Archive for Deep learning

16 thoughts to pin on the refrigerator door

16 thoughts to pin on the refrigerator door

Haj Ross
English Department
University of North Texas

1. The Universe is One, as is all knowledge of it.

2. Being part of a total Unity, every person is also One.

3. To intuit, feel, live this Union, gives peace, tranquility, and an ecstasy beyond any conceivable description.

4. This ecstasy, this possibility of being beyond oneself, is what leads us to live an academic life.


5. We all are born United with this truth. As we grow up, we forget, more and more, till we get to a point where someone has to remind us.

6. A baby begins life United with the Universe, but the process of socialization triggers a continual erosion of the knowledge of being One.

7. The so-called “educational system,” through the fault of no one, contributes to, and even accelerates, this process of forgetting, the loss of the joy of being born on our Home, so green, so beautiful, so One.

8. Our job is to be aware of the antieducational reality of the current system, to know that we are under no obligation to continue going in the wrong direction, and to coimagine and give collective birth to a new system, one whose objective will be that every person, whether teacher or student, student or teacher, returns to the ecstasy of Union.


9. The first step, always the most important one, is to abandon the use of force, to drop the very thought that force could ever have any place in a learning encounter.

10. When we examine the way babies and children learn spontaneously, we see how joyful a process it is. The Smaller Ones live a reality in which there are
not two verbs, but just One:


11. What this means is that any requirement whatsoever, anything which interferes with the fun of learning, will get in the way.

12. Each one of us is born into a unique predestined path towards an adult awareness of the Unity of the Universe. The verb educate, which comes from the prefix ex-, “out of,” added to the root duc-, “to lead, guide,” thus was built to mean “to lead or guide that which is within to the outside.” Thus to educate yourself is to listen to a small voice, deep within yourself, which is always telling you what it is that you have to learn, and what the next step is for you. It may well be that that step would not be valid for anyone else in the whole world, but for you, it’s exactly the one that you must take.


13. The only thing that we ever really can teach is our being, our stance towards the world, our unique path. The younger people in the classroom with us see with faultless clarity all of our most intimate qualities, such as:

the honesty of our inner search
our humility
our joy in sharing the joy of learning
our absence of fear
in the face of the immense Mystery
of not knowing everything

14. We have to learn not to teach, with all of the asymmetries of power which are necessarily bound up in this word, to learn not to believe in all of the things which conventionally flow from the power of the teacher over the students: homework, tests, and worst of all, grades. We have to find our way back to the ecstasy of co-learning. If we know something that our co-learners do not, we can invite them to do exercises, to memorize, to do drills – but we would never make them do anything.

15. When everyone in the classroom is trying, with great humility, to listen inwards, asking themselves,

What is my next step? How can I best move towards the One?

it sometimes happens that a Superindividual being is born. You might call it a collective soul. At such times, the process of co-learning again becomes a sacred journey for all of us. A voyage into the Self.

16. This voyage was, and always is, our heritage, and that of our children. We will accept nothing less, from any system of education. Never.


Personal Learning Networks


On November 19, 2007, my old and very good pal Steve Ruppenthal sent me this email:

This is an amazing and astonishing view of what could happen in our world/industry and how it would affect educational directions/environment. A bit long, but very worthwhile to watch. Some astounding, but reasonable predictions; check this out:

Please follow Steve’s suggestions. NB: the first video take a long time to load; its runtime is about 30 minutes. Give yourself that time. It was made in 2006, in Colorado, for a school district. You can learn more about the people who made it from the wikispaces url below.

then check this out:

Folks – check out these videos:

Visit these links:


From Walker Percy, “The Loss of the Creature”

From Walker Percy, The Loss of the Creature, 1954.

A young Falkland Islander walking along a beach and spying a dead dogfish and going to work on it with his jackknife has, in a fashion wholly unprovided in modern educational theory, a great advantage over the Scarsdale high-school pupil who finds the dogfish on his laboratory desk. Similarly the citizen of Huxley’s Brave New World who stumbles across a volume of Shakespeare in some vine-grown ruins and squats on a potsherd to read it is in a fairer way of getting at a sonnet than the Harvard sophomore taking English Poetry II.
The educator whose business it is to teach students biology or poetry is unaware of a whole ensemble of relations which exist between the student and the dogfish and between the student and the Shakespeare sonnet.
To put it bluntly: A student who has the desire to get at a dogfish or a Shakespeare sonnet may have the greatest difficulty in salvaging the creature itself from the educational package in which it is presented. The great difficulty is that he is not aware that there is a difficulty; surely, he thinks, in such a fine classroom, with such a fine textbook, the sonnet must come across! What’s wrong with me?
The sonnet and the dogfish are obscured by two different processes. The sonnet is obscured by the symbolic package which is formulated not by the sonnet itself but by the media through which the sonnet is transmitted, the media which the educators believe for some reason to be transparent. The new textbook, the type, the smell of the page, the classroom, the aluminum windows and the winter sky, the personality of Miss Hawkins–these media which are supposed to transmit the sonnet may only succeed in transmitting themselves. It is only the hardiest and cleverest of students who can salvage the sonnet from this many-tissued package. It is only the rarest student who knows that the sonnet must be salvaged from the package. (The educator is well aware that something is wrong, that there is fatal gap between the student’s learning and the student’s life: The student reads the poem, appears to understand it, and gives all the answers. But what does he recall if he should happen to read a Shakespeare sonnet twenty years later? Does he recall the poem or does he recall the smell of the page and the smell of Miss Hawkins?)
One might object, pointing out that Huxley’s citizen reading his sonnet in the ruins and the Falkland Islander looking at his dogfish on the beach also receive them in a certain package. Yes, but the difference lies in the fundamental placement of the student in the world, a placement which makes it possible to extract the thing from the package. The pupil at Scarsdale High sees himself placed as a consumer receiving an experience-package; but the Falkland Islander exploring his dogfish is a person exercising the sovereign right of a person in his lordship and mastery of creation. He too could use an instructor and a book and a technique, but he would use them as his subordinates, just as he uses his jackknife. The biology student does not use his scalpel as an instrument, he uses it as a magic wand! Since it is a “scientific instrument,” it should do “scientific things.”
The dogfish is concealed in the same symbolic package as the sonnet. But the dogfish suffers an additional loss. As a consequence of this double deprivation, the Sarah Lawrence student who scores A in zoology is apt to know very little about a dogfish. She is twice removed from the dogfish, once by the symbolic complex by which the the dogfish is concealed, once again by the spoliation of the dogfish by theory which renders it invisible. Through no fault of zoology instructors, it is nevertheless a fact that the zoology laboratory at Sarah Lawrence College is one of the few places in the world where it is all but impossible to see a dogfish.
To illustrate… The student comes to his desk. On it, neatly arranged by his instructor, he finds his laboratory manual, a dissecting board, instruments, and a mimeographed list:
Exercise 22

materials: 1 dissecting board
1 scalpel
1 forceps
1 probe
1 bottle india ink and syringe
1 specimen of Squalus acanthias
The clue to the situation in which the student finds himself is to be found in the last item: 1 specimen of Squalus acanthias.
The phrase specimen of expresses in the most succinct way imaginable the radical character of the loss of being which has occurred under his very nose. To refer to the dogfish, the unique concrete existent before him, as a “specimen of Squalus acanthias” reveals by its grammar the spoliation of the dogfish by the theoretical method. This phrase, specimen of, example of, instance of, indicates the ontological status of the individual creature in the eyes of the theorist. The dogfish itself is seen as a rather shabby expression of an ideal reality, the species Squalus acanthias. The result is the radical devaluation of the individual dogfish…
If we look into the ways in which the student can recover the dogfish (or the sonnet), we will see that they have in common the stratagem of avoiding the educator’s direct presentation of the object as a lesson to be learned, and restoring access to sonnet and dogfish as beings to be known, reasserting the sovereignty of knower over known.
In truth, the biography of scientists and poets is usually the story of the discovery of the indirect approach, the circumvention of the educator’s presentation–the young man who was sent to the Technikum and on his way fell into the habit of loitering in book stores and reading poetry; or the young man dutifully attending law school who on the way became curious about the comings and goings of ants …
However it may come about, we notice two traits of the second situation: (1) an openness of the thing before one–instead of being an exercise to be learned according to an approved mode, it is a garden of delights which beckons to one; (2) a sovereignty of the knower–instead of being a consumer of a prepared experience, I am a sovereign wayfarer, a wanderer in the neighborhood of being who stumbles into the garden.
One can think of two sorts of circumstances through which the thing may be restored to the person. (There is always the direct recovery: A student may simply be strong enough, brave enough, clever enough to take the dogfish and the sonnet by storm, to wrest control of it from the educators and the educational package.) First by ordeal: The Bomb falls; when the young man recovers consciousness in the shambles of the biology laboratory, there not ten inches from his nose lies the dogfish. now all at once he can see it, directly and without let, just as the exile or the prisoner or the sick man sees the sparrow at his window in all its inexhaustibility; just as the commuter who has had a heart attack sees his own hand for the first time. In these cases, the simulacrum of everydayness and of consumption has been destroyed by disaster; in the case of the bomb, literally destroyed. Secondly, by apprenticeship to a great man: One day a great biologist walks into the laboratory; he stops in front of our student’s desk; he leans over, picks up the dogfish, and ignoring instruments and procedure, probes with a broken fingernail into the little carcass. “Now here is a curious business,” he says, ignoring also the proper jargon of the specialty. “Look here how this little duct reverses its direction and drops into the pelvis. Now if you would look into a coelancanth, you would see that it–” And all at once the student can see. The technician and the sophomore who loves his textbook are always offended by the genuine research man because the latter is usually a little vague and always humble before the thing; he doesn’t have much use for the equipment or the jargon. Whereas the technician is never vague and never humble before the thing; he holds the thing disposed of by the principle, the formula, the textbook outline; and he thinks a great deal of equipment and jargon.
But since neither of these methods of recovering the dogfish is pedagogically feasible–perhaps the great man even less so than the Bomb–I wish to propose the following educational technique which should prove equally effective for Harvard and Shreveport High School. I propose that English poetry and biology should be taught as usual, but that at irregular intervals, poetry students should find dogfishes on their desks and biology students should find Shakespeare sonnets on their dissecting boards …

A present from
Mark Liberman
His home page:

Click immediately to his superb blog:


Carl Rogers – Personal thoughts on teaching and learning

Carl R. Rogers
Freedom to Learn

This essay is from a book titled “Freedom to Learn” published in 1969, that contains the basic ideas on learning of a very creative and original psychologist like Carl Rogers.

Personal Thoughts on Teaching and Learning (1952) 

I wish to present some very brief remarks, in the hope that if they bring forth any reaction from you, I may get some new light on my own ideas. 

a) My experience is that I cannot teach another person how to teach. To attempt it is for me, in the long run, futile.
b) It seems to me that anything that can be taught to another is relatively inconsequential and has little or no significant influence on behavior.
c) I realize increasingly that I am only interested in learnings which significantly influence behavior.
d) I have come to feel that the only learning which significantly influence behavior is self-discovered, self-appropriated learning.
e) Such self-discovered learning, truth that has been personally appropriated and assimilated in experience, cannot be directly communicated to another.
f) As a consequence of the above, I realize that I have lost interest in being a teacher.
g) When I try to teach, as I do sometimes, I am appalled by the results, which seems a little more than inconsequential, because sometimes the teaching appears to succeed. When this happens I find that the results are damaging. It seems to cause the individual to distrust his own experience, and to stifle significant learning. Hence, I have come to feel that the outcomes of teaching are either unimportant or hurtful.
h) When I look back at the results of my past teaching, the real results seem the same – either damage was done – or nothing significant occurred. This is frankly troubling.
i) As a consequence, I realize that I am only interested in being a learner, preferably learning things that matter, that have some significant influence on my own behavior.
j) I find it very rewarding to learn, in groups, in relationships with one person as in therapy, or by myself.
k) I find that one of the best, but most difficult, ways for me to learn is to drop my own defensiveness, at least temporarily, and to try to understand the way in which his experience seems and feels to the other person.
l) I find that another way of learning for me is to state my own uncertainties, to try to clarify my puzzlements, and thus get closer to the meaning that my experience actually seems to have.
m) This whole train of experiencing, and the meanings that I have thus far discovered in it, seem to have launched me on a process which is both fascinating and at times a little frightening. It seems to mean letting my experiences carry me on, in a direction which appears to be forward, toward goals that I can but dimly define, as I try to understand at least the current meaning of that experience. The sensation is that of floating with a complex stream of experience, with the fascinating possibility of trying to comprehend its ever-changing complexity. 

I am almost afraid I may seem to have gotten away from any discussion of learning, as well as teaching. Let me again introduce a practical note by saying that by themselves these interpretations of my experience may sound queer and aberrant, but not particularly shocking. It is when I realize the implications that I shudder a bit at the distance I have come from the commonsense world that everyone knows is right. I can best illustrate this by saying that if the experiences of others had been the same as mine, and if 1 had discovered similar meanings in it, many consequences would be implied:

a.) Such experience would imply that we would do away with teaching. People would get together if they wished to learn.
b.) We would do away with examinations. They measure the inconsequential type of learning.
c.) We would do away with grades and credits for the same reason.
d.) We would do away with degrees as a measure of competence partly for the same reason. Another reason is that a degree marks an end or a conclusion of something, and a learner is only interested in the continuing process of learning.
e.) We would do away with the exposition of conclusions, for we would realize that no one learns significantly from conclusions.

I think I had better to stop here. I do not want to become too fantastic. I want to know primarily whether anything in my inward thinking, as I have tried to describe it, speaks to anything in your experience of the classroom as you have lived it, and if so, what the meanings are that exist for you in your experience.

Regarding Learning and Its Facilitation (1969)
How does a person learn? How can important learnings be facilitated? What basic theoretical assumptions are involved?
Here are a number of the principles which can, I believe, be abstracted from current experience and research related to this newer approach:
1) Human beings have a natural potentiality for learning.
2) Significant learning takes place when the subject matter is perceived by the student as having relevance for his own purposes.
3) Learning which involves a change in self organization – in the perception of oneself – is threatening and tends to be resisted.
4) Those learning which are threatening to the self are more easily perceived and assimilated when external threats are at a minimum.
5) When threats to the self is low, experience can be perceived in differentiated fashion and learning can proceed.
6) Much significant learning is acquired through doing.
7) Learning is facilitated when the student participates responsibly in the learning process.
8) Self-initiated learning which involves the whole person of the learner – feelings as well as intellect – is the most lasting and pervasive.
9) Independence, creativity, and self-reliance are all facilitated when self-criticism and self-evaluation are basic and evaluation by others is of secondary importance.
10) The most socially useful learning in the modern world is the learning of the process of learning, a continuing openness to experience and incorporation into oneself of the process of change.

1) The facilitator has much to do with setting the initial mood or climate of the group or class experience.
2) The facilitator helps to elicit and clarify the purposes of the individuals in the class as well as the more general purposes of the group.
3) He relies upon the desire of each student to implement those purposes which have meaning for him, as the motivational force behind significant learning.
4) He endeavours to organize and make easily available the widest possible range of resources for learning.
5) He regards himself as a flexible resource to be utilized by the group.
6) In responding to expressions in the classroom group, he accepts both the intellectual content and the emotionalized attitudes, endeavouring to give each aspect the approximate degree of emphasis which it has for the individual or the group.
7) As the acceptant classroom climate becomes established, the facilitator is able increasingly to become a participant learner, a member of the group, expressing his views as those of one individual only.
8) He takes the initiative in sharing himself with the group – his feelings as well as his thoughts – in ways which do not demand nor impose but represent simply a personal sharing which students may take or leave.
9) Throughout the classroom experience, he remains alert to the expression indicative of deep or strong feelings.
10) In his functioning as a facilitator of learning, the leader endeavours to recognize and accept his own limitations.


Waking up

Waking up

Haj Ross
English Department
University of North Texas

I have been chasing after Zen for what seems like a long time now, and recently, it has begun to seem that maybe the relationship is getting mutual. For those of you for in San Francisco. I tried to get Si to explain what it was that he was doing, and I couldn’t understand a word that he said to me. Which makes me think now that he must have been pretty far along even then.

But the one thing that I got, somehow, was that whatever this was, it was something of immense value. Hmm.


And then, near the end of that turbulent and much maligned decade, the 60’s, another good friend, Jerry Katz, a philosopher, loans me a book by Philip Kapleau: The Three Pillars of Zen. I read it uncomprehendingly, it talks about meditation, the basic instruction, to sit down and follow one’s breath, counting up to ten breaths, one for each exhalation – this is so simple. How come that when I try to (try to) try it, it is so hard?


And this book gives me for the first time a Zen word: koan. And tells me what it is like to live with a koan. A koan is some kind of riddle or something, something that you cannot answer with your mind, something so fiendishly crafted that it in fact defeats your mind, after you have lived with it long enough.

Hey waidaminit! What is all this stuff about getting rid of my mind? What is so bad about having a mind, after all? Haven’t I been going to all kinds of lengths to train my mind, and now I’m supposed to just chuck it? And for something as dubious as this, the first koan I remember encountering, and one that is said to be central to Zen?

The monk Joshu is asked: Has a dog Buddha nature?
Joshu’s reply: Mu.

[“mu” is helpfully said to be a generalized word for negation]

And here are all these stories about extremely serious people, going through extreme hardships, meditating for many years, staying up, outside, under the moon, baying Mu into the night air. And for what?


Well, there is said to be a way of being, at the end of this indefinitely long and painful ordeal with Mu, something the least intelligible of all, something called enlightenment, or realization, or in Japanese, satori. And from the testimonials of several of the people in Kapleau’s book who have had these satori experiences, something mysterious, which somehow comes through, despite their inability to talk about it (better: despite their indifference towards the impossibility of expressing this whatever it is in words) – something from far away and yet also nearer than language is calling to me.


And so I go to Japan in 1971 for the first time, and somehow, comically, (turns out that one has to laugh a lot at oneself on this trip) find myself at a Zen temple, where I go to take part in a sesshin, a fierce ten-day retreat of about 18 to 20 hours of Zen per day, I arrive in the middle of it, I burn out after twelve hours, leave feeling defeated, but also, how can this be? – still drawn, hypnotizedly, to this order of being, to this inaccessibility. I will spare you the gory details, suffice it to say that I fitfully meditate, read more stuff without understanding it, think that I want to (want to) learn more, fill the next 12 years with as much shillying as shallying. Let us kindly refer to this interlude as “Haj (thinking he is) chasing after Zen.”


And now the scene shifts, it is the summer of 1983, I have a grant, from the Jason and Marion Whiting Foundation, to talk to various people on the West coast about the relationships between art and science and philosophy and religion, which I feel are in some way inextricably intertwined, are much more alike than they are often thought to be, I am in Los Angeles. And I have been told, by a very dear friend, someone much farther along on this pathless path, that when she met the head of the Zen Center of Los Angeles, Taizan Maezumi Roshi, she burst into tears, she knew immediately that he was her teacher, changed from the practice that she had been doing intensively for years to follow this man.

This sounds wonderful. This is more like it. Certainty. Yes sir, I could sure use some of that, something to galvanize me, help me stop stumbling around so like a fool. I will go and see this Roshi fellow (if he will see me), maybe something magical will happen to me too, after all, I have been muddling around for 15 years, surely this should count for something?


So miraculously enough, I call up, am granted an audience with this man. He is small, very quiet, almost clean-shaven head, brown robe, surrounded by many kind people who live at the Zen Center, they take me in, give me tea, show me around – it is clear that there is a lot of work here, a lot of purpose, above all, a lot of love. I am beginning to get the idea: friendship is very important, somehow, in this whole difficult process. Friends have brought me this far, I am wrapped in friendship and love, from people who either have gone, like me, groping after something that they did not know how to describe either, or who were lucky enough to have figured out earlier that describing was anyway irrelevant.


And so I try to tell Maezumi Roshi, this kind being, something about what it might be that has brought me to him, I am nervous, he is enlightened, and I am not, I say something about mooshing art and science together, I don’t know what. He is so patient, he doesn’t put me down, he introduces me to some other wonderful people, they seem to hear something in me to take seriously, but now it is time to go, Roshi says something like, “Good luck with your koan.”

My koan! My koan? What koan? Nobody ever gave me one. I’m not even in any Zen community, I don’t have a roshi to go to to check in with, a roshi who will know when I have “solved” the unsolvable koan that I have been given.

So – but look here! He is obliquely (everything is oblique in this business) giving me a koan right now! I better ask him what it is!!

“What koan, Roshi?”

“The koan of fusing art and science.”

Wow! That is a koan?? This confused bunch of thinking and reading that I have been enmeshed with for who knows how long? This can be dignified with the name of koan? I had better collect some brownie points, I’ll ask him how I’m doing, now that I’m a koaneer, like all the other real Zen students, who I have always been so envious of.

“How am I doing with it, Roshi?”

He looks at me, kindly, Zenly, Japanesely, says three words:

“Not very well.”


Aha. So it’s not going to be so easy, hunh? This mooshing business, how could anyone do it anyway, it’s impossible, the enterprises are too far apart, the reading is difficult, it’s all in a vague area, who could even do something like this, they would have to have understood all of this, but me? No wonder (grrrr) I have gotten nowhere, I better just go back to ripping poems to pieces and loving syntax and things like that which I have to do anyway because they’re so interesting that I have to do them even if I won’t get realized for it.


And now it is 13 and a half years after those three words. I have been mooshing together fiercely in as many ways as I could think of, in a bunch of different settings and places around the world, sometimes some of them seem to work, others fall flat on their face. The not so vague guilt with which I was beset in 1983, guilt at not doing something recognizable, not doing pure syntax, or pure poetics, or pure something, at being lost without even being able to tell anyone except extremely kind and patient friends what I think it might be that I think I am lost in – miraculously, this permaguilt has begun to thaw. At first I had tried to sort of compartmentalize, say, by putting books that I read about enlightenment and like that in a different category (like not business expenses) from journals, books, real books. And also to keep it out of the classroom. I mean, this is all private, my trip, right? How can I, in good conscience, lay it on anyone else? I can’t, which however does not stop me from laying it on, thick, in bad conscience.
Because oooo would I like to be a realized being, a saint, a guru. MmmmMMMM. I’m losing patience with all this waiting, I don’t have the moxie to really do all this fierce practice which all the heavies do, hey! – maybe it just isn’t my karma to get enlightened this time around, not my fault, so why not pretend that I do know something?


This is just the tip of a whole iceberg of gruesome crud which I will spare you. Plenty more where that came from. And strange though it is to tell, although one might think that such feelings would have enough power to keep me flagellating myself indefinitely, in fact my arm seems to have gotten a bit tired, or some of the fun has begun to go out of it for me. Not that it isn’t always there, a trusted friend, ready to hand whenever I would like to welcome it back – but somehow, its hook isn’t set so deep in me anymore. It has moved from stage front towards the background, towards the wings.


And what is instead center stage? Well, it really isn’t anything different than what was there in 1983, is it? I mean, I am still believing that what is important in what is generally thought of a four separate enterprises – sciencephilosophyartreligion – this is instead one whatever it is, and it is linked to insight, and learning about it is possible in groups in which some strange horizontalization has taken place, and the asymmetry usually there between student and teacher has washed out, and we are all just learning together –

There’s a lot more like that too, should you wish to hear it. It is very hard to say just in what way it is not what it was in 1983. It is not that I now believe in different things, exactly – maybe a slightly better way to say it would be to say that the belief is in more of me. Or that it comes from a deeper place.
Maybe two things will help point to something just barely perceptible. Some twentieth-century painter, I think it was Max Ernst, but I don’t know for sure, he was asked: what do you tell young painters? He said: I tell them to quit. That way, only those who have to will keep on painting.
Or there is an expression in German: die Hand für etwas ins Feuer legen – “to put one’s hand in the fire for something.” To believe something so much that you would actually put your hand in the fire as a kind of demonstration of your degree of commitment to it.
Now I feel more of a chicken about physical pain than I imagine most people do, yet there are things I have seen in poems, say, or maybe even about all of this mooshing, which I would put my hand in the flames for (I’m not saying how long, mind you). However much this may be true, when push comes to shove, is in a way immaterial. I am just trying to find some way to describe what may be different in the Haj of 1997 from the one in 1983. I don’t think that there was much in the older one that he would have put his hand in the fire for.


Or maybe another way to talk around this feeling is to say that wanting has become somewhat irrelevant. I used to want to believe in mooshability, and was assailed by doubts guilt etc. Now, despite the continued presence of all that dark stuff, mooshability just is. It’s as if at times I become Mr. Moosh.


But what does all the above have to do with the title of this piece? Where does waking up come in? And what is this whole thing about, anyway? Believe me, I sympathize with such questions. I am getting there, doubtless not fast enough. But I have to tell one more story, from a kind book, a present from a kind friend: Seeking the Heart of Wisdom, by Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfeld. The book starts like this:

It is said that soon after his enlightenment, the Buddha passed a man on the road
who was struck by his extraordinary radiance and peacefulness. The man stopped
and asked, “My friend, what are you? Are you a celestial being or a god?”

“No,” said the Buddha.
“Well, then, are you some kind of magician or wizard?”
Again the Buddha answered, “No.”
“Are you a man?”
“Well, my friend, what then are you?”
The Buddha replied, ”I am awake.”

And in fact, the word Buddha comes from the Sanskrit root, *bhudh, which means “to be awake.” When the ending -dha is added to it, a word is produced which means “one who has awakened.”

I am going to skip a lot of stuff about what it was that the Buddha awakened to, which is called in Sanskrit Dharma, and which we might quickly translate as “what is firm, or the Law,” or: “the way things are.” There are many books which talk about this much better than I know how to. Instead, what I want to talk about is how the Buddha passed this wisdom down to his students.
And there, the answer was, and still is today: from the deepest place in his heart to that same place in his student. The Buddha’s great insight and courage and determination had enabled him to completely purify his heart, and had also given him the ability to see clearly into the hearts of anyone who wanted to follow his teaching, and to tell when someone had truly understood, and embodied, all of it. And when that mystical point was reached, what happens is something that we who have not experienced this can only guess at: it is written that at that point, there ceases to be any difference between that Buddha and the student. They are One in their deepest heart of wisdom.
And what happened when one of the Buddha’s students, who had personally achieved this fusion with the Buddha, started teaching still other students? Well, the same thing: when one of the students’ students had achieved a pure heart, that fact would be revealed to the pure heart of her or his teacher, and again teacher and student would fuse into one. And thus arose the notion of lineage, and today there are Buddhist masters who can tell you who their teacher was, and who their teacher’s teacher was, and so on, all the way back 2500 years to the Buddha. There is an unbroken conduit of Light that radiates from the Buddha that comes down into the lives of these living masters today.


The Buddhists say that we are all already Buddhas, but that we don’t know it. All the work that we do on ourselves is to help us to wake up and remember who, in our deepest essence, we most truly are. They say that each of us has a sleeping Buddha in us, and that we can wake that Buddha up.


OK, you may say, but what does all of this have to do with Maezumi Roshi in 1983? Well back then, I believed something which was wrong, I now think: that when we awake, we are roshis or gurus or Perfect Masters, or whatnot. I believed this fervently, despite many cautionary warnings in the Zen literature, like the famous story:

Before I studied Zen, a mountain was a mountain,
a tree was a tree, and a lake was a lake.

Then I studied Zen for a while, and a mountain was no longer a mountain,
a tree was no longer a tree, and a lake no longer a lake.

I continued my studies, and a mountain is again a mountain,
a tree a tree, and a lake a lake.

So what I had expected to happen, through hanging out with Zen, namely that I was going to become a roshi, that didn’t happen. Instead, Maezumi Roshi, with his endless kindness and insight, saw that inside of me, there was sleeping a potential Moosher of Art and Science. With his great wisdom and compassion, he saw all kinds of different flavors of Buddhahood in the different people who were drawn to him to study. Some he would see could wake up to become pure bakers, or mothers, or dancers, or bus drivers, or flutists, or . . . or even mooshers. To each his koan.
And what matters in this inner transformation is not the profession of the awakened being – what matters is only that their heart is pure. The rest is just trapping. And anyway, as soon as you have “solved” one koan, there is another fiercer one right behind it, and it will come into your living room, invisibly, and wait for you to gradually become aware of its unshakability.


So what we learn is not to become anything special. Rather, since each of us is unique, each of us has to find that special thing in us which we can so merge with that we will end up being identical with it. The result of that experiment is on one level that we have become a transcendent baker, or whatever. But far more importantly, what we have learned is: the Possibility of Awakening. We learn that we can find a way to turn our senses inward, to find out what we truly cannot help doing, what we must do even if more famous, etc., people around us tell us to quit. What we would put our hands in the fire for. If we have learned that once, then, should we wish to continue on the pathless path, a dharma friend who is further along than we are can help us to look again within us, in an even deeper place (there seem to be no final places, which you can arrive at and have no even deeper places to wake up into).


So why all the above? What is this leading up to?
It is probably too late in the day to say anything like “briefly, . . . ,” but what I am vitally concerned with is our educational institutions. Most schools and colleges think that education consists in teaching stuff, whether the stuff is driver ed or Italian, or calc or accounting. But I think that to believe this is to make just the same mistake I made, when I thought that waking up was necessarily to wake up to being a guru, roshi, whatever. No.
Learning is, always and only, about waking up. I am a linguist. What I must do, when I teach linguistics, is to show to the students what it is like to live the life of someone who cannot help being a linguist, who would be a linguist even if he drove a hack forty hours a week to earn a living, someone who is permanently addicted to the beauty of language. I show them myself and my fascination, not in order that they learn about what allophones are, or what chômeurization is, or anything concrete like that at all. Rather, I live this love for language in their presence, and I invite them to ask: is there anything like that in me? Do language and I have any business together? If so, they can come to me, and ask: what is my next step? And if not, simply not. No blame whatsoever. On to the next class.
My first linguistics teacher, Bernard Bloch, a brilliant linguist and teacher who was the head of the graduate linguistics program at Yale, was the alarm clock who woke me up to my linguisthood. There was a sleeping linguist in me, and he sensed that, and after he had awoken him, he had the bad luck to let me into a handcrafted major in linguistics at Yale, which had no undergraduate program in linguistics. I was to take some graduate courses, do some reading courses, and generally behave like linguistics inebriates behave. I, however, had different agendas, and proceeded to waste his time while I was at Yale, playing football, poker, and being on the radio station, doing essentially no studying. But he gritted his teeth and bore up through my dismal scholastics at Yale; I think he may have known that the hook was set so deep that sometime I might really settle down and start to think.
This all by the boards. I am here suggesting fundamentally just this. What happened in Linguistics 20, in my freshman year at Yale, was that there was in me a sleeping linguist, a linguist in ovo, one who did not know there was a possibility of waking out of the sleep in which he was wrapped. Within Bernard Bloch, there was not only an awakened linguist, but there was also his own sleeping linguist, who had been there until his teachers (I think that Raven McDavid and Leonard Bloomfield were some of them) had called to that sleeping and playful Essence of Linguisthood within him. I think of these sleeping linguist-buddhas, baker-buddhas, nurse-buddhas, whatever, as little kids, say around five or six, who love to get together and play. They called to Bernard Bloch’s linguist-kid, and awoke him, and he later, in 1956, called to me, and awoke mine.


If anything like the above is what happens in the process of forming people, then it suggests consequences of the most profound kind for the educational system. First and foremost, waking up is an event wrapped in friendship and playfulness, which is not to say in the least that it does not involve intense seriousness and immense quantities of hard work, as anyone who has watched kids build sand castles at the beach well knows. As far as I can tell, the greatest impediment to this process is fear. I think that as soon as obligations, like homework, exams, grades – all those good things which we all know are absolutely indispensable to conducting a class – as soon as those come in, the possibilities of successful wakings up are shrunken greatly. They do not go away entirely – look at me – I woke up in a regularly structured class with homework, exams, the whole schmier. How come it worked for me? How come I woke up?


I think that I woke up despite the system, not because it promoted the awakening process. And yes there are many people who have had the fantastic good fortune to have awoken to their callings in standardly structured classes. But I am impressed, and saddened, by the huge numbers of people who have not awoken to the Possibility of Awakening, and who either drop out, in the most radical cases, or who go through life desafinados, slightly out of tune, not radiantly realized, not having found their true calling. Our failure to these people may not be as dramatic and visible as it is in the case of a high-school dropout, but the human loss is devastating. The number of people who hate their work is so high that it is not an accidental fact that the day of the week and time when most Americans die is Monday at 9 AM.


I think it is about time for a quote from James Thurber:

It is better to know some of the questions
than all of the answers

James Thurber

Quoted in Patricia St. John,
The Secret Language of Dolphins,
Summit Books, New York, p. 11. (1991)


There are surely many subordinate questions which must be asked if we make the following question the one that is central for us:

What must we do in order to maximize the opportunities
for waking up in our educational institutions?

But I will not try to imagine them now. Here I invite your contributions.

And I will end as I started, with Zen – a quote from Leonard Cohen, a long-time student. This quote belies what I said at the outset – that words are useless. When they are very good, words can point, clearly, at what lies beyond language. I like an ending that destroys the beginning. It seems a nice way out of some of the tangles that writing anything like this brings, inexorably, with it.


What is a saint? A saint is someone who has achieved a remote human possibility. It is impossible to say what that possibility is. I think it has something to do with the energy of love. Contact with this energy results in the exercise of a kind of balance in the chaos of existence. A saint does not dissolve the chaos; if he did the world would have changed long ago. I do not think that a saint dissolves the chaos even for himself, for there is something arrogant and warlike in the notion of a man setting the universe in order. It is a kind of balance that is his glory. He rides the drifts like an escaped ski. His course is a caress of the hill. His track is a drawing of the snow in a moment of its particular arrangement with wind and rock. Something in him so loves the world that he gives himself to the laws of gravity and chance. Far from flying with the angels, he traces with the fidelity of a seismograph needle the state of the solid, bloody landscape. His house is dangerous and finite, but he is at home in the world. He can love the shapes of human beings, the fine and twisted shapes of the heart. It is good to have among us such men, such balancing monsters of love.

Leonard Cohen

Stranger Music: Selected Poems and Songs
Pantheon Books, New York (1993).

Quoted in:

the other side of waiting. An interview with Leonard Cohen, conducted at his Montreal home by Toronto journalist Cindy Bisaillon

Shambhala Sun, January 1994, p. 50



Parker Palmer – The Heart of a Teacher

The following article, which was a present to me from Tom Linker, says as clearly as anything I have seen what I think is important as we try to learn together.


Identity and Integrity in Teaching



I am a teacher at heart, and there are moments in the classroom when I can hardly hold the joy. When my students and I discover uncharted territory to explore, when the pathway out of a thicket opens up before us, when our experience is illumined by the lightning-life of the mind – then teaching is the finest work I know.

But at other moments, the classroom is so lifeless or painful or confused – and I am so powerless to do anything about it that my claim to be a teacher seems a transparent sham. Then the enemy is everywhere: in those students from some alien planet, in that subject I thought I knew, and in the personal pathology that keeps me earning my living this way. What a fool I was to imagine that I had mastered this occult art – harder to divine than tea leaves and impossible for mortals to do even passably well!

The tangles of teaching have three important sources. The first two are commonplace, but the third, and most fundamental, is rarely given its due. First, the subjects we teach are as large and complex as life, so our knowledge of them is always flawed and partial. No matter how we devote ourselves to reading and research, teaching requires a command of content that always eludes our grasp. Second, the students we teach are larger than life and even more complex. To see them clearly and see them whole, and respond to them wisely in the moment, requires a fusion of Freud and Solomon that few of us achieve.

If students and subjects accounted for all the complexities of teaching, our standard ways of coping would do – keep up with our fields as best we can, and learn enough techniques to stay ahead of the student psyche. But there is another reason for these complexities: we teach who we are.

Teaching, like any truly human activity, emerges from one’s inwardness, for better or worse. As I teach, I project the condition of my soul onto my students, my subject, and our way of being together. The entanglements I experience in the classroom are often no more or less than the convolutions of my inner life. Viewed from this angle, teaching holds a mirror to the soul. If I am willing to look in that mirror, and not run from what I see, I have a chance to gain self-knowledge – and knowing myself is as crucial to good teaching as knowing my students and my subject.

In fact, knowing my students and my subject depends heavily on self-knowledge. When I do not know myself, I cannot know who my students are. I will see them through a glass darkly, in the shadows of my unexamined life – and when I cannot see them clearly I cannot teach them well. When I do not know myself, I cannot know my subject – not at the deepest levels of embodied, personal meaning. I will know it only abstractly, from a distance, a congeries of concepts as far removed from the world as I am from personal truth.

We need to open a new frontier in our exploration of good teaching: the inner landscape of a teacher’s life. To chart that landscape fully, three important paths must be taken – intellectual, emotional, and spiritual – and none can be ignored. Reduce teaching to intellect and it becomes a cold abstraction; reduce it to emotions and it becomes narcissistic; reduce it to the spiritual and it loses its anchor to the world. Intellect, emotion, and spirit depend on each other for wholeness. They are interwoven in the human self and in education at its best, and we need to interweave them in our pedagogical discourse as well.

By intellectual I mean the way we think about teaching and learning – the form and content of our concepts of how people know and learn, of the nature of our students and our subjects. By emotional I mean the way we and our students feel as we teach and learn – feelings that can either enlarge or diminish the exchange between us. By spiritual I mean the diverse ways we answer the heart’s longing to be connected with the largeness of life – a longing that animates love and work, especially the work called teaching.


After three decades of trying to learn my craft, every class comes down to this: my students and I, face to face, engaged in an ancient and exacting exchange called education. The techniques I have mastered do not disappear, but neither do they suffice. Face to face with my students, only one resource is at my immediate command: my identity, my selfhood, my sense of this “I” who teaches – without which I have no sense of the “Thou” who learns.

Here is a secret hidden in plain sight: good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher. In every class I teach, my ability to connect with my students, and to connect them with the subject, depends less on the methods I use than on the degree to which I know and trust my selfhood – and am willing to make it available and vulnerable in the service of learning.

My evidence for this claim comes, in part, from years of asking students to tell me about their good teachers. As I listen to those stories, it becomes impossible to claim that all good teachers use similar techniques: some lecture non-stop and others speak very little, some stay close to their material and others loose the imagination, some teach with the carrot and others with the stick.

But in every story I have heard, good teachers share one trait: a strong sense of personal identity infuses their work. “Dr. A is really there when she teaches,” a student tells me, or “Mr. B has such enthusiasm for his subject,” or “You can tell that this is really Prof. C’s life.”

One student I heard about said she could not describe her good teachers because they were so different from each other. But she could describe her bad teachers because they were all the same: “Their words float somewhere in front of their faces, like the balloon speech in cartoons.” With one remarkable image she said it all. Bad teachers distance themselves from the subject they are teaching – and, in the process, from their students.

Good teachers join self, subject, and students in the fabric of life because they teach from an integral and undivided self; they manifest in their own lives, and evoke in their students, a “capacity for connectedness.” They are able to weave a complex web of connections between themselves, their subjects, and their students, so that students can learn to weave a world for themselves. The methods used by these weavers vary widely: lectures, Socratic dialogues, laboratory experiments, collaborative problem-solving, creative chaos. The connections made by good teachers are held not in their methods but in their hearts meaning heart in its ancient sense, the place where intellect and emotion and spirit and will converge in the human self.

If good teaching cannot be reduced to technique, I no longer need suffer the pain of having my peculiar gift as a teacher crammed into the Procrustean bed of someone else’s method and the standards prescribed by it. That pain is felt throughout education today as we insist upon the method du jour – leaving people who teach differently feeling devalued, forcing them to measure up to norms not their own.

I will never forget one professor who, moments before I was to start a workshop on teaching, unloaded years of pent-up workshop animus on me: “I am an organic chemist. Are you going to spend the next two days telling me that I am supposed to teach organic chemistry through role-playing?” His wry question was not only related to his distinctive discipline but also to his distinctive self: we must find an approach to teaching that respects the diversity of teachers as well as disciplines, which methodological reductionism fails to do.

The capacity for connectedness manifests itself in diverse and wondrous ways – as many ways as there are forms of personal identity. Two great teachers stand out from my own undergraduate experience. They differed radically from each other in technique, but both were gifted at connecting students, teacher, and subject in a community of learning.

One of those teachers assigned a lot of reading in her course on methods of social research and, when we gathered around the seminar table on the first day, said, “Any comments or questions?” She had the courage to wait out our stupefied (and stupefying) silence, minute after minute after minute, gazing around the table with a benign look on her face – and then, after the passage of a small eternity, to rise, pick up her books, and say, as she walked toward the door, “Class dismissed.”

This scenario more or less repeated itself a second time, but by the third time we met, our high SAT scores had kicked in, and we realized that the big dollars we were paying for this education would be wasted if we did not get with the program. So we started doing the reading, making comments, asking questions – and our teacher proved herself to be a brilliant interlocutor, co-researcher, and guide in the midst of confusions, a “weaver” of connectedness in her own interactive and inimitable way.

My other great mentor taught the history of social thought. He did not know the meaning of silence and he was awkward at interaction; he lectured incessantly while we sat in rows and took notes. Indeed, he became so engaged with his material that he was often impatient with our questions. But his classes were nonetheless permeated with a sense of connectedness and community.

How did he manage this alchemy? Partly by giving lectures that went far beyond presenting the data of social theory into staging the drama of social thought. He told stories from the lives of great thinkers as well as explaining their ideas; we could almost see Karl Mark, sitting alone in the British Museum Library, writing Das Kapital. Through active imagination we were brought into community with the thinker himself, and with the personal and social conditions that stimulated his thought.

But the drama of my mentor’s lectures went farther still. He would make a strong Marxist statement, and we would transcribe it in our notebooks as if it were holy writ. Then a puzzled look would pass over his face. He would pause, step to one side, turn and look back at the space he had just exited – and argue with his own statement from an Hegelian point of view! This was not an artificial device but a genuine expression of the intellectual drama that continually occupied this teacher’s mind and heart.

“Drama” does not mean histrionics, of course, and remembering that fact can help us name a form of connectedness that is palpable and powerful without being overtly interactive, or even face to face. When I go to the theater, I sometimes feel strongly connected to the action, as if my own life were being portrayed on stage. But I have no desire to raise my hand and respond to the line just spoken, or run up the aisle, jump onto the stage, and join in the action. Sitting in the audience, I am already on stage “in person,” connected in an inward and invisible way that we rarely credit as the powerful form of community that it is. With a good drama, I do not need overt interaction to be “in community” with those characters and their lives.

I used to wonder how my mentor, who was so awkward in his face-to-face relations with students, managed to simulate community so well. Now I understand: he was in community without us! Who needs 20-year-olds from the suburbs when you are hanging out constantly with the likes of Marx and Hegel, Durkheirn, Weber and Troeltsch? This is “community” of the highest sort – this capacity for connectedness that allows one to converse with the dead, to speak and listen in an invisible network of relationships that enlarges one’s world and enriches one’s life. (We should praise, not deride, First Ladies who “talk” with Eleanor Roosevelt; the ability to learn from wise but long-gone souls is nothing less than a classic mark of a liberal education!)

Yet my great professor, though he communed more intimately with the great figures of social thought than with the people close at hand, cared deeply about his students. The passion with which he lectured was not only for his subject, but for us to know his subject. He wanted us to meet and learn from the constant companions of his intellect and imagination, and he made those introductions in a way that was deeply integral to his own nature. He brought us into a form of community that did not require small numbers of students sitting in a circle and learning through dialogue.

These two great teachers were polar opposites in substance and in style. But both created the connectedness, the community, that is essential to teaching and learning. They did so by trusting and teaching from true self, from the identity and integrity that is the source of all good work – and by employing quite different techniques that allowed them to reveal rather than conceal who they were.

Their genius as teachers, and their profound gifts to me, would have been diminished and destroyed had their practice been forced into the Procrustean bed of the method of the moment. The proper place for technique is not to subdue subjectivity, not to mask and distance the self from the work, but – as one grows in self-knowledge – to help bring forth and amplify the gifts of self on which good work depends.


The claim that good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher might sound like a truism, and a pious one at that: good teaching comes from good people. But by “identity” and “integrity” I do not mean only our noble features, or the good deeds we do, or the brave faces we wear to conceal our confusions and complexities. Identity and integrity have as much to do with our shadows and limits, our wounds and fears, as with our strengths and potentials.

By identity I mean an evolving nexus where all the forces that constitute my life converge in the mystery of self: my genetic makeup, the nature of the man and woman who gave me life, the culture in which I was raised, people who have sustained me and people who have done me harm, the good and ill I have done to others, and to myself, the experience of love and suffering – and much, much more. In the midst of that complex field, identity is a moving intersection of the inner and outer forces that make me who I am, converging in the irreducible mystery of being human.

By integrity I mean whatever wholeness I am able to find within that nexus as its vectors form and re-form the pattern of my life. Integrity requires that I discern what is integral to my selfhood, what fits and what does not – and that I choose life-giving ways of relating to the forces that converge within me: do I welcome them or fear them, embrace them or reject them, move with them or against them? By choosing integrity, I become more whole, but wholeness does not mean perfection. It means becoming more real by acknowledging the whole of who I am.

Identity and integrity are not the granite from which fictional heroes are hewn. They are subtle dimensions of the complex, demanding, and life-long process of self-discovery. Identity lies in the intersection of the diverse forces that make up my life, and integrity lies in relating to those forces in ways that bring me wholeness and life rather than fragmentation and death.

Those are my definitions – but try as I may to refine them, they always come out too pat. Identity and integrity can never be fully named or known by anyone, including the person who bears them. They constitute that familiar strangeness we take with us to the grave, elusive realities that can be caught only occasionally out of the comer of the eye.

Stories are the best way to portray realities of this sort, so here is a tale of two teachers – a tale based on people I have known, whose lives tell me more about the subtleties of identity and integrity than any theory could.

Alan and Eric were born into two different families of skilled craftspeople, rural folk with little formal schooling but gifted in the manual arts. Both boys evinced this gift from childhood onward, and as each grew in the skill at working with his hands, each developed a sense of self in which the pride of craft was key.

The two shared another gift as well: both excelled in school and became the first in their working-class families to go to college. Both did well as undergraduates, both were admitted to graduate school, both earned doctorates, and both chose academic careers.

But here their paths diverged. Though the gift of craft was central in both men’s sense of self, Alan was able to weave that gift into his academic vocation, while the fabric of Eric’s life unraveled early on.

Catapulted from his rural community into an elite private college at age 18, Eric suffered severe culture shock – and never overcame it. He was insecure with fellow students and, later, with academic colleagues who came from backgrounds he saw as more “cultured” than his own. He learned to speak and act like an intellectual, but he always felt fraudulent among people who were, in his eyes, to the manor born.

But insecurity neither altered Eric’s course nor drew him into self-reflection. Instead, he bullied his way into professional life on the theory that the best defense is a good offense. He made pronouncements rather than probes. He listened for weaknesses rather than strengths in what other people said. He argued with anyone about anything – and responded with veiled contempt to whatever was said in return.

In the classroom, Eric was critical and judgmental, quick to put down the “stupid question,” adept at trapping students with trick questions of his own, then merciless in mocking wrong answers. He seemed driven by a need to inflict upon his students the same wound that academic life had inflicted upon him – the wound of being embarrassed by some essential part of one’s self.

But when Eric went home to his workbench and lost himself in craft, he found himself as well. He became warm and welcoming, at home in the world and glad to extend hospitality to others. Reconnected with his roots, centered in his true self, he was able to reclaim a quiet and confident core – which he quickly lost as soon as he returned to campus.

Alan’s is a different story. His leap from countryside to campus did not induce culture shock, in part because he attended a land-grant university where many students had backgrounds much like his own. He was not driven to hide his gift, but was able to honor and transform it by turning it toward things academic: he brought to his study, and later to his teaching and research, the same sense of craft that his ancestors had brought to their work with metal and wood.

Watching Alan teach, you felt that you were watching a craftsman at work – and if you knew his history, you understood that this feeling was more than metaphor. In his lectures, every move Alan made was informed by attention to detail and respect for the materials at hand; he connected ideas with the precision of dovetail joinery and finished the job with a polished summary.

But the power of Alan’s teaching went well beyond crafted performance. His students knew that Alan would extend himself with great generosity to any of them who wanted to become an apprentice in his field, just as the elders in his own family had extended themselves to help young Alan grow in his original craft.

Alan taught from an undivided self – the integral state of being that is central to good teaching. In the undivided self, every major thread of one’s life experience is honored, creating a weave of such coherence and strength that it can hold students and subject as well as self. Such a self, inwardly integrated, is able to make the outward connections on which good teaching depends.

But Eric failed to weave the central strand of his identity into his academic vocation. His was a self divided, engaged in a civil war. He projected that inner warfare onto the outer world, and his teaching devolved into combat instead of craft. The divided self will always distance itself from others, and may even try to destroy them, to defend its fragile identity.

If Eric had not been alienated as an undergraduate – or if his alienation had led to self-reflection instead of self-defense – it is possible that he, like Alan, could have found integrity in his academic vocation, could have woven the major strands of his identity into his work. But part of the mystery of selfhood is the fact that one size does not fit all: what is integral to one person lacks integrity for another. Throughout his life, there were persistent clues that academia was not a life-giving choice for Eric, not a context in which his true self could emerge healthy and whole, not a vocation integral to his unique nature.

The self is not infinitely elastic – it has potentials and it has limits. If the work we do lacks integrity for us, then we, the work, and the people we do it with will suffer. Alan’s self was enlarged by his academic vocation, and the work he did was a joy to behold. Eric’s self was diminished by his encounter with academia, and choosing a different vocation might have been his only way to recover integrity lost.


As good teachers weave the fabric that joins them with students and subjects, the heart is the loom on which the threads are tied: the tension is held, the shuttle flies, and the fabric is stretched tight. Small wonder, then, that teaching tugs at the heart, opens the heart, even breaks the heart – and the more one loves teaching, the more heartbreaking it can be.

We became teachers for reasons of the heart, animated by a passion for some subject and for helping people to learn. But many of us lose heart as the years of teaching go by. How can we take heart in teaching once more, so we can do what good teachers always do – give heart to our students? The courage to teach is the courage to keep one’s heart open in those very moments when the heart is asked to hold more than it is able, so that teacher and students and subject can be woven into the fabric of community that learning, and living, require.

There are no techniques for reclaiming our hearts, for keeping our hearts open. Indeed, the heart does not seek “fixes” but insight and understanding. When we lose heart, we need an understanding of our condition that will liberate us from that condition, a diagnosis that will lead us toward new ways of being in the classroom simply by telling the truth about who, and how, we are. Truth, not technique, is what heals and empowers the heart.

We lose heart, in part, because teaching is a daily exercise in vulnerability. I need not reveal personal secrets to feel naked in front of a class. I need only parse a sentence or work a proof on the board while my students doze off or pass notes. No matter how technical or abstract my subject may be, the things I teach are things I care about – and what I care about helps define my selfhood.

Unlike many professions, teaching is always done at the dangerous intersection of personal and public life. A good therapist must work in a personal way, but never publicly: the therapist who reveals as much as a client’s name is derelict. A good trial lawyer must work in a public forum, but unswayed by personal opinion: the lawyer who allows his or her feelings about a client’s guilt to weaken the client’s defense is guilty of malpractice.

But a good teacher must stand where personal ‘ and public meet, dealing with the thundering flow of traffic at an intersection where “weaving a web of connectedness” feels more like crossing a freeway on foot. As we try to connect ourselves and our subjects with our students, we make ourselves, as well as our subjects, vulnerable to indifference, judgment, ridicule.

To reduce our vulnerability, we disconnect from students, from subjects, and even from ourselves. We build a wall between inner truth and outer performance, and we play-act the teacher’s part. Our words, spoken at remove from our hearts, become “the balloon speech in cartoons,” and we become caricatures of ourselves. We distance ourselves from students and subject to minimize the danger – forgetting that distance makes life more dangerous still by isolating the self.

This self-protective split of personhood from practice is encouraged by an academic culture that distrusts personal truth. Though the academy claims to value multiple modes of knowing, it honors only one – an “objective” way of knowing that takes us into the “real” world by taking us “out of ourselves.”

In this culture, objective facts are regarded as pure while subjective feelings are suspect and sullied. In this culture, the self is not a source to be tapped but a danger to be suppressed, not a potential to be fulfilled but an obstacle to be overcome. In this culture, the pathology of speech disconnected from self is regarded, and rewarded, as a virtue.

If my sketch of the academic bias against selfhood seems overdone, here is a story from my own teaching experience. I assigned my students a series of brief analytical essays involving themes in the texts we were going to be reading. Then I assigned a parallel series of autobiographical sketches, related to those themes, so my students could see connections between the textbook concepts and their own lives.

After the first class, a student spoke to me: “In those autobiographical essays you asked us to write, is it okay to use the word ëI’?”

I did not know whether to laugh or cry – but I knew that my response would have considerable impact on a young man who had just opened himself to ridicule. I told him that not only could he use the word “I”, but I hoped he would use it freely and often. Then I asked what had led to his question.

“I’m a history major,” he said, “and each time I use ‘I’ in a paper, they knock off half a grade.”

The academic bias against subjectivity not only forces our students to write poorly (“It is believed…,” instead of, “I believe… “), it deforms their thinking about themselves and their world. In a single stroke, we delude our students into believing that bad prose turns opinions into facts and we alienate them from their own inner lives.

Faculty often complain that students have no regard for the gifts of insight and understanding that are the true payoff of education – they care only about short-term outcomes in the “real” world: “Will this major get me a job?” “How will this assignment be useful in ‘real’ life?”

But those are not the questions deep in our students’ hearts. They are merely the questions they have been taught to ask, not only by tuition-paying parents who want their children to be employable, but by an academic culture that distrusts and devalues inner reality. Of course our students are cynical about the inner outcomes of education: we teach them that the subjective self is irrelevant and even unreal.

The foundation of any culture lies in the way it answers the question, “Where do reality and power reside?” For some cultures the answer is the gods; for some it is nature; for some it is tradition. In our culture, the answer is clear: reality and power reside in the external world of objects and events, and in the sciences that study that world, while the inner realm of “heart” is a romantic fantasy – an escape from harsh realities perhaps, but surely not a source of leverage over “the real world.”

We are obsessed with manipulating externals because we believe that they will give us some power over reality and win us some freedom from its constraints. Mesmerized by a technology that seems to do just that, we dismiss the inward world. We turn every question we face into an objective problem to be solved-and we believe that for every objective problem there is some sort of technical fix.

That is why we train doctors to repair the body but not to honor the spirit; clergy to be CEOs but not spiritual guides; teachers to master techniques but not to engage their students’ hearts – or their own. That is why our students are cynical about the efficacy of an education that transforms the inner landscape of their lives: when academic culture dismisses inner truth and pays homage only to the objective world, students as well as teachers lose heart.


Recovering the heart to teach requires us to reclaim our relationship with the teacher within. This teacher is one whom we knew when we were children but lost touch with as we grew into adulthood, a teacher who continually invites me to honor my true self – not my ego or expectations or image or role, but the self I am when all the externals are stripped away.

By inner teacher, I do not mean “conscience” or “superego,” moral arbiter or internalized judge. In fact, conscience, as it is commonly understood, can get us into deep vocational trouble. When we listen primarily for what we “ought” to be doing with our lives, we may find ourselves hounded by external expectations that can distort our identity and integrity. There is much that I “ought” to be doing by some abstract moral calculus. But is it my vocation? Am I gifted and called to do it? Is this particular “ought” a place of intersection between my inner self and the outer world, or is it someone else’s image of how my life should look?

When I follow only the oughts, I may find myself doing work that is ethically laudable but that is not mine to do. A vocation that is not mine, no matter how externally valued, does violence to the self – in the precise sense that it violates my identity and integrity on behalf of some abstract norm. When I violate myself, I invariably end up violating the people I work with. How many teachers inflict their own pain on their students – the pain that comes from doing a work that never was, or no longer is, their true work?

The teacher within is not the voice of conscience but of identity and integrity. It speaks not of what ought to be, but of what is real for us, of what is true. It says things like, “This is what fits you and this is what doesn’t.” This is who you are and this is who you are not.” “This is what gives you life and this is what kills your spirit – or makes you wish you were dead.” The teacher within stands guard at the gate of selfhood, warding off whatever insults our integrity and welcoming whatever affirms it. The voice of the inward teacher reminds me of my potentials and limits as I negotiate the force field of my life.

“Good Talk About Good Teaching: Improving TeachingThrough Conversation
and Community” appeared in the November/December 1993 issue of Change. A revised version appears as Chapter VI in The Courage to Teach.

“Divided No More: A Movement Approach to Educational Reform” appeared in the March/April 1992 issue of Change. A revised version appears as Chapter VII in The Courage to Teach.

I realize that the idea of a “teacher within” strikes some academics as a romantic fantasy, but I cannot fathom why. If there is no such reality in our lives, centuries of Western discourse about the aims of education become so much lip-flapping. In classical understanding, education is the attempt to “lead out” from within the self a core of wisdom that has the power to resist falsehood and live in the light of truth, not by external norms but by reasoned and reflective self-determination. The inward teacher is the living core of our lives that is addressed and evoked by any education worthy of the name.

Perhaps the idea is unpopular because it compels us to look at two of the most difficult truths about teaching. The first is that what we teach will never “take” unless it connects with the inward, living core of our students’ lives, with our students’ inward teachers.

We can, and do, make education an exclusively outward enterprise, forcing students to memorize and repeat facts without ever appealing to their inner truth – and we get predictable results: many students never want to read a challenging book or think a creative thought once they get out of school. The kind of teaching that transforms people does not happen if the student’s inward teacher is ignored.

The second truth is even more daunting: we can speak to the teacher within our students only when we are on speaking terms with the teacher within ourselves.

The student who said that her bad teachers spoke like cartoon characters was describing teachers who have grown deaf to their Inner guide, who have so thoroughly separated inner truth from outer actions that they have lost touch with a sense of self. Deep speaks to deep, and when we have not sounded our own depths, we cannot sound the depths of our students’ lives.

How does one attend to the voice of the teacher within? I have no particular methods to suggest, other than the familiar ones: solitude and silence, meditative reading and walking in the woods, keeping a journal, finding a friend who will simply listen. I merely propose that we need to learn as many ways as we can of “talking to ourselves.”

That phrase, of course, is one we normally use to name a symptom of mental imbalance – a clear sign of how our culture regards the idea of an inner voice! But people who learn to talk to themselves may soon delight in the discovery that the teacher within is the sanest conversation partner they have ever had.

We need to find every possible way to listen to that voice and take its counsel seriously, not only for the sake of our work, but for the sake of our own health. If someone in the outer world is trying to tell us something important and we ignore his or her presence, that person either gives up and stops speaking or becomes more and more violent in attempting to get our attention.

Similarly, if we do not respond to the voice of the inward teacher, it will either stop speaking or become violent: I am convinced that some forms of depression, of which I have personal experience, are induced by a long-ignored inner teacher trying desperately to get us to listen by threatening to destroy us. When we honor that voice with simple attention, it responds by speaking more gently and engaging us in a life-giving conversation of the soul.

That conversation does not have to reach conclusions in order to be of value: we do not need to emerge from “talking to ourselves” with clear goals, objectives, and plans. Measuring the value of inner dialogue by its practical outcomes is like measuring the value of a friendship by the number of problems that are solved when friends get together.

Conversation among friends has its own rewards: in the presence of our friends we have the simple joy of feeling at ease, at home, trusted and able to trust. We attend to the inner teacher not to get fixed but to befriend the deeper self, to cultivate a sense of identity and integrity that allows us to feel at home wherever we are.

Listening to the inner teacher also offers an answer to one of the most basic questions teachers face: how can I develop the authority to teach, the capacity to stand my ground in the midst of the complex forces of both the classroom and my own life?

In a culture of objectification and technique we often confuse authority with power, but the two are not the same. Power works from the outside in, but authority works from the inside out. We are mistaken when we seek “authority” outside ourselves, in sources ranging from the subtle skills of group process to that less-than-subtle method of social control called grading. This view of teaching turns the teacher into the cop on the comer, trying to keep things moving amicably and by consent, but always having recourse to the coercive power of the law.

External tools of power have occasional utility in teaching, but they are no substitute for authority, the authority that comes from the teacher’s inner life. The clue is in the word itself, which has “author” at its core. Authority is granted to people who are perceived as “authoring” their own words, their own actions, their own lives, rather than playing a scripted role at great remove from their own hearts. When teachers depend on the coercive powers of law or technique, they have no authority at all.

I am painfully aware of the times in my own teaching when I lose touch with my inner teacher, and therefore with my own authority. In those times I try to gain power by barricading myself behind the podium and my status while wielding the threat of grades. But when my teaching is authorized by the teacher within me, I need neither weapons nor armor to teach.

Authority comes as I reclaim my identity and integrity, remembering my selfhood and my sense of vocation. Then teaching can come from the depths of my own truth – and the truth that is within my students has a chance to respond in kind.


My concern for the “inner landscape” of teaching may seem indulgent, even irrelevant, at a time when many teachers are struggling simply to survive. Wouldn’t it be more practical, I am sometimes asked, to offer tips, tricks, and techniques for staying alive in the classroom, things that ordinary teachers can use in everyday life?

I have worked with countless teachers, and many of them have confirmed my own experience: as important as methods may be, the most practical thing we can achieve in any kind of work is insight into what is happening inside us as we do it. The more familiar we are with our inner terrain, the more sure-footed our teaching – and living – becomes.

I have heard that in the training of therapists, which involves much practical technique, there is a saying: “Technique is what you use until the therapist arrives.” Good methods can help a therapist find a way into the client’s dilemma, but good therapy does not begin until the real-life therapist joins with the real life of the client.

Technique is what teachers use until the real teacher arrives, and we need to find as many ways as possible to help that teacher show up. But if we want to develop the identity and integrity that good teaching requires, we must do something alien to academic culture: we must talk to each other about our inner lives – risky stuff in a profession that fears the personal and seeks safety in the technical, the distant, the abstract.

I was reminded of that fear recently as I listened to a group of faculty argue about what to do when students share personal experiences in class – experiences that are related to the themes of the course, but that some professors regard as “more suited to a therapy session than to a college classroom.”

The house soon divided along predictable lines. On one side were the scholars, insisting that the subject is primary and must never be compromised for the sake of the students’ lives. On the other side were the student-centered folks, insisting that the lives of students must always come first even if it means that the subject gets short-changed. The more vigorously these camps promoted their polarized ideas, the more antagonistic they became – and the less they learned about pedagogy or about themselves.

The gap between these views seems unbridgeable – until we understand what creates it. At bottom, these professors were not debating teaching techniques. They were revealing the diversity of identity and integrity among themselves, saying, in various ways, “Here are my own limits and potentials when it comes to dealing with the relation between the subject and my students’ lives.”

If we stopped lobbing pedagogical points at each other and spoke about who we are as teachers, a remarkable thing might happen: identity and integrity might grow within us and among us, instead of hardening as they do when we defend our fixed positions from the foxholes of the pedagogy wars.

But telling the truth about ourselves with colleagues in the workplace is an enterprise fraught with danger, against which we have erected formidable taboos. We fear making ourselves vulnerable in the midst of competitive people and politics that could easily turn against us, and we claim the inalienable right to separate the “personal” and the “professional” into airtight compartments (even though everyone knows the two are inseparably intertwined). So we keep the workplace conversation objective and external, finding it safer to talk about technique than about selfhood.

Indeed, the story I most often hear from faculty (and other Professionals) is that the institutions in which they work are the heart’s worst enemy. In this story, institutions continually try to diminish the human heart in order to consolidate their own power, and the individual is left with a discouraging choice: to distance one’s self from the institution and its mission and sink into deepening cynicism (an occupational hazard of academic life), or to maintain eternal vigilance against institutional invasion and fight for one’s life when it comes.

Taking the conversation of colleagues into the deep places where, we might grow in self-knowledge for the sake of our professional practice will not be an easy, or popular, task. But it is a task that leaders of every educational institution must take up if they wish to strengthen their institution’s capacity to pursue the educational mission. How can schools educate students if they fail to support the teacher’s inner life? To educate is to guide students on an inner journey toward more truthful ways of seeing and being in the world. How can schools perform their mission without encouraging the guides to scout out that inner terrain?

As this century of objectification and manipulation by technique draws to a close, we are experiencing an exhaustion of institutional resourcefulness at the very time when the problems that our institutions must address grow deeper and more demanding. Just as 20th-century medicine, famous for its externalized fixes for disease, has found itself required to reach deeper for the psychological and spiritual dimensions of healing, so 20th-century education must open up a new frontier in teaching and learning the frontier of the teacher’s inner life.

How this might be done is a subject I have explored in earlier essays in Change, so I will not repeat myself here. In “Good Talk About Good Teaching,” I examined some of the key elements necessary for an institution to host non-compulsory, non-invasive opportunities for faculty to help themselves and each other grow inwardly as teachers. In “Divided No More: A Movement Approach to Educational Reform,” I explored things we can do on our own when institutions are resistant or hostile to the inner agenda. (See box.)

Our task is to create enough safe spaces and trusting relationships within the academic workplace – hedged about by appropriate structural protections – that more of us will be able to tell the truth about our own struggles and joys as teachers in ways that befriend the soul and give it room to grow. Not all spaces can be safe, not all relationships trustworthy, but we can surely develop more of them than we now have so that an increase of honesty and healing can happen within us and among us – for our own sake, the sake of our teaching, and the sake of our students.

Honesty and healing sometimes happen quite simply, thanks to the alchemical powers of the human soul. When 1, with 30 years of teaching experience, speak openly about the fact that I still approach each new class with trepidation, younger faculty tell me that this makes their own fears seem more natural – and thus easier to transcend – and a rich dialogue about the teacher’s selfhood often ensues. We do not discuss techniques for “fear management,” if such exist. Instead, we meet as fellow travelers and offer encouragement to each other in this demanding but deeply rewarding journey across the inner landscape of education – calling each other back to the identity and integrity that animate all good work, not least the work called teaching.

Parker J. Palmer is a writer, teacher, and activist who works independently on issues in education, community, leadership, spirituality, and social change. He gives workshops, lectures, and retreats in this country and abroad. He serves as Senior Associate of the American Association for Higher Education, as Senior Advisor to the Fetzer Institute, and is founder of Fetzer’s Teacher Formation Program for K-12 teachers. His books include The Company of Strangers, To Know As We Are Known, The Active Life, and The Courage to Teach. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley and lives in Madison, Wisconsin. This essay consists of edited excerpts from the Introduction, Chapter I, and Chapter V of Parker J. Palmer’s new book, The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1997), as well as new material written for Change. The author retains the copyright for this article.

Change Magazine, Vol. 29, Issue #6, pp. 14-21, Nov/Dec 1997. Reprinted with Permission of the Helen Dwight Reid Educational Foundation. Published by Heldref Publications, 1319 18th St. N.W. Washington, D.C. 20036-1802, 1-800-365-9753, Copyright 1997.


Spang in the middle

Spang in the middle

Haj Ross
English Department,
University of North Texas


I have tried to make a case for the claim that the “place” where one must be in order to tap into the deepest learning is the same as the “place” where one goes in the process of inner work, work that one undertakes in order to:

be clear
be fearless
be wise
be kind
be most truly oneself
be at peace

It is of no relevance, I feel, how a person goes about this inner work. It may be through prayer, through any one of the countless types of meditation that have been worked out by different groups or cultures all around the planet, it may be through running or other types of athletic activity, through music, through parenting, through any kind of art, through love – the list has no end. One of our jobs, if we feel drawn, inexplicably, towards this inner work, is to explore some of these myriad possibilities, to try to find the ones which are right for us.

It may make no difference how we get to this mental “space,” but let us look briefly at what some of the qualities of mind are that we will find there.

One will be humility, and as an outgrowth of that, if we are engaged in research, a total honesty about how fragile is any understanding we may have come to. The anthropologist Paul Stoller, in a class of mine that he visited and in which he gave an indelible lecture, pointed out that there are two stances that one can have towards the relationship between one’s study and one’s knowledge. The first is that the more one studies something, the more one knows about it. And the second is that the more one studies something, the more one sees how little one knows about it.

For the novice, it may be that no question will seem very deep. But for the person with more experience, who has found there to be many more sides to any question than there originally appeared to be, it will become more and more clear that not even the simplest question can ever be finally resolved. One tries to clean the lenses of one’s vision as best as one can, to come as close as it is given to one to come to some ultimate, and unattainable, truth, and one bows down before one’s own limitless ignorance. And yet there is great peace in having done one’s humble best, as we hear in Aristotle’s words:

The search for truth is in one way hard and in another easy –
for it is evident that no one of us can ever master it fully, nor miss it
wholly. Each one of us adds a little to our knowledge of nature,
and from all the facts assembled arises a certain grandeur.


Another property of this space, paradoxical though it is, is that it both requires immense amounts of effort to achieve it, and in it, no effort is possible, or even allowed. Once we are in the flow, everything seems to happen by itself.


And opposites seem less irreconcilable there, and what we used to see as unbridgeable boundaries between ourselves and every other being, every other thing, they begin to fuzz out, to fade into a great distance. To be visible from one perspective, but to lose importance in the vastness of the perspectives that now appear.
And who are we, there? How strange, preposterous: the more we are an invisible speck on a blue-green speck orbiting an unknown star in some galaxy or tother, the more we are simultaneously All That Is. Nothing and Everything become each other.


At this point in the “story,” the one assigned the job of working up the Cosmic Audience holds up the fabled placard



And we hear more clearly what Mahatma Gandhi tells us: that there may be very little that we can do, but that it is very important that we do it.

And we feel in our deepest heart the truth of what Vaclav Havel said (Fritjof Capra quotes it at the beginning of his book The Hidden Connections – A Science for Sustainable Living):

Education is the ability to perceive the hidden connections
between phenomena.


And what do we conclude, then, if we want to find our way to such a paradoxical space, and also to help others along their way? Well, one great piece of trash to heave cheerfully out the window is the popular distinction between student and teacher. The Sufis say it the pithiestly:

Even the stone is a teacher.


So to help our sisters and brothers find their path to Here is to help ourselves too, tra-la, so all formalities like saying Dr. or Prof. to anyone or bowing down to their great knowledge are going to get in the way, unless entered into in the spirit of good clean fun, in which each Student-Teacher bows down at the same time to the “other.” Keystone Cops background music accompanying this ritual will be most helpful.


So I wish myself and all my friends who are wanting to get on with our journey to where we are already, namely Spangville, Happy Trails! Remember that a journey of no miles also begins with a single step.


Haj Ross