Wendell Berry, Two Minds, and Teaching

In his essay Two Minds, Wendell Berry, unsurprisingly enough, offers up two tones of thought produced by two kinds of “mind”—Rational, and Sympathetic.

One is driven by logic, deduction, data, and measurement, the other by affection and other wasteful abstractions—instinct, reverence, joy, and faith.

These minds struggle for to manifest in our collective behavior. That is, they both seek to control our actions–what we say and do.

Berry explains their distinctions:

“The Rational Mind of [sic] is motivated by the fear of being misled, of being wrong. Its purpose is to exclude everything that cannot empirically or experimentally be proven by fact.

The Sympathetic Mind is motivated by fear of error of a very different kind: the error of carelessness, of being unloving. Its purpose is to be considerate of whatever is present, to leave nothing out.”

Read more at TeachThought

The essay "Two Minds" can be found in Mr. Berry's Citizenship Papers.


Wendell Berry, Affection, and Higher Education

The talk was titled "It All Turns on Affection." Rehearsing the well-known problems facing American society, Berry traced the roots of the current ecological crisis, the increasing corporatization and alienation of modern life, and even the recent financial crisis, to a loss of affection—a sentiment, Berry argued, that if properly cultivated can save us from ourselves.

The crux of Berry's argument is that people are limited beings. They will only properly understand and care for those things they can readily imagine, things that fall within the scope of individual experience. Our current predicament is mainly due to the scale of modern life and the disappearance of the circumstances in which imagination and sympathy, the wellsprings of affection, can flourish. Most importantly, Berry argues it is only on the basis of these local affections that “we see the need to grant a sort of preemptive sympathy to all the fellow members, the neighbors, with whom we share the world.” Berry is mainly concerned with the problems that accompany industrial capitalism. But over the last year I have considered how his ideas might apply to my own profession as an academic. In what follows I'd like to consider the ways in which an ethic of affection could reshape the world of higher education during a time of dizzying change.

Read much more at Vitae


Wendell Berry and Education

As early as his 1969 essay collection, The Long-Legged House, Berry expressed his doubts about formal education, writing:  “Although I have become, among other things, a teacher, I am skeptical of education. It seems to me a most doubtful process, and I think the good of it is taken too much for granted. It is a matter that is over-theorized and over-valued and always approached with too much confidence. It is . . . no substitute for experience or life or virtue or devotion. As it is handed out by the schools, it is only theoretically useful.”

In the early 1980s, Berry expressed a more radical displeasure in his HEHD essay. In it we glimpse many of the criticisms of higher education that he will continue to proclaim for the next three decades: 1) its main purpose is “career preparation,” preparing exploitive “careerists,” aiming to make more money; 2) this education “is dissociated from . . . [any] sense of obligation”; and 3) higher “educational institutions educate people to leave home,” in order to further their careers.

His essay also indicates what education should do: “Education in the true sense, of course, is an enablement to serve—both the living human community in its natural household or neighborhood and the precious cultural possessions that the living community inherits or should inherit.”

Read much more of this essay by Walter G. Moss at LA Progressive


A Report from The Berry Farming Program

The Berry Farming Program at St. Catharine College was pleased to welcome its first cohort of students this school year. Winifred Cheuvront, Sathya Govindasamy, Lusekelo Nkuwi, and Sié Tioyé are pursuing bachelor’s degrees in Farming and Ecological Agrarianism. Check out the profiles below to learn about their convictions for doing the good work of resettling countrysides at home and abroad.

Students representing a variety of disciplines join these four in the Berry Farming Program’s experiential learning-oriented courses. English, business, biology, sociology, psychology, and even sonography majors add their voices to discussions about agroecology and agrarianism.

Indeed, SCC students are digging into courses like Introduction to Agroecology and Food Studies, in which they explore the tenets of ecosystems-based farming and the necessity for culture-driven change. They take part in field excursions and service learning on local farms, at farms-to-school operations, and through community education projects. 

via The Berry Center


Reading Wendell Berry and "reading" other people

Kidd’s study, conducted with psychology professor Emanuele Castano, involved giving some subjects passages to read from novels by Don DeLillo and Wendell Berry, and others passages from Gone Girl and other popular fiction. Then, the subjects were asked to look at and interpret a range of facial expressions.

Kidd and Castano found that reading literature makes people more adept at assessing other individuals’ emotional states—it gives them a more developed “theory of mind (ToM),” which Kidd describes as the “capacity to infer the thoughts and emotions of others.” But this talent can be used for ill.

“Bullies have a very developed ToM,” Kidd said. “Which makes sense. If you want to manipulate or harass someone effectively, that requires a heightened sense of how their thoughts and emotions work.”

This is scary stuff: a Don DeLillo-prepped bully is a much, much more terrifying prospect than your standard-issue neighborhood thug, combining the ability to dole out, simultaneously, powerful noogies and close analysis of the “Pafko at the Wall” setpiece in Underworld.

Read more at Melville House


Blog Watch: On Wendell Berry and Problem-solving

The answers will come not from walking up to your farm and saying this is what I want and this is what I expect from you. You walk up and you say what do you need. And you commit yourself to say all right, I’m not going to do any extensive damage here until I know what it is that you are asking of me. And this can’t be hurried. This is the dreadful situation that young people are in. I think of them and I say well, the situation you’re in now is a situation that’s going to call for a lot of patience. And to be patient in an emergency is a terrible trial.

Being patient in an emergency is not only the trial faced by the small-scale farmer endeavoring to care for the health of a particular place, it’s also the trial of a teacher endeavoring to care for the health of one student.  When we see so many underprepared students it’s easy to be overwhelmed, to become worried about whether American students are falling behind their international peers or whether low-income students have the same opportunities as their wealthier neighbors.  But I’m not sure these big problems have big solutions.

Rather, the solution may be for teachers everywhere to begin asking of their students, “What do you need?”  This is the first step in the slow work of healing, a work that requires commitment and great patience.

via Christ & University


Blog Watch: Quoting Wendell Berry on Literacy

In a country in which everybody goes to school, it may seem absurd to offer a defense of literacy, and yet I believe that such a defense is in order, and that the absurdity lies not in the defense, but in the necessity for it. The published illiteracies of the certified educated are on the increase. And the universities seem bent upon ratifying this state of things by declaring the acceptability, in their graduates, of adequate – that is to say, of mediocre writing skills.

The schools, then, are following the general subservience to the “practical,” as that term has been defined for us according to the benefit of corporations. By “practicality” most users of the term now mean whatever will most predictably and most quickly make a profit. Teachers of English and literature have either submitted, or are expected to submit, along with teachers of the more “practical” disciplines, to the doctrine that the purpose of education is the mass production of producers and consumers.

via teachthought.com


Blog Watch: Sabbath and Wendell Berry in Class

That day, designed by the whole class, included a number of Sabbath appropriate activities: no technology; natural and candle-light instead of fluorescent lighting; festive attire; food (bagels and cream cheese, of course!); song; private meditation; expressions of gratitude; and communal text study.

The text? This, by Wendell Berry, from A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979 – 1997:

I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
where I left them, asleep like cattle.

via patheos.com


Wendell Berry and St. Catharines ag program

With its fertile soil, temperate climate and central location, Kentucky would seem to be a great place to capitalize on this trend. Plus, Kentucky is the home of writer Wendell Berry, one of the global gurus of sustainable agriculture.

This fall, St. Catharine College, a Catholic school founded by the Dominican Sisters in Washington County, started offering bachelor's degrees in farming and ecological agrarianism.

St. Catharine's Berry Farming Program incorporates Berry's sustainability philosophies and was developed in conjunction with his family's Berry Center in the Henry County town of New Castle.

via kentucky.com

Mary Berry interviewed by In These Times

Small farmers must select which stones to throw at Big Ag. And Mary Berry, Wendell’s daughter, is helping them take aim as executive director of the Berry Center in New Castle, Ky.

Why did you and your father create the Berry Center?

The Berry Center’s goal is to institutionalize agrarian thought and make a movement towards cultural change. We’ve been developing a four-year farm degree at St. Catherine College in Washington County, Kentucky. We're also working on a farm school, in Henry County, to help new or existing farmers learn what they need to know to get out of the commodity economy and into a local food economy. We're talking about everything farmers and landowners can produce on their land—from timber to tomatoes—and how to keep them secure, and out of a boom and bust economy.

Read more at In These Times