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November 13, 2000

'Master teacher' Palmer to visit
Emory Nov. 17-18

By Michael Terrazas

Noted writer and pedagogical theorist Parker Palmer will visit Emory Nov. 17 to deliver a lecture, “The Recovery of Community in Higher Education: Focus on Teaching and Learning,” at
2:30 p.m. in Cannon Chapel.

Palmer’s work spans a range of institutions, from colleges and universities to public schools and community organizations, to churches, corporations and foundations. He is a senior associate for the American Association of Higher Education and a senior advisor to the Fetzer Institute, having founded the latter’s “Teacher Formation Program” for K–12 teachers across the country.

“I understand the mission of the university to be described in three words: knowing, teaching and learning,” Palmer said. “What are the forms of community that will support those three parts of our mission? I start with the premise that those three activities are and always have been essentially communal acts.

“‘Knowing,’ for example, has often been thought of as an act of individual genius,” Palmer continued. “Teaching and learning have often been thought of as an act of one-on-one exchange between a professor who has information and a student who doesn’t. But I am trying to say that all three of those things are complex, communal acts and always have been, and if we can’t figure out how to do them communally, then we probably are not doing them very well.”

In his writings, Palmer has explored a phenomenon he’s called the “privatization of the professoriate.” University faculty, he says, seldom invite their fellow professors into their classrooms to observe and later discuss teaching technique.

“When you privatize an act, you also keep it from growing,” Palmer said. “You continue to recycle the same old stuff when you do work in an essentially privatized form.”

Palmer received his bachelor’s in philosophy and sociology from Carleton College in Minnesota.After a year at Union Theological Seminary in New York, he went on to earn his master’s and doctorate in sociology from the University of California at Berkeley. He published The Courage to Teach in 1998, The Active Life in 1999 and Let Your Life Speak earlier this year.

With a background in both social science and theology, Palmer recognizes the difficulty of campuswide discussions of teaching that incorporate vastly different disciplines and traditions. But he still believes such discussion is possible.

“It should be,” he said. “My experience over 30 years is that what seem on the surface to be different forms of teaching—whether it be kindergarten, graduate school or professional school—have an enormous amount in common. In fact, kindergarten teachers know a lot that we seem to have forgotten by the time we have become professors, in terms of pedagogy.

“It would be very rare to find a kindergarten teacher who stood up and lectured at students for 50 minutes,” Palmer said. “It would be much more common to find kindergarten teachers engaging students with the subject and with each other in communal ways, so that human beings have a way to learn in a way they most naturally learn: through interactions with the world and with other people.”

Following his lecture on Nov. 17, Palmer will conduct a workshop on Saturday, Nov. 18, at 10:30 a.m. on the Oxford campus.

Both events are sponsored by the University Advisory Council on Teaching and are open only to Emory faculty, staff and students.

To request a reservation or for more information, call Karen Brown-Wheeler at 404-712-9156.


Back to Emory Report Nov. 13, 2000