Writings by Parker J. Palmer, PhD

In addition to the links, articles to download, and published work below, Parker writes a column in each issue of the Center's quarterly electronic newsletter, Words of EnCOURAGEment.  See past issues here, and sign up to receive future issues here.

The Clearness Committee: A Communal Approach to Discernment

by Parker J. Palmer

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.

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"

by Parker J. Palmer. 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

by Parker J. Palmer 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"

by Parker J. Palmer, 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.

The Heart of a Teacher

by Parker J. Palmer, 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

by Parker J. Palmer, 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"

by Parker J. Palmer. 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

by Parker J. Palmer, 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

by Parker J. Palmer

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

by Parker J. Palmer

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

by Parker J. Palmer

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.