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Writings by Parker J. Palmer

Here are some of Parker’s most popular pieces of writing. Below are also some recent book Forewords & Chapters that he’s written in books by other authors.

You can also follow his recent writing at Parker’s Facebook page and also at On Being with Krista Tippet website.

The Clearness Committee: A Communal Approach to Discernment

Parker Palmer describes the “Clearness Committee”, a method invented by the Quakers, that protects individual identity and integrity while drawing on the wisdom of other people. The Clearness Committee is testimony to the fact that there are no external authorities on life’s deepest issues, not clergy or therapists or scholars; there is only the authority that lies within each of us waiting to be heard.

Healing the Heart of Democracy | Introduction

In this new introduction to the 2014 Paperback release of his 2011 book, Parker Palmer revisits how “We the People” can reclaim democracy by calling on the better angels of our nature. “It is in the common good to hold our political differences and the conflicts they create in a way that does not unravel the civic community on which democracy depends.” We need ways to creatively hold tension in between what is and what might be, between left and right parties, and between the power structures around us and the power within our hearts. The introduction concludes with the story of Congressman John Lewis, leader of the Civil Rights Pilgrimage, and his a reconciliation with a former KKK member who tried to kill him. It’s a lesson in faith and shared humanity.

The Broken-Open Heart: Living With Faith and Hope in the Tragic Gap

A PDF reprint from Weavings: A Journal of the Christian Spiritual Life. March/April 2009.

When our “fight or flight” response is in charge, humility, compassion, forgiveness and the vision of a beloved community do not stand a chance. Learning how to hold life’s tensions in the responsive heart instead of the reactive primitive brain is key to personal, social and cultural creativity. Can suffering become life-giving rather than death dealing?  In this article, Parker shares a path for how heartbreak can become a source of compassion and grace.

A New Professional: The Aims of Education Revisited

It’s time for campuses to concentrate on preparing students who not only are competent in their disciplines but who also have the skills to challenge institutions that too often prove toxic to their deepest commitments. This article, an adaptation of the Afterword in the new edition of The Courage to Teach, appears in the November/December 2007 issue of Change magazine.

Politics of the Brokenhearted: On Holding the Tensions of Democracy

Part of the Deepening the American Dream Series published by the Fetzer Institute in 2005, in this occasional paper, Parker speaks to the conflicts and contradictions of twenty-first-century life that are breaking the American heart and threatening to compromise our democratic values.

Teaching with Heart and Soul: Reflections on Spirituality in Teacher Education

Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 54, No. 5, Nov/Dec 2003

This article revolves around two questions: Is there a “spiritual” dimension to good teaching? If so, do spiritual considerations have a place in teacher education? Defining spirituality as “the eternal human yearning to be connected with something larger than our own egos,” Palmer answers both questions in the affirmative, and he explores the implications of these answers for teacher education. The article pays special attention to a “pedagogy of the soul” that respects both cultural diversity and the separation of church and state and is relevant to institutional and social change as well as personal transformation.

Leading From Within

from Let Your Life Speak, Copyright © 2000 by Jossey-Bass

We share responsibility for creating the external world by projecting either a spirit of light or a spirit of shadow on that which is “other” than us. Either a spirit of hope or a spirit of despair. Either an inner confidence in wholeness and integration, or an inner terror about life being diseased and ultimately terminal. We have a choice about what we are going to project, and in that choice we help create the world that is. “Consciousness precedes being.” I want to look at the shadow side of leadership. I suggest that the challenge is to examine our consciousness for those ways in which we project more shadow than light.

Evoking the Spirit in Public Education

Educational Leadership Dec.1998/Jan. 1999

As a teacher, I have seen the price we pay for a system of education so fearful of things spiritual that it fails to address the real issues of our lives—dispensing facts at the expense of meaning, information at the expense of wisdom. The price is a school system that alienates and dulls us, that graduates young people who have had no mentoring in the questions that both enliven and vex the human spirit.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at Community

The Inner Edge, August/September 1998

Community is not a goal to be achieved but a gift to be received. Community must be present in the individual as “a capacity for connectedness and requires authentic leadership that can create trustworthy, self-sustaining spaces where people can bring their human resourcefulness. Parker J. Palmer suggests new paradigms for community, such as inviting in “the enemy” and embracing conflict, creating “pockets of possibility” beyond bureaucratic hierarchy, and calling on a wider understanding of leadership.

The Heart of a Teacher

Change Magazine, Vol. 29, Issue #6, pp. 14-21, Nov/Dec 1997.

Teaching, like any truly human activity, emerges from one’s inwardness, for better or worse. As I teach, I project the condition of my soul onto my students, my subject, and our way of being together. The entanglements I experience in the classroom are often no more or less than the convolutions of my inner life. Viewed from this angle, teaching holds a mirror to the soul. If I am willing to look in that mirror, and not run from what I see, I have a chance to gain self-knowledge–and knowing myself is as crucial to good teaching as knowing my students and my subject.

Divided No More

Change Magazine, Vol. 24, Issue #2, pp. 10-17, Mar/Apr 1992.

Parker Palmer explores a movement approach to educational reform. He writes that the genius of movements is paradoxical: They abandon the logic of organizations in order to gather the power necessary to rewrite the logic of organizations. He explores four definable stages in the movements he has studied. For by understanding the stages of a movement, some of us may see more clearly that we are engaged in a movement today, that we hold real power in our hands–a form of power that has driven real change in recent times.

Reflections on a Program for “The Formation of Teachers”

Fetzer Institute Occasional Paper, 1992.

In this occasional paper written for the Fetzer Institute, Palmer illustrates a conceptual approach to a program on the spiritual formation of teachers. Palmer asks, “How can we move from this conviction about the soul-sources of good teaching into a program for the formation of teachers? The missing link is a perceptive diagnosis of how and why teachers lose their souls. What are the factors that obscure or distort the identity and integrity of teachers so that he or she is not teaching from personal wholeness and, therefore, cannot possibly teach toward personal wholeness?”

Community, Conflict, and Ways of Knowing

Change Magazine, Sept/Oct. 1987.

Community is not opposed to conflict. On the contrary, community is precisely that place where an arena for creative conflict is protected by the compassionate fabric of human caring itself. It you ask what holds community together, what makes this capacity for relatedness possible, the only honest answer I can give brings me to that dangerous realm called the spiritual. The only answer I can give is that what makes community possible is love.

Good Talk About Good Teaching

From the myriad topics that emerge once one starts looking deeper than technique, I want to describe four that I have found effective in my work with faculty:

  • Critical moments in teaching and learning
  • The human condition of teachers and learners
  • Metaphors and images of what we are doing when we teach
  • Autobiographical reflection on the great teachers who helped bring us into academic life.

Good Teaching

Good teaching is an act of generosity, a whim of the wanton muse, a craft that may grow with practice, and always risky business. It is, to speak plainly, a maddening mystery. How can I explain the wild variety of teachers who have incited me to learn–from one whose lectures were tropical downpours that drowned out most other comments, to one who created as arid silence by walking into class and asking, “Any questions?”

The Grace of Great Things

If we could reclaim the sacred–simple respect–in education, how would it transform our knowing, teaching, and learning? Parker Palmer explores ways we can recover a sense of the sacred in knowing, teaching and learning. He looks at our sense of the otherness of the things in the world, as well as recovering our sense of community with each other, and finally recovering the humility that makes teaching and learning possible.

“Welcome to the Human Race”

from Darkness Before Dawn: Redefining the Journey through Depression. Sounds True, 2015.

In this interview excerpt Parker candidly talks about his experience with depression. He says, “This experience called ‘depression’ is isolating to a greater extent than I imagined could be survivable, but I realize that this incredibly isolating experience ultimately reconnected me with the human community in a deeper, wider, and richer way.”

Born Baffled: Musings on a Writing Life

March 31, 2015. Parker shares three eternal (so far) truths about how to become a writer, speaking from his own experiences about the tension between ego and wonder.

Forewords & Chapters by Parker J. Palmer

American Teacher: Heroes in the Classroom

American Teacher shines a spotlight on one of the most unsung yet critically important professions in the world. Over the course of two years, author Katrina Fried has interviewed and written the stories of our nation’s most passionate, innovative, and decorated educators whose creative and unconventional methods are transforming the lives and futures of their students. Parker Palmer contributes the book’s foreword, celebrating the heroic nature of teaching and calling for us to support our teachers wholeheartedly in their hard work. Visit for more information about the book.

Embracing the Movement Way

A movement is sparked when isolated individuals decide to stop leading “divided lives.” Most of us know from experience how a divided life feels. Inwardly we know the truth about who we are, but outwardly we defy that truth; inwardly we know the soul’s imperative for our lives, but outwardly we respond to demands of another sort. This is the human condition, of course: our inner and outer worlds will never be in perfect harmony. But there are extremes of dividedness that become intolerable—and when the pain becomes too great for this person, then that person, and then another, a movement may be underway…

Lessons in Belonging from a Church-Going Commitment Phobe

In the foreword to this book by Courage & Renewal facilitator, Erin Lane, Parker writes “What’s refreshingly radical about this book is that the author spends little time berating the institutional church and its leaders for failing to address the needs of the rising generation, nearly one-third of whom don’t belong to a religious organization. Instead, she locates the problem—and the solution—in the psyches of her own generation. Among Millennials, she says, “belonging is a lost art. It’s not simply that we’ve chosen not to belong. It’s that we’ve forgotten how.”

Tears of Silence (Jean Vanier)

In the foreword to this book of poems on the subject of belonging, Parker Palmer expresses his gratitude for the life and work of Jean Vanier and the international network of L’Arche Communities he has helped developed over the past half century. Parker reminds us that unconditional love and valuing people for who they are, not for what they do, is a concept that is as relevant for those who have disabilities as it is for those of us who do not.

We Are Already One: Thomas Merton‘s Message of Hope

A Friendship, a Love, a Rescue is Parker’s contribution to a collection of essays published in January 2015 to celebrate the centenary of Thomas Merton’s birth. The essay begins:  “I met Thomas Merton a year after he died. I met him through his writing and through the communion that lies “beyond words,” met him in the seamless way good friends meet again after a long time apart. Without Merton’s friendship and the hope it has given me over the past forty-five years, I’m not sure I could have kept faith with my vocation, even as imperfectly as I have.”