Between Constructivism and Connectedness

Article excerpt

In an article in the Journal of Teacher Education, Parker Palmer emphasized the importance of educating the soul in schools in general and in teacher education programs in particular. Palmer (2003) lamented the lack of attention given in schools to the spiritual dimension of our being:

   I have seen the price we pay for a system of education so fearful
   of soulful things that it falls to address the real issues of our
   lives, dispensing data at the expense of meaning, facts at the
   expense of wisdom. The price is a schooling that alienates and
   dulls us, that graduates people who have had no mentoring in the
   questions that both vex and enliven the human spirit, people who
   are spiritually empty at best and spiritually toxic at worst. (p.
   379)

For Palmer (2003), cultivating the spiritual dimension of our beings has to do with forging connections with something larger than our egos, such as relations with other human beings, with the world of nature, with a literary text, or with a cause aimed at making our world a better place to live.

Palmer (2003) is certainly not alone in his belief that self-knowledge and establishing relationships, meaning, and spirituality are all missing from education today; other theorists and educators like Nel Noddings, William Ayers, Alison Cook-Sather, and Ron Miller share his concern. For instance, Noddings (2006) wrote that "possibly no goal of education is more important--or more neglected--than self understanding" (p. 10). Ayers (1995) insisted that genuine learning is not primarily the passive ingestion of information, but "requires assent, desire, action; it is characterized by discovery and surprise" (p. 5). Cook-Sather (2003, p. 95; 2006, p. 9) pointed out that when students learn, they not only construct knowledge, but they also construct and transform themselves. Finally, Ron Miller (1997), one of the staunchest advocates of holistic education, claimed that

   by dwelling on discrete facts rather than wonders and mysteries, by
   standardizing learning processes and assessing them quantitatively,
   by turning children away from their passions and intuitive
   insights, and in many other ways, modern schooling cuts the child
   off from knowing the world in its wholeness. (p. 80)

The concern with cultivating our spiritual dimensions and with forging connections is not new in Palmer's writings. In his famous book, The Courage to Teach, Palmer (1998) had already addressed these issues in the context of his discussion of good teaching:

   Good teachers posses a capacity for connectedness. They are able to
   weave a complex web of connections among themselves, their
   subjects, and their students so that students can learn to weave a
   world for themselves. The
   methods used by these weavers vary widely: lectures,
   Socratic dialogues, laboratory experiments, collaborative
   problem solving, creative chaos. The connections made
   by good teachers are held not in their methods but in their
   hearts--meaning heart in its ancient sense, as the place
   where intellect and emotion and spirit and will converge
   in the human self. (p. 11)

I share Palmer's (1998) conviction that the capacity for connectedness is more integral to good teaching than technique and that when teaching is reduced to technique, something fundamental is lost. When I first started teaching in an undergraduate teachers college in Israel many years ago, several veteran professors advised me to "be very strict with the students and to lay down the law from the very outset so that they don't take advantage of you." Not having much experience of my own at that point, I initially followed these professors' advice and tried to portray a tough, no-nonsense persona to my students. The problem was not only that I felt uncomfortable in this persona but that my students recognized fairly quickly that I was not being authentic and therefore resisted my trying to teach them. …