Continuing to read Palmer’s Spirituality of Education. Continuing to think that this is one of the most important books I’ve ever read. Thinking today that I am getting more out of it this time than ever before. This morning I noted that a particular section of the book, titled “Education as Spiritual Formation,” is a chapter I’d never really read before. Oddly enough, it is the one section of the book that had no underlining. I’ve read this book more than a few times since 1989, which is the first time I read it. The rest of the book has been underlined in multiple colors of ink and pencil; yet, this one chapter, the chapter I now think of as the key, had nary a line marked. I guess I wasn’t ready to hear it;
but I hear it now.
This morning I read this:
“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 to take. If we become vulnerable to the communal claims of truth, conversion would be required. Our knowledge of the atom would call us to the patient work of peacemaking, not mindless acts of war; our knowledge of nature would call us into careful nurturing, not careless exploitation, of the earth. But we find it safer to seek facts that keep us in power rather than truths that require us to submit. Objectivist education is a strategy for avoiding our own conversion. If we can keep reality ‘out there,’ we can avoid, for a while, the truth that lays the claim of community on our individual and collective lives.” (Palmer, 39-40)
As I read this, the story of Warner Pacific runs as a quiet motif just below my consciousness. I think this is the mission of WPC—a mission not always lived up to or, sometimes, not given anything but lip service. But “teaching to conversion” is exactly why WPC and its sister schools exist. At least, I think so.
More than a few times this year, as I teach, I find myself talking about this aloud. I find myself engaging (with some reluctance) that old Francis Schaeffer question, “How then shall we live?” This is, finally, what it is all about. Teaching and learning are, finally, about our answer to that question. During a recent evening class, we worked our way through the three questions of one of our texts—Why do I serve? Whom do I serve? How do I serve? Each of these questions is a “teaching to conversion” question. The students reported on their involvement with agencies that are working to address hunger in our neighborhood. That, too, is a teaching to conversion question. Even when I teach EN 200, Argument, I ask them to write about a pressing and difficult reality of their world—their urban world. We look into public school education in Portland; we consider the sex trafficking industry of SE Portland; we think about the value of public art—and then we ask, What does this teach me about who I am? Where I am? How I live?
I think that teaching that does not work out of, through, and toward these kinds of questions is something other than teaching.
(I think there is a great deal of “something else” going on in the world of education today. I think we’ve lost our way in a thickening and darkening wood of standardized testing, calculation of minutes in seat and minutes out of seat, and measurable learning outcomes, minutes to complete assignments— losing our way, our mission, and our purpose.)
All of the important questions and all of the tentative answers we float lead to this point of diverging roads (thanks, Robert Frost):
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
So, as I continue this journey with Palmer—a journey that requires me to think about who I am, what I am doing, and how I am doing it—I am living with these questions: How, then, shall I live? How, then, shall I teach? And I am hoping that my students and I will “somewhere ages and ages hence,” having taken the way “less traveled by,” will look back and know “that has made all the difference.”
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy.