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.

Endorsements and Reviews

“This book is more than a treatise on higher education. It is also, at least to some extent, a manual for the place-centric life,” according to Gracy Olmstead in a review in The American Conservative.

“A masterful argument. Baker and Bilbro have given us a brilliant companion to Berry’s work that will guide readers—students, parents, professors, and administrators—to rethink educational values and institutional trajectories,” Morris A. Grubbs, editor of Conversations with Wendell Berry.

Wendell Berry and Higher Education offers a helpful and much-needed counternarrative to the pragmatic visions of higher education that dominate the current discussion. Works like this are essential for finding a way forward in a time marked by the arrogance of Wall Street, the failure of political discourse, and educational practices that hide more problems than they address,” Matt Bonzo, coauthor of Wendell Berry and the Cultivation of Life: A Reader’s Guide.

Jack and I gave a talk at Spring Arbor about this project.

Jack and I were interviewed by The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Ken Myers interviewed us for Mars Hill Audio.

Michial Farmer interviewed us on the Christian Humanist Profiles series.

David Kern interviewed us for CiRCE’s FORMA podcast.

Also reviewed in Publishers Weekly, First ThingsEnglewood Review of Books, Pro Rege, International Journal of Christianity and Education, Biblical Higher Education Journal, Ordained Servant Online, Spirituality and Practice, Growth: The Journal of the Association for Christians in Student Development, and the American Solidarity Party.