PARKER J. PALMER AND RELATIONAL
John B. Bennett
Educators—especially we who are in higher education—are prone to study others instead of ourselves. We analyze concepts of reason employed elsewhere, but (as Malcolm Evans and others in this volume have observed) we often fail to reflect critically on the complex character of the rational competences we exercise and promote. We study the ethics of medicine, business, journalism, and so forth, far more than we examine the ethics of education or educators—even though thoughtful essays like the one by George Allan early in this volume lay out how learning to be good plays a central role in education. In the newer, related field of spirituality, we have begun to explore the spiritualities of business and health care, but have yet to spend much time looking at the spiritualities of education. I want to contribute to that exploration here by drawing on the work of Parker J. Palmer in order to shed light on two educational spiritualities—one is a common, if not prevalent, variety that I call insistent individualism; the other is a more fundamental and desirable spirituality of relational individualism.
“Spirituality” is a multi-faceted and richly contested word. Some people regard it as suggesting a mind-body dualism. Others dismiss it as reeking of cultism and spiritualism. I suggest we use it to understand the universal human longing for meaning and purpose in life. It may or may not be associated with religion. In either case, our spiritualities point toward the values and activities to which we are loyal and which we trust to provide us with perduring meaning and purpose. Our individual spiritualities are often apparent in the organizing narratives or stories through which we express—and perhaps reflect on—the values and activities to which we give our fundamental commitments. These are the stories in which we speak of our primary personal and professional identities— of who we most authentically are.
Parker J. Palmer is among the few who have given both scholarly and practical attention to the constellation of reason, ethics, and spirituality in education. Known for his thoughtful work in support of greater community, Palmer addresses the importance of healthier spiritualities in education—particularly in