Book Review of Palmer




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Book Review of Palmer, Parker J.,1983. To Know as We are Known: A Spirituality of Education.  San Francisco: Harper and Row.

by Dr Alex Tang

In a time when the morale of the teaching profession in Malaysia is at an all time low, Palmer’s book stand out as a beacon to warn and draw our attention to what education is truly about. The story about Abba Felix and that there are ‘no more words nowadays’ stands at the heart of this book. In this short story about a Desert Father, Palmer has developed a spirituality of education in which obedience to God’s words will lead to spiritual formation of the teacher and the student.

First, Palmer rightly pointed out that objectivism and the pursuit of knowledge without reflection is dangerous. His illustration with the Manhattan project is instructive. However, he should have included the societal, economic and cultural influences in his argument. One of the problems with education today is that instead of being a process of ‘reunification and reconstruction of broken selves and world’, it became a means to obtaining ‘paper’qualifications. Education has been hijacked to be an instrument in which students can achieve economic success and teachers became clogs in the machine that produce thousands of graduates annually who are only skilled in passing examinations.

Second, he mentioned ‘a learning space’ as an antidote to ‘objectivist’ teaching methods. This learning space has openness, boundaries and hospitality. I wonder how Palmer would translate that into an Asian context. Openness, boundaries and hospitality will be difficult in a culture of shame (‘saving face’) and hierarchal respect for elders, social ranks and qualifications.

Finally, ‘transformation of teaching must begin in the transformed heart of the teacher’. Palmer listed the disciplines of studying widely, silence, solitude and prayer as important in bringing about this transformation. However Palmer painted a bland picture of a ‘generic’ God as the focus of these disciplines. I would that he be more Trinitarian in his approach.


                                                                                                                                                              Soli Deo Gloria



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