“To Know As We Are Known:” A Philosophy of Education

Behavior-changing quotes from Parker Palmer’s book of the same title, and a philosophical grounding for experiential immersion as a form of learning (i.e., work experiences that matter).

To Know As We Are Known

The Problem

“[Educators] of all sorts are in real pain these days and that pain has compelled them to explore unconventional resources” (p. ix).

[Teachers] know that students are often served poorly in classrooms, and that their own growth as teachers is not supported by the system (p. x).

“Everywhere I go, I meet faculty who feel disconnected from their colleagues, from their students, and from their own hearts.  Most of us go into teaching not for fame or fortune but because of a passion to connect” (p. x).

“[The spiritual traditions] build on the great truth that beneath the broken surface of our lives there remains — in the words of Thomas Merton — ‘a hidden wholeness.’  The hope of every wisdom tradition is to recall us to that wholeness in the midst of our torn world, to reweave us into the community that is so threadbare today” (p. x).

Spirituality of End vs. Means

“A spirituality of ends wants to dictate the desirable outcomes of education in the life of the student.  It uses the spiritual tradition as a template against which the ideas, beliefs, and behaviors of the student are to be measured.  The goal is to shape the student to the template by the time his or her formal education concludes.  But that sort of education never gets started; it is no education at all.  Authentic spirituality want to ope us to truth — whatever truth may be, wherever truth takes us.  Such a spirituality does not dictate where we must go, but trust that any path walked with integrity will take us to a place of knowledge.  Such a spirituality encourages us to welcome diversity and conflict, to tolerate ambiguity, and to embrace paradox.  By this understanding the spirituality of education is not about dictating ends.  It is about examining and clarifying the inner sources of teaching and learning, ridding us of the toxins that poison our hearts and minds” (xi).

“[Authentic spirituality] will understand that fear, not ignorance, is the enemy of learning” (p. xi).

“To teach is to create a space in which the community of truth is practiced” (p. xii).

Images: Reflections in the “Hidden Curriculum”

“Since Darwin and Social Darwinism, the popular image of biological reality has been one of individual creatures in bloody competition over scarce resources” (p. xiv).

“We know that students learn as much from the ‘hidden curriculum’ of institutional patterns and practices as from the formal curriculum of concepts and facts, so education would be more truthful if our schools themselves became more reflective of the communal nature of realities we teach in school” (p. xiv).

“In the popular imagination, knowing is seen as the act of the solitary individual, a knower who uses sense and intellect to apprehend and interpret objects of knowledge ‘out there.’  Not only does this knower operate apart from other knowers, he or she is also set apart from the known object in order to guarantee that our knowledge will be ‘objective’ and pure.  The popular image of how we know reality is as non- or anti-communal as is the popular image of the nature of reality itself” (p. xv).

Toward a Solution

“We now see that to know something is to have a living relationship with it — influencing and being influenced by the object known” (p. xv).

“If we could represent knowing for what it is – a way of creating community, not destroying it — we would draw more young people into the great adventure of learning” (p. xvi).

“Real learning does not happen until students are brought into relationship with the teacher, with other, and with the subject” (p. xvi).

“The way we teach depends on the way we think people know; we cannot amend our pedagogy until our epistemology is transformed” (p. xvii).

“We do not learn best by memorizing facts about the subject.  Because reality is communal, we learn best by interacting with it….In a wide variety of ways, good teachers bring students into living communion with the subjects they teach” (p. xvii).

“Are [our students] simply learning to compete for scarce rewards as isolated individuals, or are they learning how to create communities in abundance in their lives both as learners and as citizens” (p. xviii)?

“Critical thinking can be taught as a mode of citizen participation, and tolerance of ambiguity can be taught as a way of listening to others without losing one’s voice” (p. xviii).

To Know As We Are Known

“[The central claim of the Christian tradition] is not that God takes us out of ourselves and our world into ethereal realms, but that God broke in to reveal us and our world as we are: ‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14).  In this movement Spirit and matter were fused and made whole; the distinction we make between sacred and secular was overcome; self and world were permeated with transcendent possibility, the possibility of love” (p. 14).

“Where conventional education deals with abstract and impersonal facts and theories, an education shaped by Christian spirituality draws us toward incarnate and personal truth.  In this education we come to know the world not simply as an objectified system of empirical objects in logical connection with each other, but as an organic body of personal relations and responses, a living and evolving community of creativity and compassion.  Education of this sort means more than teaching the facts and learning the reasons so we can manipulate life toward our ends.  It means being drawn into personal responsiveness and accountability to each other and the world of which we are a part” (pp. 14, 15).

“Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden because of the kind of knowledge they reached for — a knowledge that distrusted and excluded God.  Their drive to know arose not from love but from curiosity and control, from the desire to possess powers belonging to God alone” (25).

“Educating toward truth does not mean turning away from the facts and theories and objective realities.  If we devote ourselves to truth, the facts will not necessarily change (though some may, since every fact is a function of a relationship).  What will change is our relation to the facts, or the world that the facts make known.  Truth requires the knower become interdependent with the known” (pp. 31, 32).

Implicit Teaching

“With few exceptions, the classes I was involved in [as a student] revolved around the activity and authority of one person — the teacher….Though some classes offered time for discussion, I seldom felt that I was being invited to teach the teacher, or even my fellow students — and seldom did I feel the impulse to try” (p. 33).

“I am not against lecturing, listening, and memorization.  Done properly in the right context each of them has a role in creating the community of relatedness called truth.  But in my educational experience, too much of the lecturing was authoritarian, to much of the listening was unengaged, too much of the memorization was mechanical — and the ethos of too many classrooms was destructive of community” (pp. 33, 34).

The Implicit Curriculum

“First, in the conventional classroom the focus of study is always outward — on nature, on history, on someone else’s vision of reality” (p. 34).

“If we believed that knowing requires a person relation between the knower and the known…our students would be invited to learn by interacting with the world, not be viewing it from afar.  The classroom would be regarded as an integral, interactive part of reality, not a place apart.  The distinction between “out there” and “in here” would disappear; students would discover that we are in the world and the world is within us; that truth is not a statement about reality but a living relationship between ourselves and the world” (p. 35).

“Second, because conventional education neglects the inner reality of teacher and students for the sake of a reality “out there,” the heart of knowing self is never held up for inspection, never given a chance to be known….too many educated people today…are capable of functioning with competence in a technological society, but they are possessed by the same inner darkness which engulfed Adam and Eve” (pp. 34, 35).

“A third feature of the conventional classroom is its tendency to isolate the knowing self.  The gathered group of students is not a true community, but a mere pedagogical convenience — the teacher can now report once to forty people rather than give the same report forty times” (p. 36).

“Throughout our education we learn to manipulate in order to survive, and then we carry that habit into our postgraduate lives” (p. 38).

“Why does this pedagogy persist?  The critics come closer to the answer by suggesting that this style of teaching persists because it gives teachers power.  With power comes security: the security of controlling the classroom agenda, of avoiding serious challenges to one’s authority, of evading the embarrassment of getting lost in territory where one does not know the way home” (p. 39).

“Our persistent attraction to objectivist teaching and learning is the saga of Adam and Eve in history, not myth.  We want a kind of knowledge that eliminates mystery and puts us in charge of an object-world.  Above all, we want to avoid a knowledge that calls for our own conversion.  We want to know in ways that allow us to convert the world — but we do not want to be known in ways that require us to change as well.  To learn is to face transformation.  To learn the truth is to enter into relationships requiring us to respond as well as initiate, to give as well as take” (pp. 39, 40).

What is Truth?

“Christian faith in its original version…is centered on a person who said, ‘I am…the truth.’  Jesus did not say ‘I will speak the words to you’ or ‘I will tell you about the truth’; he claimed to embody the truth in his person.  To those who wish to know the truth, Jesus did not offer propositions to be tested by logic or data to be tested in the laboratory.  He offered himself and his life. Those who sought truth were invited into relationship with him, and through him with the whole community of the human and nonhuman world” (p. 47).

“We will find truth not in the fine points of our theologies or in our organizational alliances but in the quality of our relationships — with each other and with the whole created world” (p. 50).

Creating Space To Know

“To sit in a class where the teacher stuffs our minds with information, organizes it with finality, insists on having the answers while being utterly uninterested in our views, and forces us into a grim competition for grades — to sit in such a class is to experience a lack of space for learning.  But to study with a teacher who not only speaks but listens, who not only give answers but asks questions and welcomes our insights, who provides information and theories that do not close doors but open new ones, who encourages students to help each other learn — to study with such a teacher is to know the power of a learning space” (pp. 70, 71).


Co-creating work experiences.  That matter.

41 Graves Place, VanZoeren Hall 182

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *