The Place of Faithfulness in Education

logoParker Palmer of the Center for Courage and Renewal is a well-known author and speaker in the field of education. He is worried about the current direction of education reform, which seeks to use more value-added measures to judge student, teacher, and school proficiency.

Here are his thoughts:

“We’re always being asked how effective is your work, are you getting results and outcomes? I don’t object to that,” says Parker J. Palmer, “but I’m really convinced that there’s a terrible problem when effectiveness is our only standard and we become utterly obsessed with outcomes and results. When that happens, what else happens is that we keep taking on smaller and smaller tasks because those are the only ones we can get results with.

“If we want to take on big tasks like love and mercy and justice–the tasks that we’re neglecting in our democracy right now–we need another standard by which to measure our actions. And I think that standard is faithfulness.

“I don’t mean anything high and mighty by that. I mean, am I faithful to the gifts that I possess, to the strengths and abilities that I bring to the world? Am I faithful to the needs I see around me? Am I faithful to those points at which I intersect the needs of the world and have a chance to serve? Do I enter that opportunity, as complex and challenging as it may be, or do I shy away, run away, for fear that I won’t be able to serve well or that I’ll be stretched beyond my ability to serve?”

What we can gain from Parker’s insights, garnered from decades working in the field of education, is a reminder that the quest to bring greater accountability to education through an emphasis on test-based measures can mean a loss of focus on other, less easily measurable, elements of education.  Teaching students to be mature members of a democracy involves passing on dispositions which cannot be evaluated through standardized testing. That does not mean that all measures of reform focused on accountability should be abandoned, but voices such as Palmer’s should be remembered through the process of reform.

For more from Parker, please visit this link to see a short video on the question, “How do you remain “faithful” to self, others and/or the vision you serve?”: