A review of Wendell Berry and Higher Education

Baker and Bilbro are not naive about the herculean nature of their task. For instance, in his 2004 novel, Hannah Coulter, a story about an older farming widow who reflects on the changes in her community since the 1930s (the authors use Berry’s novels throughout to frame their critique of and proposals for higher education), Hannah laments the affects of universities on her children. “After each one of our children went away to the university,” she recalls, “there always came a time when we would feel the distance opening to them, pulling them away. It was like sitting snug in the house, and a door is opened somewhere, and suddenly you feel a draft” (2). In other words, universities and colleges thrive on Americans’ ambition for getting ahead and for social mobility. These institutions do not educate students in a manner that encourages them to appreciate families and home or that rewards them for returning to the communities that shaped them. Rather, American higher education becomes a vehicle for escaping the constraints of local life and for acquiring skills that will reward students with a “better” way of life—one with greater wealth and convenience, and that is less limited by the demands of work that is necessary (production of food, maintenance of land and structures, elimination of waste). The tension between agrarianism and the ideals of contemporary higher education are downright enormous. At one point, Baker and Bilbro concede that the modern university may be beyond “hope of recovery” (17).

Read all of "Can You (or anyone) Put Wendell Berry’s Lightning in the Bottle of U.S. Higher Education?" by Darryl Hart at Front Porch Republic.


The Berry Farming Program begins again in Henry County

The Wendell Berry Farming Program is up and running again after a two-year hiatus, precipitated by the unexpected closing in 2016 of St. Catharine College in Springfield, where the program was based. This time, however, the program’s home will stay in Henry County, even if it’s new collegiate partner is at Sterling College in Vermont.

“My mother (Tanya Berry) always said the Berry Farming program should be in Henry County,” said Mary Berry, the director of the Berry Center in New Castle, which is devoted to her father Wendell’s agricultural and literary legacy, and oversees the farming program. “I agreed but I didn’t want to start a school myself. My mother always turns out to be right.”

After St. Catharine’s closed, Mary Berry looked at schools all around the country where the farming program could be housed. Then she was contacted by Sterling College President Matthew Derr.

Sterling College is a small school in Craftsury Common, Vt., that describes itself as an environmental college dedicated to stewardship and sustainability. Majors include ecology, environmental humanities and sustainable agriculture. Derr pitched the idea of a partnership in which a college already teaching many of the principles of Wendell Berry could work in his backyard.

Sterling is also, like Berea College and Alice Lloyd College in Kentucky, one of eight federally recognized work colleges, which emphasize work and service as part of their education.

Read all of "‘A guiding light.’ Why Vermont students are farming in Wendell Berry’s backyard" by Linda Blackford at The Lexington Herald-Leader.


An Interview with Wendell Berry about Education

Berry: I was a very good boy until I was in the third grade. And from then on I hated school. 

David: Because you were forced to stay inside?

Berry: Well, I had experienced freedom in the countryside, and to tell you the truth there wasn’t a lot going on in school that was very interesting. But I didn’t like the confinement. I made a lot of trouble, and I didn’t understand the implication of the trouble I was making. The implication was that I was going to get sent to a military school. At 14 I went away to school with my brother, who was a year younger than I. We went to Millersburg Military Institute up in central Kentucky. And I was about as well-suited to that as I would have been to, I don’t know, an assembly line, which in effect it was. And while I was there I had the good fortune to have maybe three teachers who really did something for my education. I received kindness from more teachers than that, from a couple more. There were two curricula: The first was what they intended to teach you, the second was what they didn’t intend to teach you. I learned something from both. But I had a bad attitude that they discovered early. It was defiance. Also I learned just to slip away and go for a walk somewhere. When I got to college, I liked that. There were, oh, half a dozen teachers I found in college who really did affect me. I respected them. The ones I respected the most were the ones who were hardest on me. But they had something to offer, you see. The teacher I had most often in college was Thomas Stroup. He taught Milton. He started me reading Spenser, although he didn’t teach a Spenser class at that time. He read T. S. Eliot’s “Journey of the Magi” one afternoon in his office, read it beautifully. He kicked me out of class one day and told me in front of everybody, “Your arrogance is exceeded only by your ignorance.” 

Read the whole of "Education Is A Dangerous Thing: A Conversation With Wendell Berry" by David Kern at Forma: A Magazine from the Circe Institute.


Wendell Berry on the proposed closing of the University Press of Kentucky

Like a good many others these days, I would welcome an earnest public discussion about education. What is it now? What should it be? What is the right ratio of its cost to its worth? Perhaps the discussion could begin with the proposition that to be properly human our species should include a significant number of politicians and others who are competently literate, which means in part having a familiar and usable knowledge of literature and history. 

Though I have doubts and questions about our state’s system of education, I am its product, its sometime employee, and in many ways its beneficiary. As such, and as a tax-paying citizen, I want to say that the part of this system that has most steadily served the great cause of literacy in my lifetime has been the University Press of Kentucky, which is now marked for destruction by one of Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposed budget cuts that is both petty and barbaric. If it should happen, this destruction would amount to an act of censorship, for the knowledge made available by the Press belongs to the people of Kentucky, to readers now and to come. It is a part of our commonwealth, which the governor and the government are entrusted to protect, not destroy.

Read the whole article by Mr. Berry at the Louisville Courier-Journal.


Reflections on the Wendell Berry documentary

I was introduced to the agrarian world of the writer, Wendell Berry, in my intro to philosophy class in college. I have been an avid reader of Berry ever since. His novels, essays, and poetry, have been a rich source of comfort, hope, and rebuke in my life.

There is something to Berry’s writing that I am drawn to. He carries a degree of elusivity that requires constant unpacking. It contains a truthfulness that I am not always able to exhaust. His prose are beautiful and turns of phrase poignant. His characters are rich and their relationships dense.

Last night, I went with my wife and a few friends to watch the film, Look and See, which is a documentary portrait of his life. There were two moments in the film that brought me to tears and put words to unexpressed elements of my attraction to Wendell’s writing. I want to share them quick before I write a longer post reflecting on the film as a whole.

Read the full article by Kris Rolls at Being-in-the-World.

 


Reviewing "Wendell Berry and Higher Education"

“When professors tell their students the wrong stories, stories of heroic success rather than quotidian faithfulness, it reinforces the boomer mentality of the broader culture,” write Baker and Bilbro. Such narratives, according to Berry, convince “good young people … that if they have an ordinary job, if they work with their hands, if they are farmers or housewives or mechanics or carpenters, they are no good.”

Baker and Bilbro contrast the heady, aspirational virtues of modern academia with what they call “the sticker arts”: the arts of “right livelihood” that focus on stewardship, sustainability, specificity, and love. In so doing, they aren’t just trying to convince students to stay home—they are also encouraging them to make a home wherever they may land. After all, as both Baker and Bilbro acknowledge themselves, Spring Arbor is not their original hometown. Although their vision is to cultivate students who can remain rooted in place, they are also aware that many may move away. But the virtues they present here—stewardship, sustainability, love, loyalty—should not only be applied to our birthplaces. They are deeply needed everywhere. Anywhere boomers have ravaged a community, seeking only to consume and procure, stickers are needed to foster healing and wholeness.

As our country increasingly becomes a fractured republic, a nation divided and splintered, it is such virtues that are most likely to bring wholeness and healing back. “Berry remains convinced that genuine change begins locally rather than in the halls of centralized power,” note Baker and Bilbro. And it is only the sort of vision this volume provides that can bring such change back to the communities that so desperately need it.

Read the complete article by Gracy Olmstead at The American Conservative.


Wendell Berry helps to open Sterling College Berry Center Farming Program

In "A Poem on Hope," Wendell Berry writes, "Because we have not made our lives to fit our places, the forests are ruined, the fields eroded, the streams polluted, the mountains overturned."

Words like those from the 83-year-old farmer, poet and essayist — whom environmental activist Bill McKibben calls "the prophet of responsibility" — have inspired many acolytes to turn to rural farming as the antidote to cultural and ecological destruction. Among them is Craftsbury native Tim Patterson, who recalled how, after many years abroad, he read Berry while in Thailand. In 2010, Patterson decided to return to his hometown and buy land.

Today, he's the director of admissions at Sterling College in Craftsbury Common, where he joined the crowd welcoming Berry for a brief appearance on Saturday. The self-styled "Mad Farmer" (the title of one of his poetry collections) had come to help announce a new partnership between the Berry Center, located in New Castle, Ky., and the Vermont college.

The Berry Farming Program at Sterling College represents a new iteration of the Berry Center's educational initiative. Through its collaboration with Sterling, the center will offer — in Kentucky — accredited undergraduate and continuing education courses in place-based ecology and farming, beginning in the fall of 2018. Specific curricula have yet to be released.

Read the whole article by Rachel Elizabeth Jones at Seven Days.


The Berry Farming Program finds a new home

August 18, 2017 • Craftsbury Common, VT and New Castle, KY • At an event marking the start of a yearlong celebration of the 60th year since the founding of Sterling, the College announced a partnership with The Berry Center through which it plans to begin offering undergraduate and continuing education programs in Kentucky in rural, placed-based ecology and farming starting in the fall of 2018.

For generations, Sterling College faculty and students have been inspired by the work of Wendell Berry. Published in 1977, Berry’s book, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, launched a national conversation about the state of agriculture in our society. Berry is a novelist, poet, environmental activist, cultural critic, and farmer. President Obama awarded Berry with the National Humanities Medal in 2010, and he was inducted as a fellow of The American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2013. The Berry Center in New Castle, Kentucky, was founded in 2011 to put Wendell Berry’s writing to work by advocating for farmers, land-conserving communities, and healthy regional economies.

This educational partnership recognizes the relationship between the environmental stewardship mission and curriculum of Sterling College and that of The Berry Center. The College’s curriculum and focus on the the working rural landscape inspired the organizations to work together. “We recognize the critical role that higher education should play, but has utterly failed to play, in preparing students to develop sound and just rural economies. Sterling stood out immediately, as a college with values and a curriculum we wanted to help promote,” said Mary Berry, Executive Director of the Berry Center.

See more at Sterling College.


Reflections on Wendell Berry and Complexity

Reading Wendell Berry is an exercise in cultivating complexity. His love of Nature, the vision of locality, and understanding of the costs of a global economy resonate with what remains of my small-town southern upbringing. I did not live the Hillbilly Elegy experience; instead, my memories of childhood evoke an almost Berry-esque playing by the creekside on our five acres in Montgomery County, Tennessee. Reading Berry calls my soul to abandon the city life I live and move to a mythical farm.

And yet, there are goods the city cultivates which Mr. Berry’s vision would demand sacrificing.

Read the whole article by Josh Herring at The Imaginative Conservative.


Review of "Wendell Berry and Higher Education"

Two literary critics take the writings and speeches of Wendell Berry as a touchstone for a critique of higher education. Each chapter follows a tight structure: an analysis of Berry’s fiction; discussion of how the themes of his fiction apply to higher-education reform; practical suggestions for students, instructors, and administrators; and an excerpt from Berry’s poetry that brings each chapter to a close. The book’s first three chapters, which together encompass the book’s first part, titled “Rooting Universities,” possess both charm and utility. They describe a new vision for higher education, one in which imagination and context trump specialization and fragmentation, attention is given to logical language that eschews jargon and is inclusive of all types of people and ideas, and the benefits of physical work contribute to intellectual development.

Read the complete review at Publishers Weekly.