Teaching in the 21st Century

For this final blog, I want to reflect on the mission of teaching in light of Parker Palmer’s article “A New Professional: The Aims of Education Revisited”. I think Palmer raises one of the most important questions we, as instructors, have to consider. This question is two-fold: does our educational system humanize us; if not, how can it be redesigned to do so? Palmer, as his point of departure, brings up a case in which a healthy man was let down by a dehumanized healthcare system and as a result, died.

Even in the analysis of negligence concerning the man’s preventable death, Palmer finds a dehumanized, detached perspective that ultimately allows such injustices to continue. Palmer writes, “The report assigns culpability to common nouns, not people. When systems analysis is our only approach to situations such as this, it becomes a sophisticated way to know what has occurred but not recognize its meaning.”[1] By this, I take Palmer to be gesturing towards the manner in which, in the final analysis, institutions are not outside or beyond human interaction. In the words of Hannah Arendt, the ‘rule-of-nobody’ characteristic of a totalitarian bureaucracy is always the rule by somebody.

I think that this case study has an extremely important lesson for anyone who is interested in being an educator, which is to reflect on how our pedagogy may create more reflective and empathetic human beings that are willing to take action and responsibility.

Palmer calls on us all to consider with him the idea of a ‘new professional’ who is “in but not of” the institutions which may house them.[2] By this, Palmer seeks to bring attention to the fact that institutions may in reality function to the contrary to their professed values. The goal of education, then, is to create subjects who will actually act in accordance with these lofty goals and take action to do so, even at the potential cost to themselves. Palmer writes, “I am talking about acting ethically and courageously in the moment, while there is still something to be salvaged, instead of waiting for a review board to ask what went wrong.”[3] I think this is ultimately what we strive to do in the classroom, as difficult as it may be.

Palmer continues to offer five points that may help us get there. I want to reflect on the first. Palmer writes, “We must help our students uncover, examine, and debunk the myth that institutions are external to and constrain us as if they possessed powers that render us helpless – an assumption that is largely unconscious and wholly untrue.”[4] Recalling the above passage on the report of the man’s death, Palmer again emphasizes that the goal of a proper education system must instill in students that no matter how seemingly powerful, abstract, mechanistic, or totalitarian an institution may seem, it is never outside human action. As such, it is always in practice alterable. I think this is one of the most important lessons that we can incorporate in a number of potential classes, as it is nearly as close to a universal human experience as imaginable.

References:

[1] Parker J. Palmer, “A New Professional: The Aims of Education Revisited,” Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning 39, no. 6 (January 1, 2007), p. 8.

[2] Palmer, “A New Professional: The Aims of Education Revisited,” p. 9.

[3] Palmer, “A New Professional: The Aims of Education Revisited,” p. 8.

[4] Palmer, “A New Professional: The Aims of Education Revisited,” p. 9.

3 Replies to “Teaching in the 21st Century”

  1. Hi Sam. Thank you for sharing your takeaways from the Palmer article. I agree with what you have shared and would add the importance of social-emotional dimensions that should be included as educators to foster learning. As a future counselor educator, the point Palmer made about “We must take our students’ emotions as seriously as their intellects,” really stands out to me because I believe emotions impact learning. There is research to support the inclusion of social-emotional learning as part of the curriculum in PK -12 grade. I think this should be extended into higher education as well. I think it is critical to support students in recognizing and exploring their feelings about themselves, how it impacts the work they do, and their why. I believe feeling, thinking, and doing are all interconnected as is learning.

  2. Reading Palmer’s article, my main takeaway was to acknowledge feelings and one’s own voice as it can be an impactful source of inspiration and information. The contemporary pedagogy should teach students not to hide their thoughts and feelings, to be proactive, and prepare them to be change agents instead of teaching them to stay safe by keeping quiet

  3. Thanks for your sharing your understandings and takeaways of the Palmer article. I agree that “the goal of a proper education system must instill in students that no matter how seemingly powerful, abstract, mechanistic, or totalitarian an institution may seem, it is never outside human action. As such, it is always in practice alterable.” However, the major question is how to do such a thing in practice? In many countries, the very institutions that need to be changed are the ones that set the education system in the first place. This situation creates a never-ending cycle of generating people who protect the anti-values that the institution strives to protect.

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