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Palmer served for fifteen years as Senior Associate of the now defunct American Association of Higher Education. He is the founder and Senior Partner of the Center for Courage & Renewal, which oversees the “Courage to Teach” program for K-12 educators across the country and parallel programs for people in other professions, including medicine, law, ministry and philanthropy.
He has published a dozen poems, more than one hundred essays and eight books. Palmer’s work has been recognized with ten honorary doctorates, two Distinguished Achievement Awards from the National Educational Press Association, an Award of Excellence from the Associated Church Press, and grants from the Danforth Foundation, the Lilly Endowment and the Fetzer Institute.
An overview and critical review of Palmer's written work on education can be found at infed.org, an open, independent, not-for-profit site established in 1995 to explore educational theory and practice
In March 1992 he gave a talk at a United Methodist Church on “Faith or Frenzy.” He opened with a comparison between a historical perspective on the contemplative life vs. an active life. In earlier centuries contemplation was the preferred life, one followed by academic or religious scholars. An active life was one of tedious toil where one did not have the time to reflect on a higher plane. Over time that changed. An active life became more prominent as technology progressed and the power associated with it. Man was playing God. A pendulum effect between the two has swung back again as limits to technology have not provided a solution and the lure of a contemplative life and its seclusion has taken hold.
Palmer suggests that a hybrid between the two is the mix where spirituality finds a balance, because “before you can have a spiritual life, you must first have a life,” - a life immersed in the active world. It is a world where one is alone and also part of a community. A spiritual life is not one which flees the world of action. He contends that when one becomes disillusioned by an experience or false value system, that person experiences reality. He believes disillusionment is the journey life takes us on, away from fiction and fantasy toward reality and truth. These experiences can be very painful. Five examples of illusion he covered during the talk are: the world as a battleground, scarcity, I am what I do, only cultivating rewarded talent, and finally that everything must be measurable.
Palmer launched into a discussion of faith as a misunderstood word. Faith is not a set of beliefs we are supposed to sign up for he says. It is instead the courage to face our illusions and allow ourselves to be disillusioned by them. It is the courage to walk through our illusions and dispel them. He states the opposite of faith is not doubt, it is fear - fear of abandoning illusions because of our comfort level with them. For example, not everything is measurable and yet so much of what we do has that yardstick applied to it. Another illusion is “I am what I do .... my worth comes from my functioning. If there is to be any love for us, we must succeed at something.” He says in this example that it is more important to be a “human being” rather than a “human doing.” We are not what we do. We are who we are. The rigors of trying to be faithful involves being faithful to one's gifts, faithful to other's reality, faithful to the larger need in which we are all embedded, faithful to the possibilities inherent in our common life.
Honors and awards
- In 1993, Palmer won the national award of the Council of Independent Colleges for Outstanding Contributions to Higher Education.
- In 1998, The Leadership Project, a national survey of 10,000 administrators and faculty, named Palmer as one of the thirty “most influential senior leaders” in higher education and one of the ten key “agenda-setters” of the past decade: “He has inspired a generation of teachers and reformers with evocative visions of community, knowing, and spiritual wholeness.”
- In 2001, the Carleton College Alumni Association gave Palmer a Distinguished Achievement Award.
- In 2002, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education created the “Parker J. Palmer Courage to Teach Award”, given annually to the directors of ten medical residency programs that exemplify patient-centered professionalism in medical education.
- In 2003, the American College Personnel Association named Palmer a “Diamond Honoree” for outstanding contributions to the field of student affairs.
- In 2010, the Religious Education Association (An Association of Professors, Practitioners, and Researchers in Religious Education) presented Palmer with the William Rainey Harper Award, “given to outstanding leaders whose work in other fields has had profound impact upon religious education.” Named after the first president of the University of Chicago, founder of the REA, the award has been given only ten times since its establishment in 1970. Previous recipients include Marshall McLuhan, Elie Wiesel, Margaret Mead and Paulo Freire.
- In 2011, Palmer was named an Utne Reader Visionary, one of "25 people who are changing your world."
- Palmer, Parker J. (2011-09-06). Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. ISBN 978-0-470-59080-5.
- ———; Zajonc, Arthur; Scribner, Megan (2010-07-20). The Heart of Higher Education: A Call to Renewal. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. ISBN 978-0-470-48790-7.
- ——— (2004-09-22). A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. ISBN 978-0-7879-7100-7.
- ——— (2000-09-10). Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. ISBN 978-0-7879-4735-4.
- ——— (1999-07-21) . The Active Life: A Spirituality of Work, Creativity and Caring. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. ISBN 978-0-7879-4934-1.
- ——— (1983-08-25). The Company of Strangers: Christians and the Renewal of America's Public Life. New York: Crossroad. ISBN 978-0-8245-0601-8.
- ——— (2007-08-17) [1997-11-21]. The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher's Life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. ISBN 978-0-7879-9686-4.
- ——— (2008-04-18) . The Promise of Paradox: A Celebration of Contradictions in the Christian Life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. ISBN 978-0-7879-9696-3.
- ——— (1993-05-28) . To Know As We Are Known: Education as a Spiritual Journey. San Francisco: HarperOne. ISBN 978-0-06-066451-0.
- Intrator, Sam M, ed. (2005-04-06). Living the Questions: Essays Inspired by the Work and Life of Parker J. Palmer. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. ISBN 978-0-7879-6554-9.
- "Staff". About the Center. Center for Courage and Renewal. Retrieved 2008-03-12.
- "Palmer", Thinkers, Infed.
- Orr, Douglas M. (1999). "The Courage to Teach: Reflections on Parker Palmer’s Work" (PDF). The Independent. Council of Independent Colleges. Retrieved 2008-03-12. "In 1993, [Palmer] was the recipient of the CIC Outstanding Service Award and was a speaker at the annual Presidents Institute."
- "Who's Who: Higher Education's Senior Leadership", Change 30 (1), Jan–Feb 1998: 14–18.
- "2001 Award Recipients". Carleton College. Retrieved 2008-03-12.[dead link]
- "Parker J. Palmer Courage to Teach Award". Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. Retrieved 2008-03-12.
- "Diamond Honorees: Classes of 1999 to 2005" (PDF). American College Personnel Association. Retrieved 2008-03-12.
- "Religious Education Association". Retrieved 2010-10-30.
- "Parker J. Palmer: Wise Guy". Utne Reader. November–December 2011. Retrieved 19 October 2011.
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