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).
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