Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Wednesday with Words: To Know As We are Known

I read To Know As We Are Known: Education as a Spiritual Journey over 15 years ago.  I was taken with it then but honestly didn't remember what it said until I picked it back up this weekend.  I originally got it because Henri Nouwen endorsed it.  Since then the author, Parker J. Palmer, has written a book that was assigned to many of my teaching friends The Courage to Teach.  I haven't read that one.  Re- reading the first two chapters I realize that this was my first introduction to a totally different way of thinking about knowledge, truth and education.  The way I am pursuing today.  
He argues that we often judge our knowledge by its outcome and he encourages us to think about the origins of our interest in knowledge.  As he explains:
But I have come to see that knowledge contains its own morality, that it begins not in neutrality but in a place of passion within the human soul. . . . From the point where it originates in the soul, knowledge assumes a certain trajectory and target - and it will not easily be deflected by ethics once it takes off from that source. 
He explains that when we don't think about its origin we think we can temper knowledge with ethics or values - he doesn't think this is so.  It recalled Mason's "way of the will".  She explains that we need to make sure that our feet are on the right path to begin with - this is why she downplays logic. Once you are on a path you can come up with MANY reasons for being there.

In our culture he finds that knowledge seeking is typically the result of two impulses: curiosity or control.  A few weeks back there was a conversation about curiosity and why it might be bad.  Here is Palmer's take on these reasons as being inadequate starting points for knowledge:
Curiosity is an amoral passion, a need to know that allows no guidance beyond the need itself. Control is simply another word for power, a passion notorious not only for its amorality but for its tendency towards corruption.  If curiosity and control are the primary motives for our knowing we will generate a knowledge that eventually carries us not toward life but death.  
So what should be our starting point? Love.  He also calls for a
mode of knowing and educating that is prayerful through and through.  What do I mean by prayer? I mean the practice of relatedness. 
If you are a Mason reader your alarms should be going off by now!  I love how he connects prayer to relations.  He says it more clearly
In prayer, I no longer set myself apart from others and the world (the objective approach of modern education - he explains elsewhere), manipulating them to suit my needs. Instead I reach for relationship, allow myself to feel the tuggings of mutuality and accountability, take my place in community by knowing the transcendent center that connects it all.  
Next he talks about the disciplines of a student.  He asserts that "the disciplines of prayer and contemplation have their counterparts in secular education".  In secular education when we aim "to see through and beyond the appearance of things" we use "research and analysis, by various forms of empirical study and logical thought".
Prayer and analysis do not end up at the same point; where analysis aims at breaking the world into it elements, prayer aims at seeing beyond the elements into their underlying relatedness.     
He then discusses fact, theory, objective and reality in fascinating ways.  He ends by going back to the origin - Adam and Eve - and explains
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. . . In their refusal to know as they were known, they reached for a kind of knowledge that always leads to death.   
He also has a great word study of truth and its relationship to "troth" where a person enters into covenant with another to "engage in mutually accountable and transforming relationship".

So those are some of the high points of the first two chapters-  you can see it is dense but not difficult. Here are my favorite quotes:

In this last one, he is reflecting on the way our class culture and practices speak volumes about how the student can and should interact with the world - do you need an expert? is there one right answer? is this a competition?  what is our ultimate goal? It makes me think of J.K. Smith's work.

Truth. Reading. Relationship. I look forward to reading the next chapter "The Teaching Behind the Teaching".

See what others are reading at Ladydusk.

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