up with may be immediately next to you. Linking up with someone all the way across the circle is a good idea.
When everyone has linked up to two non-neighboring class-members, then begins the job of untangling the linkages. You may loosen your grip on either of the hands that you are holding on to, in order to turn around, or to let someone step over or under your linked hands, but you may not let anyone’s linked hands pass through an opening in this human chain of hands.
It’s very interesting to see how the big knot of people can simplify, sometimes into one big ring, sometimes into two distinct ones, and sometimes into nothing – the knot just doesn’t seem to want to go away. Whatever happens, the procedure is full of laughs, and often helps people start feeling comfortable with one another very fast. As do

D. Class parties. Frequent ones.

E. Marking material that has been handed in: use some other color of ink than red. The connotations of red are just too strong to be disregarded. Try using a less aggressive color. A friend, Ann Peters, suggested this to me, and I have since followed her advice. I think that this apparently small thing makes in fact a surprisingly big difference.

F. Whose class? Try never to speak, or even think, of any educational encounter as “my class,” if your official role is that of “teacher,” nor of any of the members of the class as “my students.” If you are on the other end of the stick, try not to speak or think of the encounter as “Professor Shindig’s lab in biochem,” etc. Try to remember that it is always our class, and that everybody is everybody else’s student (or, equally well, teacher), and to always talk of it that way too.

G. In-class reading: a wonderful short (4 pages) text that can be read in class and discussed, is Carl Rogers’ “Personal thoughts on learning and teaching,” which appears in two of Rogers’ books: On Becoming a Person, and Freedom to Learn. Cf. also

Rogers presents the philosophy of co-learning much better than I know how to.

J. The principal objective of all of these suggestions is to foster a kind of educational encounter which I have come to call magic learning, to give it a name. Sometimes we have been lucky enough, many of us, to have been in some traditional school or university setting and to have taken a course in which all the stereotyped roles of teacher and student somehow didn’t make any difference, and were transcended. The material that we studied together may still be active in our minds – maybe we still keep reading books in, or thinking about, the area. That would be one way in which the course, though officially and apparently over, could have outwitted the artificial limitations imposed by the end of a term, or summer session, etc.

But there is another, less obvious, way for the course to stay alive in our minds and lives. To see what this way is, let us think for a minute about what it is that we learn in a class, say a Russian class.
Of course, we learn some Russian. But let us ask ourselves, if we have had the experience of having learned two different languages at different times in our lives (if we have not had this experience ourselves, we can easily find many people who have, and we can ask one of them), which of our two languages was the easiest to learn?
Interestingly, even if we have not had this experience ourselves, and don’t happen to have anyone handy who we can ask, we still know what the answer is. Unless the first language was a language very close to English in its structure, like say French, and the second was wildly different, like say Chinese, where we probably would have found the first language easier, the second time that we learn a language, it is easier than the first time.
And why might that be? For one answer, we can make use of a distinction that was drawn by one of the great Renaissance thinkers of this century: the biologist/therapist/ cyberneticist/(educational) philosopher Gregory Bateson. The distinction, which can, like a whole passel of useful tools, be found in the pages of Bateson’s Steps to an Ecology of Mind, is that between proto-learning (examples would be learning calculus, golf, cooking. wind-surfing, or Chinese) and deutero-learning (which is learning how to learn). Obviously, while we are proto-learning our first language, we are deutero-learning the learning of languages in general. Thus when we learn Russian, we are not only learning that some languages can have case systems (which will help us when we learn German, Greek, Finnish, or Latin). or that there are languages which have a very free order of the elements of a clause (which will help with Papago and Warlpiri), we are also learning that many things in the grammar of English, which we always thought of as necessities of life – like articles, say – are just local options. In other words, Russian loosens some of the tightnesses of our mind, takes off some of the linguistic blinders with which we had unconsciously been restricting our notions of what languages can be.
In still other words, in our Russian class, at one level, we are learning about one language – Russian – but at a higher level, we are learning about Language Itself. That is one of the reasons why Goethe wrote that a person who did not know another language did not know their own.

“Wer keine Fremdsprache kennt, weiß nichts von seiner eigenen.”

[who no strange-language (= foreign language) knows, knows nothing of her/his own]

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

And there are many more levels that we can be learning at in our Russian class: for one, we are learning what is is to take a college-level course – what the homework is like, how to pass tests, how to psych out what the teacher is likely to ask us, and so on. And we may, if our Russian class was in fact an instance of magical learning for us, have learned that one can (learn how to) be changed for a lifetime by a learning encounter.
But we may have been getting ahead of ourselves. I am trying to give those of you who may not have ever had the experience of magical learning an idea of what it feels like. One way to describe the feeling is to say: our lives are permanently changed. And the only way for this permanence to be attained is for the course to never really be over. I may not still be studying Russian, but the joy that I shared with my classmates and our teacher (I think that it is possible to have a private, one-person magical learning experience – to be the only person of a group of forty who just adores a course and to have a teacher who is putting everyone else in the room to sleep – but that is not the real thing that I am interested in fostering. I want to look for ways to help everyone in the room achieve just this same kind of lift-off.) may be with me still. For what I learned was: learning itself is a source of joy. If I carry this truth with me, into new educational experiences, and learn to transform them, too, into joyous ones, there is a real sense in which my Russian class is still going on.
Let us pause for just a moment to ask this: can it be that this discovery – that learning is a source of joy – is really something new, which has just emerged from the particular chemistry of the interaction of the people in Russian 101? Or have I just stumbled again onto something very primal, which I have always known, at some level, and have just forgotten, possibly for many years? At this point, let me quote Friedrich Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil:

Philosophical thinking is…far less a discovery
than a recognition, a remembering, a return,
and a homecoming to a remote, primordial,
and inclusive household of the soul.

If we ask ourselves two questions – first, who are the planet’s best learners? and second, for whom is it obviously a continuous joy to learn? – it is clear that we can find one answer for both: children. When we were children, we knew well that learning was a joy. We may have forgotten it, due to some rough experiences at the hands of the educational establishment, but this knowledge is a part of our genes, something we can always return to. We are meant to learn. That is why we came here. Thus in the minds of children, there is only one verb, which would fuse the meanings of the two which big people’s languages seem to think they need, and which the diagram below attempts to indicate the indivisibility of:


So one of the parameters of network learning is slowly emerging: it is a way of attempting a relearning. Network learning is a way to help us return to the kind of learning that we came into the world equipped to do. Network learning is the way children who are playing together in the snow, making a snow fort, learn how to make roofs that are not too thin, walls that are not so weak that everything collapses when a window in them is opened up, and so on. The real “secret,” then, behind all the particular tricks and methods which I have been suggesting above is just this: find your Inner Child. Approach whatever it is that we are trying to learn together with exactly that Child’s sense of wonder, eagerness, openness, freshness, and cooperation.
I have spent a great deal of time talking about ways to help along the birth of the collective being, the superindividual, or the network which was mentioned in (1A). Some of them were parties, the abandoning of grades, sitting in a circle, the absence of any built-in asymmetries of power, such as the usual teacher-student one, and so on. In our present state, I think we also have to talk a great deal about it being all right to learn collectively, for the message which the traditional classroom has dinned into our heads for from ten to twenty of our most impressionable years is: knowledge is a one-person thing. For instance, when you learn, say, geography, you have to know all of the fifty states and their capitols. It is not acceptable for the kids in Mr. Smekinek’s fourth-grade class to set up a system in which Betsy knows the answers for the New England States, Ahmed knows them for the Mid-Atlantic ones, Zulécio for the Deep South, and so on. And yet such a sharing of data is an exact model for the kind of knowledge of a field that we will have when we become physicists or physicians: we may be an expert in superconductivity of polytripeptinase Zretch-fibers, and know nothing more about, say, shear points of copper splantring codon assemblages than that David What’s-his-face at Caltech is the first person to talk to. Or we may be wonderful heart surgeons with no knowledge of inner-ear goings on.
So it was fine to share knowing when we were in the sand-box, and it will be OK again when we get our own Tokamak accelerator, but there is an indefinite stretch in there in the middle – called Our Education – when it’s not supposed to be all right? Come on, gang – we can’t afford the luxury of such a cockamamy training any more, if in fact we ever could.
As is well known, the rate at which our knowledges are increasing in size and in so many different fields that no one even knows how many of them there are is already immense, and is getting more so at accelerations which we probably can’t even accurately compute any longer. The idea that most of what we should learn should be of the one-person variety, as it is for the fifty states and Mr. Smekinek, is really not worth a lot of time criticizing. It’s just dumb.
When one stops to think about it for just a minute, it is obvious what a graduate student in, say, Chemistry, or Oriental Art, is really supposed to learn in the course of their graduate education: they are supposed to learn the field of Chemistry, or the field of Oriental Art. But what is the field of chemistry? It is obvious that there are certain things that every chemist knows, things that can be put into books – the periodic table, the notations for reactions, and so on. And there are also certain laboratory skills – how to titrate, how to pour the acid into the water, not vice versa, etc. etc. And then every chemist (or any student, in any field) who writes a thesis learns the personal lessons involved in the perseverance and determination that it takes to mount a major research project and to stick with it, for a period of probably several years.
And then what? Well, our young chemist, with fresh Ph. D., starts to work somewhere, and begins, through reading, and above all, through personal encounters, to get to know the real field of chemistry, which is: the world network of chemists. That word again. Fields are networks [worse yet: these networks are dynamic organisms: they are events] of people; they are extremely complex events to study. They are much more like verbs than they are like nouns, for one thing, and they are riddled, as are any human institutions, with all kinds of drives and ambitions: territorial, sexual, and even conceptual ones. If you want to be a successful chemist, you have to know not only what is going on at Duke, SIU, la Sorbonne, Tokyo Daigaku,… in terms of the kinds of research, but you have to also know who has money, what schools are prestigious, who is feuding with who about what, who used to be sleeping with who but no longer is, and so on. And since you of course can’t know all of that yourself, because there’s just too much of it, you have to know enough of the people in the network to be able to identify the important information gates in it. If you don’t know something yourself, you have to have some pretty good ideas about who you should get in touch with.
And let us ask, for just a minute, what we might mean by a distinction between good and bad fields. Here again it is clear: a good field is one whose members cooperate, and have something approaching the kind of multiple interconnections that characterize The Jewel Net of Indra [cf. (1A) above]. A bad field is one that is shot through with rivalries and warring factions, to such an extent that coverage and communication are impaired. Since humanity is best served by good fields, one of the tasks that anyone who is interested in the future of thought must grapple with is this: how can a bad field learn to become a good one?
Fields are so big that it is clearly impossible to get all the people in one together physically. Nor is it necessary. But what is necessary is precisely a change in thought. And there is a lot of urgency in this need, as Albert Einstein knew how to articulate, as well as anyone who I know of:

The unleashed power of the atom has changed
everything save the way we think. And thus we
drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.

The way we have been thinking has not been centered around the recognition that we are the nodes in the Jewel Network. And yet that is precisely who we are, on the deepest and most important level. I submit that what it is that we need to learn is just this: how can each of us help to improve the quality of each of the networks of which we are parts? I mean, of course, the network of professional chemists, but I also mean less imposing networks too, such as: the network of parents involved in getting our kids safely to and from school; the network of the people in our family, the network of citizens in a democracy.
My own thinking about education has been far too limited. When I started this paper, I thought that what I was writing about was primarily about the educational system, traditionally viewed as something which is different from “real life.” But I am now beginning to see that the ability to be a good node in as many networks as you are able to will contribute to the lightedness of each of those networks. I believe deeply that what we need to work on, in all areas in our troubled world, is precisely our ability to be clear and radiant nodes. Network learning is, I think, probably just a very limited name for an ability of endless importance.

I would like to end, as I began, with a quote from Albert Einstein, whose description of the way that we need to think so that we may become free from the optical delusion of our consciousness is hauntingly beautiful, and comes to us with the force that can only be manifested by a being as advanced and clear as his life and struggles made him.

A human being is part of the whole called by us ‘universe’, a part
limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts
and feelings as something separated from the rest – a kind of
optical delusion of his consciousness.

This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our
personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us.

Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our
circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole
of nature in its beauty.


Thomas Wayman: Did I Miss Anything

Did I Miss Anything
Question frequently asked by
students after missing a class

Nothing. When we realized you weren’t here
we sat with our hands folded on our desks
in silence, for the full two hours

Everything. I gave an exam worth
40 per cent of the grade for this term
and assigned some reading due today
on which I’m about to hand out a quiz
worth 50 per cent

Nothing. None of the content of this course
has value or meaning
Take as many days off as you like:
any activities we undertake as a class
I assure you will not matter either to you or me
and are without purpose

Everything. A few minutes after we began last time
a shaft of light descended and an angel
or other heavenly being appeared
and revealed to us what each woman or man must do
to attain divine wisdom in this life and
the hereafter
This is the last time the class will meet
before we disperse to bring this good news to all people
on earth

Nothing. When you are not present
how could something significant occur?

Everything. Contained in this classroom
is a microcosm of human existence
assembled for you to query and examine and ponder
This is not the only place such an opportunity has been

but it was one place

And you weren’t here

Tom Wayman

A present from Marshall Armintor
February 4, 2008.


Parker Palmer: The Grace of Great Things – Reclaiming the Sacred in Knowing, Teaching, and Learning

If I may, I would like to preface this great paper with an acknowledgement. This was the first things I ever read by Parker Palmer. By subterranean arrangements of agencies of which I have no knowledge, I was briefly on the mailing list of Naropa University, a wonderful place you should all click your way over to: it is in Boulder, Colorado. It was founded by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a Tibetan lama, to provide its students with the opportunity to learn in Eastern and Western epistemologies at the same time.
I visited it three times, each time only for a few days, in 1979-1981, if memory serves. It is a major miracle that it has survived and continues to do its vital learning today. Its finances were of the cliffhanger kind when I was there.

I did not attend the wonderful conference at which this paper was presented (alas!). But I got a document of some kind which, for the first time I had ever seen, put sacred and teaching and learning in the same phrase. Since reading this paper, I have been a huge fan of Parker Palmer’s, who I would dearly love to hang out with. I hope you will have the same electrifying experience that I had with this paper, and will often surf Parkerwards thereafter.

Peace –


The Grace of Great Things
Reclaiming the Sacred in Knowing, Teaching, and Learning
by Parker J. Palmer

We all know that what will transform education is not another theory or another book or another formula but a transformed way of being in the world. In the midst of the familiar trappings of education—competition, intellectual combat, obsession with a narrow range of facts, credentials—we seek a life illumined by spirit and infused with soul. This is not romanticism, as John Cobb (President of the Naropa Institute and host of the Spirituality in Education conference) has properly cautioned us.

I saw the other day a remarkable documentary called The Transformation of Allen School. Allen School is an inner-city school in Dayton, Ohio. It was for many years at the bottom of the list in that city by all measures. There were fifth graders who had parole officers. The dropout rate was incredible and saddening. The failure of those students in every aspect of their lives sickened the heart. And along came a new principal, a principal who—it’s relevant to note—came from the Philippines, a culture which has an inherent respect for things spiritual in a way American culture does not. And he brought the teachers together and said to them, in substance, as his very first proclamation as principal, that:

We have to start to understand that the young people we are working with have nothing of external substance or support. They have dangerous neighborhoods. They have poor places to live. They have little food to eat. They have parents who are on the ropes and barely able to pay attention to them. The externals with which American education is obsessed will not work in this situation.

But these students have one thing that no one can take away from them. They have their souls. And from this day forth in this school, we are going to lift those souls up. We are going to make those souls visible to the young people themselves and to their parents and to the community. We are going to celebrate their souls, and we are going to reground their lives in the power of their souls. And that will require this faculty recovering the power of their own souls, remembering that we, too, are soul-driven, soul-animated creatures.

And in a five-year period, that school, the Allen School in Dayton, Ohio, rose to the top of every dimension on which it had been at the bottom, through hard work, through disciplined work, but through attentiveness to the inward factors that we are here to explore. This is not romanticism. This is the real world. And this is what is desperately needed in so many sectors of American education.

As we go into these five days together, let us remember one thing about the soul. It is like a wild animal: tough, self-sufficient, resilient, but also exceedingly shy. Let us remember that if we go crashing through the woods, screaming and yelling for the soul to come out, it will evade us all day and all night. We cannot beat the bushes and yell at each other if we expect this precious inwardness to emerge. But if you are willing to go into the woods, and sit quietly at the base of a tree, that wild animal will, after a few hours, reveal itself to you. And out of the corner of your eye, you will glimpse something of the wild preciousness that this conference is looking for.

I ask guidance for myself and, as Quakers say, hold this entire conference in the light, to be here, to be present to each other in the right spirit, speaking our truth gently and simply, listening respectfully and attentively to the truth of others, grounded in our own experience and expanded by experiences that are not yet ours, compassionate toward that which we do not yet understand, not only as a kindness to others but for the sake of our growth and our students and the transformation of education. Amen.

In preparing these remarks, I’ve asked myself what are we trying to do here? We know it’s about spirituality and education, but what does that mean? For whatever it’s worth, these are the images that have come to me as I’ve tried to put a larger frame of personal meaning around this conference.

I think we are here to seek life-giving forces and sources in the midst of an enterprise which is too often death-dealing—education. It may seem harsh to call education death-dealing, but I think that we all have our experience of that.

I am always astonished and saddened by the fact that this country, which has the most widespread public education system in the world, has so many people who walk around feeling stupid because they feel that they are the losers in a competitive system of teaching and learning. It is a system that dissects life and distances us from the world because it is rooted in fear.

Everyone here has had his or her own encounter with the forces of death: racism, sexism, justice denied. In my life, one of my face-to-face encounters with the forces of death was in two prolonged experiences of clinical depression, passages through the dark woods that I made when I was in my 40s, devastating experiences when it was not clear from one day to the next whether I wished to be alive, or even was still alive—the darkness, face-to-face, immersed in it, hardly a spark of life.

It was a depression partly due to my schooling, partly due to the way I was formed in the educational systems of this country to live out of the top inch and a half of the human self, to live only with cognitive rationality and with the powers of the intellect, out of touch with anything that lay below that top inch and a half: body, intuition, feeling, emotion, relationship.

I remember one time a therapist and spiritual guide saying words that were eventually salvific for me. He said, “You seem to keep imaging your depression as the hand of an enemy trying to crush you. Why don’t you try imaging it as the hand of a friend trying to press you down to ground on which it is safe to stand?” And that image has always stayed with me of this movement from the world of abstraction, the hot-air balloon that education so falsely represents as the good life, down to the ground—in my tradition, the “ground of being”—on which it’s not only safe to stand but safe to fall, and you can get back up.

Well, at some point in that journey with depression, I was given by a friend some words from that extraordinary novel by T.H. White , The Once and Future King. This is a passage in which the young Arthur, king to be, in his depression, his dark night of the soul has sought counsel from Merlin, the magician, who was his mentor. And I want to read these wonderful words which created a spark of light for me in the midst of that death-dealing episode of my life. Speaking to the young Arthur, Merlin says:

The best thing for being sad is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies. You may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins. You may miss your only love. You may see the world around you devastated by evil lunatics or know your honor trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it, then: To learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the thing for you.

“Learning is the thing for you.” I read those words, and I began to understand that in the midst of death, there is life in learning. I could not do much in the darkness of my depression. I couldn’t work. I couldn’t connect with other people. But I could start to learn what was in there. I could grope around in the darkness and learn what and who was there. And, of course, those of you who have been on that journey know that part of what I found and learned about there was what Thomas Merton calls true self.

What Merlin knows, as he advises the young Arthur, is that education at its best—these profound human transactions called knowing, teaching, and learning—are not just about information, and they’re not just about getting jobs. They are about healing. They are about wholeness. They are about empowerment, liberation, transcendence. They are about reclaiming the vitality of life.

The question that we must wrestle with, I think, is why there is so little life-giving power in our culture when we use the words education, teaching, learning. Why are those words and the things they point to in our culture so flat, so dull, so banal compared to Merlin’s understanding?

Of course, there are many answers to that question: the industrial model of schooling that is still with us from the 19 th century, the diminishing effects of professionalism in teacher training, the way education devolved into political rhetoric and serves the purposes of power.

But the answer I want to explore is a different one. I want to propose that education is dull because we have driven the sacred out of it. Merlin, the magician, understood the sacredness at the heart of all things, and learning was a natural derivative of that. I want to explore what it might mean to reclaim the sacred at the heart of knowing, teaching, and learning; to reclaim it from this essentially depressive mode of knowing which honors only data, logic, analysis, and a systematic disconnection of self from he world, self from others.

As I launch into this inquiry, I want to remind us all that the marriage of education and the sacred has not always been a happy one. It has not always produced creative offspring. Ask Galileo. Ask a Muslim child subjected to American school prayer. Ask anyone whose family or history was touched by the Nazis’ murderous attachment of the sacred to blood, soil, and race.

There are real dangers in this enterprise when the sacred gets attached to the wrong things. There are real dangers when the sacred get institutionalized and imposed on people as one more weapon in the objectifying forces of this or any other society.

But we need to have the courage to jump into the midst of that mess. The Nazi story, the murderousness of the Third Reich, is not only about the attachment of the sacred to the wrong things by a political system of power; it’s also about German higher education refusing to get involved with those kinds of issues, distancing itself, clinging to logic and data and objectivism as a way of staying disengaged from the social reality of its time.

We can no longer afford a system of education that refuses to get engaged with the mess. We must be willing to join life where people live it. And they live it at this complicated intersection of the sacred and the secular. So with that acknowledgment of the mess on whose edge we stand, let me move ahead.

What do I mean by the sacred? I was laughing to myself in preparing this talk, remembering my first yearning for the sacred, which was only a word for me when I was young. I had merely heard it in church, and I wanted an experience of it.

In college I ran across a book by Rudolph Otto called The Idea of the Holy . Otto has a remarkable description of the sacred in which he uses phrases like numinocity and mysterium tremendum . It was my first Latin, and I was so proud of it.

What I was laughing about when I was preparing these remarks was the title of the book, The Idea of the Holy. I could only have an idea of it because I didn’t have an experience of it. And over the years, I’ve struggled to move from the level of idea to the embodied life.

I remember a night in the middle of one of those devastating depressions when I heard a voice I’ve never heard before or since. The voice simply said, “I love you, Parker.” It was not a psychological phenomenon, because my psyche was crushed; it was the numinous. It was mysterium tremendum. But it came to me in the simplest and most human way: “I love you, Parker.”

That experience has opened me to the definition of sacred that I want to explore. It is a very simple definition that says that the sacred is that which is worthy of respect. As soon as we see that, the sacred is everywhere. There is nothing, when rightly understood, that it is not worthy of respect.

I have had a rare experience of the numinous, and I treasure it. But I do not have a steady flow of that experience. And I cannot count on it to be my sustaining reminder of the sacredness of life. But I can practice respect on a minute-by-minute basis, especially towards those things that somehow arouse my anger, my ire, my jealousy, some strong ego reaction that reminds me to reach deep for respect.

How it would transform academic life if we could practice simple respect! I don’t think there are many places where people feel less respect than they do on university campuses. The university is a place that has learned to grant respect to only a few things: to the text, to the expert, to those who win in competition.

But we do not grant respect to students, to stumbling and failing. We do not grant respect to tentative and heartfelt ways of being in the world where the person can’t quite think of the right word or can’t think of any word at all. We don’t grant respect to silence and wonder. We don’t grant it to voices outside our tight little circle, let alone to the voiceless things of the world.

Why? Because in academic culture, we are afraid. It is a culture of fear. What are we afraid of? We are afraid of hearing something that would challenge and change us. The great German poet Rilke has this amazing line in which he says, There is no place at all that is not looking at you. You must change your life.” There is no place at all that is not talking to me. I must change my life.

But I don’t want to hear those voices because I am afraid of change. And so in academic culture, I am carefully buffered, carefully walled off, through systematic disrespect, from all of those things that might challenge me, break me, open me, and change me. It is a fearful culture.

One of the things we have to do is to remember the counsel at the heart of every great spiritual tradition: Be not afraid. Be not afraid. Interesting words. The words do not say you’re not supposed to have fear. I have fear. I have fear as I stand here before you. How am I doing? Do they like me? Am I delivering on all the preparation I’ve put into this talk?

I’m fearful. I have fear. But I don’t need to be here in my fear. I don’t have to speak to you from my fear. I can choose a different place in me, a place of fellow feeling, of feeling traveling, of journeying together in some mystery that I know we share. I can “be not afraid” even while I have fear.

If we could reclaim the sacred—simple respect—in education, how would it transform our knowing, teaching, and learning? I would like to suggest several answers, but I want to preface them by telling a story, not from the world of religion, not from the world of education, but from the world of science, because I think there is much for us to learn from the world of science about the very things that we care about. Science is not the enemy, not great science.

I want to tell you about a great scientist whom some of you will know. Her name was Barbara McClintock. Barbara McClintock died a few years ago in her early 90s. Her obituary was on the front page of The Hew York Times in the place usually reserved for heads of state. She was the greatest American biologist of the 20 th century and, arguably, the greatest American scientist of the 20 th century.

In her obituary, she was eulogized by one of her colleagues, a geneticist from the University of Chicago, as “a mystic who knew where the mysteries lie but who do not mystify.” I like that very much. To be mystics who know where the mysteries lie but who do not mystify—I presume that’s part of our task.

Barbara McClintock, as a young woman, became fascinated with genetic transposition. She wanted to know how genes moved, carried their messages from one place to another. In her day, there were none of the instruments and chemical procedures that my biologist son works with as he words with DNA. There were only hunches, hypotheses, clues, and the powers of human imagination—the mystical capacity to identify with the other and still respect its otherness.

Barbara McClintock exercised the mystical capacities at the heart of her work in genetic science, but the price she paid for that was to be marginalized by her profession. Her work was scoffed at. Her work was distrusted. She could not get grants. She could not get articles published. She could not get laboratory space—until she won a Nobel Prize in science, and then her dance ticket started getting filled.

Another scientist named Evelyn Fox Keller came along when McClintock was in her early 80s and said, “I would like to write your intellectual biography, your story as a scientist. Tell me,” she said, “How do you do great science?”

Barbara McClintock, who was one of the most precise empirical observers and one of the most analytic logical thinkers that we have ever had in American science, thought for a moment and said, “About the only thing I can tell you about the doing of science is that you somehow have to have a feeling for the organism.”

Then Keller asked her question again. “Tell me, how do you do great science?”

McClintock, who was at that age when all that’s left is to tell the truth, thought for a moment about these ears of corn that she had worked with all her life, because they were cheap and plentiful, and she said, “Really, all I can tell you about doing great science is that you somehow have to learn to lean into the kernel.”

At that point in the book, Evelyn Fox Keller, herself a physical chemist, writes a sentence that I regard as brilliant and luminous. She says, “Barbara McClintock, in her relation with ears of corn, practiced the highest form of love, which is the intimacy that does not annihilate difference.”

When I read that, tears came to my eyes. I thought, McClintock had a relation with ears of corn that I yearn to have with other people. And she knew it was possible to have that kind of relationship with all creatures and all forms of being. Sacredness. Simple respect. Intimacy that does not annihilate difference. A mystic who did not mystify but who knew where the mysteries lie. Here was a scientist—Nobel Prize winning, responsible for the genetic breakthroughs which we now live with, in the late 20 th century, a heroine of her own arena—who practiced the highest form of love in the doing of science itself.

Well, I think the story stands on its own, but let me just mention a few things out of it that would transform education if we could embody in our knowing, teaching, and learning, this simple sense of the sacred that Barbara McClintock brought to her work and science.

First, if we could recover a sense of the sacred in knowing, teaching, and learning, we would recover our sense of the otherness of the things of the world, the precious otherness of the things of the world.

One of the greatest sins in education is reductionism, the destruction of that precious otherness by cramming everything into categories that we find comfortable, ignoring data, ignoring writers, ignoring voices, ignoring information, ignoring simple facts that don’t fit into our shoebox, because we don’t have a respect for otherness. We have a fear of otherness that comes from having flattened the terrain and desacralized it. A people who know the sacred know otherness, and we don’t know that anymore.

When we teach about third-world cultures in ways that confine them, make them measure up to our standards of what greatness or excellence is supposed to be like, we ignore their powerful richness. These cultures have more to teach us than we have yet to understand or imagine about real values, about community, about respect, about the sacred, yet they come out, by our measures, as shabby, dirty, dusty, lacking in merit. Too many students have learned, through that reductionist model, a disrespect for the otherness of the things of the world.

We do it with great literature too. This is done not only on the right; it’s done on the left as well. We do it with great literature where the story itself may convey powerful messages about the human condition, but because its author does not measure up to current tests of rightness or credibility, the text gets dismissed. A writer named David Denby has said, “What a convenient way of making the professor and students superior to the text,” by not respecting the otherness of that voice and engaging it on its own terms. So the first thing that a people who know the sacred would know in education is the precious otherness of the things in the world.

But the second thing that such a people would know is the precious inwardness of the things of the world.

Barbara McClintock respected ears of corn in their integrity as an alien nation, as an otherness that she needed to respect if she was to do good science. But at the same time, she believed that an ear of corn had an inwardness to it, had a mind. She once said, “I learned to think like corn.” The corn thought, and you could learn to think like it. And her great science didn’t mystify that. It built on that and used her intuitive capacities to enter the mind of corn in a way that led to breakthrough scientific discoveries.

We don’t respect the inwardness of the things we study, and we therefore do not respect the inward learnings that those things have for us.

I have thought often and painfully about the education about the murderous history of the Third Reich that I got in some of the best colleges in this country. I was taught its history by good historians, some of whom were award-winning. But I was taught the history of Nazi Germany in a way—and I’ve never known how to say this—that made me feel that somehow all of that murderousness had happened to another species on another planet.

My teachers were not revisionists. They weren’t saying it didn’t happen. It happened. They taught the statistics and the facts and the theories behind the facts, but they presented them at such objective arm’s length—just the facts and only the facts—that it never connected with the inwardness of my life, because the inwardness of those events was never revealed to me. All was objectified, all was externalized, and I ended up morally and spiritually deformed as a consequence of that objectification.

There are two things that I failed to learn from the history courses that I took on Nazi Germany that I should have learned and learned painfully only in later years. One was that the very community I grew up in on the North Shore of Chicago had its own fascist anti-Semitic tendencies. I grew up in Wilmette, Illinois, and if you were a Jew who lived in that area, you didn’t live in Wilmette and you didn’t live in Evanston and you didn’t live in Kenilworth. You lived in Glencoe, because a fascism was at work which said, “We don’t want to live with you.”

I should have been taught that. My little story and the inwardness of my life should have been connected with the inward dynamics of that history in a way that would have helped me understand my own time, my own place, and my own involvement in the same evil, because without that, there was no way for me to grow morally.

And, of course, the second thing I didn’t learn which takes me even more deeply inward, is that I did not learn that there is within me, in the shadow of my own soul, a little Hitler, a force of evil, that when the difference between me and thee gets too great, I will find some way to kill you off. I won’t do it with a bullet or a gas chamber, but I’ll do it with a category, a dismissal, a word of some sort that renders you irrelevant to my universe and to my life: “Oh, you’re just a _________.” It is a dismissal that we do with such facility in academic life to render each other and each other’s truth irrelevant to who we are.

I taught not long ago for a year at Berea College in Kentucky. Some of you will know this remarkable institution devoted to the young people of Appalachia. They charge no tuition because these kids have no money. I taught a course in which I attempted to parallel the big story that I was teaching with the little stories of their lives, and not only to parallel the big story with the little story but to connect and interweave the two.

As part of that second objective, I asked my students to write autobiographical essays connected with the ideas of the big story we were considering. I wanted them to see that the big story was their story. And I wanted their little stories to correct the way the authors of this particular text had written the big story, because the whole Appalachian experience had been omitted from this text on American life.

At the end of the first session, a young man came up to me, and he said, “Dr. Palmer, in these autobiographical papers that you want us to write, is it okay to use the word ‘I’?” I said, “Of course, it is. I invite you to use that word. I don’t know how you would be able to fulfill the assignment if you didn’t. But help me understand why you needed to ask the question.” And he said, “Because I’m a _________major, and every time I use the word ‘I’ in a paper, I’m downgraded one full grade.”

This goes on all the time in education. Recovering the sacred might be one path towards recovering the inwardness without which education does not happen.

Third, by recovering the sacred, we could recover our sense of community with each other and with all of creation, the community that Thomas Merton named so wonderfully as the “hidden wholeness.” I have become increasingly convinced that this recovery of community is absolutely at the heart of good teaching.

I’m amazed by the fact that good teachers use a million different techniques. Good teaching isn’t about technique. I’ve asked students around the country to describe their good teachers to me. Some of them describe people who lecture all the time, some of them describe people who do little other than group process, others describe everything in between.

But all of them talk about people who have some sort of connective capacity, who somehow connect the students and the subject being studied and the students to each other.

One young woman told me she couldn’t possibly describe her good teachers because they were all so different from each other, but she could easily describe her bad teachers because they were all the same.

I said, “What do you mean?” And she said, “With my bad teachers, their words float somewhere in front of their faces like the balloon speech in cartoons.”

I thought this was an extraordinary image, and I said, “Do you mean that somehow with bad teaching, there is a disconnect between the stuff being taught and the self who is teaching it?” And she said, “Absolutely.”

There is a distance, a coldness, a lack of community because in a secularized academy, we don’t have the connective tissue of the sacred to hold this apparent fragmentation and chaos together. Merton is right. It’s a wholeness, but it’s a hidden wholeness. It’s so easy to look on the surface of things and say there is no community here at all. But if you go deep, the way you go when you seek that which is sacred, you find the hidden wholeness. You find the community that a good teacher evokes and invites students into, that somehow weaves and reweaves life together.

Community goes far beyond our face-to-face relationship with each other as human beings. In education especially, this community connects us with what the poet Rilke called the great things of the world and with the grace of great things.

We are in community with all of it: the genes and ecosystems of biology (as Barbara McClintock knew herself to be), the symbols and reference of philosophy and theology, the archetypes of betrayal and forgiveness and loving and loss that are the stuff of literature, the artifacts and lineages of anthropology, the materials of engineering with their limits and potentials, the logic of systems and management, the shapes and colors of music and art, the novelties and patterns of history, the elusive idea of justice under the\ law. We are in community with all of these great things. Great teaching is about knowing that community and feeling that community and sensing that community and drawing your students into it.

I had a teacher at Carleton College who changed my life, but he lectured nonstop. We would raise our hands and try to get a word in edgewise, and he would say, “Wait a minute. I’ll get to that at the end of the hour.” He wouldn’t have gotten to it at the end of the week, the month, the year. Thirty years later, my hand is still up! He’s dead, unfortunately, but I’m still engaged with what he said.

I wondered what was this magic that made me feel so deeply related to the world of social thought that he was teaching, even though he, himself, was basically a shy and awkward person who didn’t know how to connect with me on the social level.

He would make a vigorous Marxist statement, a puzzled look would come over his face, and he would step over here and argue with himself from a Hegelian viewpoint. It wasn’t an act. He was really confused.

And I realized years later what the deal was. He didn’t need us to be in community! Who needs 18-year-olds from the North Shore of Chicago when you’re hanging out with Marx and Hegel and Troeltsch and other really interesting people? But he opened a door to me that had never been opened before, a world of imagination and thought that I had no idea existed, and it was an enormously gracious act. He was an amazing man who carried a community within himself, a community of people long gone.

(This is a mildly political comment, but I’m amazed at this controversy surrounding Hillary Clinton and her conversations with Eleanor Roosevelt. After all, the heart of the liberal arts is the ability to talk to dead people. People pay $25,000 a year to learn how to have conversations with the dead. It’s called being liberally educated!)

Fourth, if we recovered a sense of the sacred, we would recover the humility that makes teaching and learning possible.

Everyone in academia knows what Freeman Dyson meant when he said, about the development of the nuclear weaponry that threatened to destroy the earth, “It is almost irresistible, the arrogance that comes over us when we see what we can do with our minds.” So much arrogance that we will keep turning the crank until we destroy the earth itself. It is only with humility, the humility that comes from being in the presence of sacred things and knowing the simple quality called respect, that real knowing, teaching, and learning are possible.

A couple of years ago, Watson and Crick, the discoverers of the DNA molecule, celebrated the 40 th anniversary of that discovery. Those of you who have read the book, Double Helix , know that it’s about all of the anti-virtues of academic life: competitiveness, ego, greed, power, and money.

But when they were interviewed on the 40 th anniversary of the discovery of DNA, James Watson said, “The molecule is so beautiful. Its glory was reflected on Francis and me. I guess the rest of my life has been spent trying to prove that I was almost equal to being associated with DNA, which was a hard task.”

Then Francis Crick—of whom Watson once said, “I have never seen him in a modest mood”—replied, “We were upstaged by a molecule.”

Finally, if we recovered a sense of the sacred, we would recover our capacity for wonder and surprise, an absolutely essential quality in education. I know what happens when we get surprised in an academic context. We reach for the nearest weapon and try to kill the surprise as quickly as we can, because we are scared to death.

I will never be able to comprehend why people so devoutly believe that competition is the best way to generate new ideas, because I know from experience what happens in competition. In competition you do not reach for a new idea, because a new idea is risky. You don’t know how to use it. You don’t know where it’s going to take you. You don’t know what flank it may leave open. In competition, you reach for an old idea that you know how to wield as a weapon, and you smite the untruth as quickly as you can.

We have flattened our landscape. My image of this objectivist landscape in higher education is that it is so flat, so lacking in variety, so utterly banal that anything that pops up and takes us by surprise is instantly defined as a threat. Where did it come from? Where did it come from? It must be from underground. It must be the work of the devil.

The sacred landscape has hills and valleys, mountains and streams, forests and deserts, and is a place where surprise is our constant companion—and surprise is an intellectual virtue beyond all telling. Those are some things I think we might bring back if we pursued the themes of this conference in our lives and education.

I want to say one final word about the journey toward recovering the sacred, about getting from here to there. I do not believe that we can rightly ask or hopefully ask our institutions to manifest the qualities of the sacred that I have been talking about. I don’t think institutions are well suited to carry the sacred. I think distortion happens when the sacred gets vested in an institutional context or framework.

I think institutions have their utility. They have jobs to do. We all have important vocational decisions about whether to be inside or outside institutions and how to do that dance because we all know their power of co-optation. But I don’t believe that what we’re talking about here is going to be carried by the Roman Catholic Church or the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends or the University of Colorado at Boulder or even the Naropa Institute. I believe these are things we carry in our hearts into the world in solitude and in community.

I have been doing a small study of social movements that have transformed the landscape: the women’s movement, the black liberation movement, the gay and lesbian identity movement, the movement for freedom in Eastern Europe and in South Africa. I will not trouble you with all of the details of how movements evolve. I just want to say a word about the starting point of social movements as I understand it.

I believe that movements start when individuals who feel very isolated and very alone in the midst of an alien culture, come in touch with something life-giving in the midst of a death-dealing situation. They make one of the most basic decisions a human being can make, which I have come to call the decision to live “divided no more,” the decision to no longer act differently on the outside than one knows one’s truth to be on the inside.

I call it the Rosa Parks decision, because she is emblematic for me and for many people I know of the historic potentials of a decision that can feel very lonely and very isolated. Rosa Parks was prepared for that day on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama, December 1, 1955. She was prepared in many ways. She had gone to the Highlander Folk School where Martin Luther King also learned nonviolence. She was the secretary of the NAACP in her community.

But we all know that the day—the moment—she sat down, she had no assurances that the theory would work, that the strategy would succeed, not even assurances that people who said they were her friends would be there for her in the aftermath of that action. It was a lonely decision made in isolation, but a decision emblematic of that being made by many other individuals in that place and time, for which she has risen to be the exemplar. It was a decision that changed the lay and the law of the land.

I’ve often asked myself where people find the courage to make a decision like that when they know that the power of the institution is going to come down on their heads? How do they find the courage to make a decision like that when they know it could easily lead to loss of status, loss of reputation, loss of income, loss of job, loss of friends, and, perhaps, loss of meaning?

The answer comes to me through studying the lives of the Rosa Parks and the Vaclav Havels and the Nelson Mandelas and the Dorothy Days of this world. These are people who have come to understand that no punishment that anybody could lay on us could possibly be worse than the punishment we lay on ourselves by conspiring in our own diminishment, by living a divided life, by failing to make that fundamental decision to act and speak on the outside in ways consonant with what we know to be true on the inside.

And as soon as we made that decision, amazing things happen. For one thing, the enemy stops being the enemy. When Rosa Parks sat down that day, it was partly an acknowledgment that by conspiring with racism, she had helped create racism. By conspiring with death-dealing education, we help to create death-dealing education. But by deciding to live divided no more, we help change all of that.

When the police came on the bus that day, they said to Rosa Parks, “You know if you continue to sit there, we’re going to have to throw you in jail.” And her answer is historic. She said, “You may do that.” An enormously polite way of saying, “What could your jail possibly mean compared to the imprisonment I’ve had myself in for the last 43 years, which I break out of today?”

I don’t know where you are on your journey. My journey is constantly toward trying to understand what it means to live divided no more. And I think if we come out of this conference understanding that decision better in the context of education, we will have done something well worth doing.
The article is an adaptation of the keynote address delivered at the conference on Spirituality in Education, sponsored by the Naropa Institute May 30-June 3, 1997. Audiotapes of the Conference are available from Sounds True, P.O. Box 8010 , Boulder CO 80306.

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Parker Palmer: Evoking the spirit in public education
Evoking the Spirit in Public Education
by Parker J. Palmer

When we bring forth the spirituality of teaching and learning, we help students honor life’s most meaningful questions.

I am a Christian of the Quaker persuasion whose spiritual forebears were persecuted, imprisoned, and sometimes executed for their beliefs by officials of the established church in England. When Quakers fled to America in search of religious liberty, they met with similar treatment at the hands of the Puritans. On Boston Common stands a statue in memory of Mary Dyer, a middle-aged mother of six who was hanged in 1660 before a crowd of civic leaders and churchgoers bent on safeguarding “godly” ways against her seditious belief in “the inner light.”
So I am no great fan of state-sanctioned religion or of the religious arrogance that says “our truth is the only truth.” As I explore ways to evoke the spirit in public education, I want neither to violate the separation of church and state nor to encourage people who would impose their religious beliefs on others.
But I am equally passionate about not violating the deepest needs of the human soul, which education does with some regularity. As a teacher, I have seen the price we pay for a system of education so fearful of things spiritual that it fails to address the real issues of our lives—dispensing facts at the expense of meaning, information at the expense of wisdom. The price is a school system that alienates and dulls us, that graduates young people who have had no mentoring in the questions that both enliven and vex the human spirit.
I reject the imposition of any form of religion in public education, including so-called “school prayer.” But I advocate any way we can find to explore the spiritual dimension of teaching, learning, and living. By “spiritual” I do not mean the creedal formulations of any faith tradition, as much as I respect those traditions and as helpful as their insights can be. I mean the ancient and abiding human quest for connectedness with something larger and more trustworthy than our egos—with our own souls, with one another, with the worlds of history and nature, with the invisible winds of the spirit, with the mystery of being alive.
We need to shake off the narrow notion that “spiritual” questions are always about angels or ethers or must include the word God. Spiritual questions are the kind that we, and our students, ask every day of our lives as we yearn to connect with the largeness of life: “Does my life have meaning and purpose?” “Do I have gifts that the world wants and needs?’ “Whom and what can I trust?” “How can I rise above my fears?” “How do I deal with suffering, my own and that of my family and friends?” “How does one maintain hope?” “What about death?”
Inwardly, we and our students ask such questions all the time. But you would not know it to hear us talk, for we usually talk in settings where the imperatives of the fearful ego, or of the task at hand, strand us on the surface of our lives, compelling us to ask questions that are not the deepest we have: “Will that be on the test?” or “How can I get a raise?” Our real questions are asked largely in our hearts because it is too risky to ask them in front of one another.
Part of that risk is the embarrassed silence that may greet us if we ask our real questions aloud. But the greater risk is that if we ask a real question, someone will try to give us The Answer! If we are to open up the spiritual dimension of education, we must understand that spiritual questions do not have answers in the way math problems do—and that giving one another The Answer is part of what shuts us down. When people ask these deep questions, they do not want to be saved but simply to be heard: they do not want fixes or formulas but compassion and companionship on the demanding journey called life.
Spiritual questions are the kind described by the poet Rilke in response to an earnest student who had pressed him with question after urgent question:
Be patient toward all that is unresolved in your heart…Try to love the questions themselves…Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given because you would not be able to live them—and the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answers.[1]
Spiritual mentoring is not about dictating answers to the deep questions of life. It is about helping young people find questions that are worth asking because they are worth living, questions worth wrapping one’s life around.
When we fail to honor the deepest questions of our lives, education remains mired in technical triviality, cultural banality, and worse: It continues to be dragged down by a great sadness. I mean the sadness one feels in too many schools where teachers and students alike spend their days on things unworthy of the human heart—a grief that may mask itself as boredom, sullenness, or anger, but that is, at bottom, a cry for meaning. 

Spirituality and the Subjects We Teach

How might we evoke the spiritual dimension of public education? Behind the word evoke lies an important assumption: The spiritual is always present in public education whether we acknowledge it or not. Spiritual questions, rightly understood, are embedded in every discipline, from health to history, physics to psychology, entomology to English. Spirituality—the human quest for connectedness—is not something that needs to be “brought into” or “added onto” the curriculum. It is at the heart of every subject we teach, where it waits to be brought forth.
Why does a good historian care about the “dead” past? To show us that it is not dead at all, that we are profoundly connected to the past in ways we may not even understand. Why does a good biologist care about “mute” nature? To show us that nature has a voice that calls us to honor our connection to the natural world. Why does a good literary scholar care about “fictional” worlds? To show us that our deepest connection with reality comes not merely by mastering the facts but my engaging them with the imagination.
We can evoke the spirituality of any discipline by teaching in ways that allow the “big story” told by the discipline to intersect with the “little story” of the student’s life. Doing so not only brings up personal possibilities for connectedness but also helps students learn the discipline more deeply. Leaning does not happen when the subject is disconnected from the learner’s life.
I can illustrate this point with a story from my own education. I was taught the history of the Holocaust at some of the best public schools (and private colleges) in the country. But because I was taught the big story with no attention to the little story, I grew into adulthood feeling, on some level, that all of those horrors had happened on some other planet to some other species. My teachers—who taught only the objective facts without attention to the subjective self—distanced me from the murderous realities of the Third Reich, leaving me more ignorant, more ethically impaired, more spiritually disconnected than authentic education should.
Because my little story was not taken seriously, I failed to learn two important things. One was that the town I grew up in, on the North Shore of Chicago, practiced systematic discrimination against Jews. In those days, if you were a Jew, you did not live in Wilmette or Kenilworth or Winnetka, but in Glencoe. It was a gilded ghetto, but a ghetto nonetheless, created by the same anti-Semitism that gave rise to the larger evils of Hitler’s Germany—not on another planet but in my own place and time.
The second thing I failed to learn was more personal and more important: I have within myself a “little Hitler,” a force of darkness that will try to kill you off when the difference between you and me becomes so great that it challenges my conception of reality. I will not kill you with a gun or a gas chamber, but with a word, a category, a dismissal that renders you irrelevant to my life: “Oh, you’re just a (fill in the blank…).”
By failing to intersect the big story with the little story, my history teachers left me with facts about the Holocaust that never came to life—and with a life that went unchallenged by the reality of those horrors. Because my teachers remained objective at the expense of the spiritual, they failed to educate either my mind or my spirit. I learned neither about the Holocaust as it really was, and is, nor about myself as I really am.
When I speak about these things with fellow teachers, I occasionally hear an objection: “So you want us to stop being teachers and become therapists or priests.” No, that is not what I want: I want us to become better teachers. And part of what good teaching requires is that we stop thinking about our work in terms of the great divides: either facts or feelings, “hard-nosed” or “touchy-feely,” intellectual or spiritual, professors or priests.
We must embrace the fact that teaching and learning—to say nothing of living—take the form of paradox: They require us to think “both-and” instead of “either-or.” Teaching and learning, done well, are done not by disembodied intellects but by whole persons whose minds cannot be disconnected from feeling and spirit, from heart and soul. To teach as a whole person to the whole person is not to lose one’s professionalism as a teacher but to take it to a deeper level.
These whole-person connections are crucial not only in the “soft” subjects, such as history, but also in the “hard” subjects. I know a geology teacher who asks students to keep a journal of their daily interaction with rocks, an assignment that initially strikes students as quite odd but that eventually helps them understand how intertwined their lives are with the life of the earth. I know a math teacher who helps girls succeed by dealing empathetically with the emotional paralysis induced by the false social message that “girls are no good at math.”
The ability to think both-and instead of either-or is a skill that comes as we live our spiritual questions more knowingly and openly. The surface questions of our lives may yield either-or answers: “Shall I teach 1 st grade or 3 rd grade next year?” But to live the deep questions we must develop a taste for paradox—not least the paradox that some questions have no conventional answers and yet are the only ones worth living: “How shall I live today knowing that someday I will die?” 

The Spiritual Lives of Teachers

Spiritual questions are embedded not only in the disciplines we teach—they are embedded in our own lives. Whoever our students may be, whatever subject we teach, ultimately we teach who we are. When I hear teachers ask whether they can take their spirituality into the classroom with them, I wonder what the option is: As long as we take ourselves into the classroom, we take our spirituality with us!
Our only choice is whether we will reflect on the questions we are living—and how we are living them—in a way that might make our work more fruitful. “How can I get through day?” is not as promising a question as “What truth can I witness to today?” If we do not live good questions, and live them in a way that is life-giving, our own deformations will permeate the work we do and contribute to the deformation of the students whose lives we touch.
Over the past five years, I have worked with others to create a program that offers public school teachers around the country a chance for such reflection. It is a program that is centered on a question worth living:
We become teachers for reasons of the heart.
But many of us lose heart as time goes by.
How can we take heart, alone and together,
So we can give heart to our students and our world,
Which is what good teachers do?
The Teacher Formation Program (also known as “the COURAGE TO TEACH®”), in partnership with the Fetzer Institute, is a two-year sequence of eight four-day retreats for groups of 25 K-12 teachers in locales as diverse as inner-city Baltimore, metropolitan Seattle, rural South Carolina, and central Michigan. Its purpose is simple: to give teachers an opportunity, in solitude and in community, to explore the spiritual dimension of a teacher’s life.
These retreat groups gather quarterly for two years, following the cycle of the seasons. The retreats are named after the seasons not simply to designate their timing: Each retreat, under skillful facilitation, draws on the metaphors of the season in which it occurs, inviting teachers to examine the spiritual questions that are at the heart of that season.
For example, in the fall—when nature plants seeds that may grow when spring arrives—we inquire into “the seed of true self” by asking the question, “Who am I?” Retreatants explore memories of who they were as children in order to reclaim those birthright gifts that are so often stolen from us on the perilous passage from childhood to adult life.
As they answer the “Who am I?” question, retreatants are better able to ask “Whose am I?” What is the social ecology of my life, the place where I am planted, where I am called to give and to receive? We pursue such questions not simply for our own sake but for the sake of our teaching and of the young people we serve: A teacher who works from a distorted sense of self and community is likely to be doing more harm than good.
Of course, the “seed of true self” that we find in the fall seems to wither and die in the winter. But it may only be doing what seeds in nature—wintering through until spring arrives. So in the winter season we explore questions of darkness and death, dormancy and renewal: What is it that seems to be dying or dead in us? Is it really dead, or is it simply lying dormant, waiting for its time to flower?
If we can understand what is dormant within ourselves, perhaps we can understand more deeply the dormancy within our students. Some students present themselves as dead—dead to thought, to feeling, to relationships. But a good teacher will see the true self behind that false self-presentation, see what is dormant in the lives of young people that can be brought to flower by good teaching.
Seasonal metaphors offer a way to raise deep questions about life without blinking, while honoring the sensibilities of everyone from Jews to Buddhists, from Muslims to secular humanists, from Christians to those whose spirituality has no name. When we raise such questions in the context of safe space and trustworthy relationships, the soul can speak its truth—and people can hear that truth in themselves and in one another with transforming effect.
To help that transformation along, the Teacher Formation Program practices an uncommon form of community, one in which people learn not to fix or save one another but to hold one another’s questions in a respectful and noninvasive way.
Community emerges when we are willing to share the real concerns of our lives. But in our society, you are reluctant to bring your concerns to me because you fear I am going to try to “fix” you—and I am reluctant to receive your concerns because I fear I am going to have to “fix” you! We have no middle ground between invading one another and ignoring one another, and thus we have no community. But by practicing ground rules that release us from our mutual fears, by teaching us how to live our questions with one another rather than answer them, the gift of community emerges among us—a gift of transformation.
The teachers who have participated in this program report several important outcomes. First, they feel more grounded in their own selfhood, more at home in their own lives, less likely to burn out and more likely to flourish. Second, they feel that they are better teachers, able to see their students for who they are and to respond to them in life-giving ways. Third, they feel that they are better citizens of their own workplaces, able to deal with conflict from a place of peace, to advocate for change from a place of hope.
The most important step toward evoking the spirit in public education is to bring teachers together to talk not about curriculum, technique, budget, or politics, but about the deepest questions of our teaching lives. Only if we can do this with one another—in ways that honor both the importance of our questions and the diversity with which we hold them—will we be able to do it for our students, who need our companionship on their journeys.
The teachers with whom I work are grateful to private foundations for creating settings outside the workplace where K-12 teachers can do professionally relevant inner work, as am I. But someday soon we would like to be able to express the same gratitude to a growing number of public schools for doing something they are not doing today: creating settings within the workplace where teachers may reflect on questions that are worth living.
Of course, such opportunities must be invitations, not demands. The soul cannot be coerced into inner work, and when an employer tries to do so, it is both ineffective and unethical. But freely chosen inner work, done in solitude and in community, can contribute powerfully to the well-being of teachers, of teaching, and of the students we are here to serve. By creating such settings, our schools would offer teachers, students, and the mission of education they so deeply deserve.

[1] Rilke, R.M. (1993). Letters to a young poet. (M.D. Herter Norton, Trans.) New York: W.W. Norton, p. 35 (emphasis added).
Author’s notes: Those interested in convening their own study group might also find my book The COURAGE TO TEACH®: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life (Jossey-Bass, 1998) helpful. See also The COURAGE TO TEACH®: A Guide for Reflection and Renewal (Jossey-Bass, 1999) and the video Teaching from the Heart: Seasons of Renewal in a Teacher’s Life (Jossey-Bass, 1998).


Peter Coney: universities as sanctuaries

Peter Coney, a distinguished University of Arizona professor, now deceased, understood what was required of a university to nurture growth and discovery. He articulated it persuasively,

“I have always felt as I pass from the turmoil of urban streets through the gates and onto the campus of an institution of higher learning, anywhere in the world, a sense of relief and comfort, solemnity and freedom. The feeling is not unlike that when one enters a national park, for this is what colleges and universities are — they are sanctuaries, preserves — of civilization. They are the only institution in the course of human endeavor whose sole purpose and mission is to know the course, content, and directions of civilization, to understand, preserve protect, and transmit these findings, and to seek further advances and new insights into the truth of ourselves and the world…[The] environment should…assure exposure to all the necessary skills and the best ideas and conceptual frameworks of the time, and provide stimulation from an active, well-read thoughtful, positive, innovative, and open faculty, all in an atmosphere of freedom and tolerance. Like libraries that have to have all the books to make sure they have the one somebody needs, we have to have the freedom at universities to tolerate and encourage all sorts of individual diversity, both in faculty and students, so that we can be sure that the best mind gets the exposure to the best cognitive resource which might enable that one-in-a-million new idea that can change the course of a discipline, or civilization.”