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Parker Palmer on finding institutions…

October 1, 2015

SteppingInToWhoYouAreThis great article came to me via colleagues – Parker Palmer on “A New Professional: The Aims of Education Revisited.”  In this he is writing about education and medical institutions, but the ideas are easily transferable to our field…  if we dare.

One of the things he writes is,

. . . as Ivan Illich reminded us 40 years ago, the functions of a profession are not necessarily those of the institutional structures that house it. The fact that we have schools does not mean we have education. The fact that we have hospitals does not mean we have health care. The fact that we have courts does not mean we have justice. We need professionals who are “in but not of” their institutions, whose allegiance to the core values of their fields makes them resist the institutional diminishment of those values.

I’m a sucker for Palmer.  I love his gentle, appreciative, dialogic, Quaker based approaches.  But in this article, he’s pissed.  How do we send students (or staff) to “work in institutions that too often prove toxic to their deepest commitments.”  It’s one of my favourite moments in workshops, where we get to remind each other of the emancipatory intentions that brought us into this work, before we got caught up in a world of boxes to tick off and forms to be filed.

Of how meeting people with disabilities and realizing that what we’ve been told about them in the media and in our cultural stories and even in our textbooks isn’t true – they are not dull-witted, necessarily concrete thinkers, boring, needy, and all those other things that a lot of the messages about them convey – potentially radicalizes us.  If what we’ve been led to believe about these folks – who show up at our doors with cakes to share, remember our birthdays, remind us of the things we’ve forgotten in the most gentle appreciative ways, point out that blue socks don’t go with a black suit, faithfully bring us valentines each year (this may just be my own list and if you have friends or family with disabilities you will have your own amazing list) – are some of our most valuable community members: what else might not be true?  What else are we in danger of throwing away?

Parker J. Palmer, A New Professional: The Aims of Education Revisited, November-December 2007.  Change: A Magazine of Higher Learning.  

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