Wendell Berry and Higher Education

Wendell Berry and Higher Education: Cultivating Virtues of Place with Jack Baker (The University Press of Kentucky, 2017).

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Prominent author and cultural critic Wendell Berry is well known for his contributions to agrarianism and environmentalism, but his commentary on education has received comparatively little attention. Berry has been eloquently unmasking America’s cultural obsession with restless mobility for decades, arguing that it causes damage to both the land and the character of our communities. Education, he maintains, plays a central role in this obsession, inculcating in students’ minds the American dream of moving up and moving on.

Drawing on Berry’s essays, fiction, and poetry, Jack R. Baker and Jeffrey Bilbro illuminate the influential thinker’s vision for higher education in this pathbreaking study. Each chapter begins with an examination of one of Berry’s fictional narratives and then goes on to consider how the passage inspires new ways of thinking about the university’s mission. Throughout, Baker and Bilbro argue that instead of training students to live in their careers, universities should educate students to inhabit and serve their places. The authors also offer practical suggestions for how students, teachers, and administrators might begin implementing these ideas.

Baker and Bilbro conclude that institutions guided by Berry’s vision might cultivate citizens who can begin the work of healing their communities—graduates who have been educated for responsible membership in a family, a community, or a polity.