How Important Is This Really?

In his Forward to the book Contemplative Practices In Higher Education, Parker Palmer begins rather controversially attributing the “malfeasance of well-educated leaders” in business, education, finance, politics, and health to “an objectivist model of knowing, teaching and learning that has dominated, and deformed, higher education” (vii). Palmer goes on to say that this model is a “false conception of science” which creates distance between “the knowner and the known.” Palmer’s statement is preparation for the pedagogy outlined in the book, a contemplative pedagogy which intends to return education to its roots: self-understanding and ethics. It’s a bold claim, even for me, someone who has been studying contemplative practices since 2001 (meditation, yoga, tai chi, council, and non-violent communication) and been using contemplative pedagogy at Harper since 2011. However, perhaps this is exactly what a Foreward should do: invite us to read more even (especially) if we disagree.

Daniel Barzebat’s Preface softens the approach begun by Palmer, in his own reflection on teaching which invites a reader to consider his or her experience of the classroom. Daniel writes:

It is hard to say exactly how it happened but over the years I lost my way teaching economics. I knew the material and knew I could do the job of writing down and getting through a syllabus, but I could not say what I was really doing…. At one point, I realized that I was simply going through the motions and that if I couldn’t find myself in my work, I should find other work. (xiv)

Daniel described a situation that also brought me to contemplative pedagogy. A moment when I found myself standing in front of an English class, hearing myself say things to them that I wasn’t sure I believed anymore. Is a thesis that important? I heard a voice say inside of me while I was saying that a thesis was really important to a classroom of students.

Daniel finds the origin for many of us who might be trying to find something “new” to do in our teaching which inspires not just our students, but ourselves.

As you read, notice if anything resonates with you. For me, it was Daniel’s story. What is it for you? Did you have a moment similar to mine or Daniel’s? When you might have felt outside of your own teaching? Or, have you generally felt engaged with your classrooms, and just looking for something to add to your experience?

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