April 18, 2017
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v2.1 Reference

Wendell Berry and Higher Education

Cultivating Virtues of Place

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.

About the Authors

Jack R. Baker is associate professor of English at Spring Arbor University.

Jeffrey Bilbro, assistant professor of English at Spring Arbor University, is the author of Loving God's Wildness: The Christian Roots of Ecological Ethics in American Literature.


"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

"The authors present an enlightening interpretation of Wendell Berry's philosophy for the pursuit of a holistic higher education."—Publishers Weekly

"This book is a profound, expansive treatment of Wendell Berry's thought applied in a particular context. In this frame, the book serves as a helpful introduction to the vast writing works of Wendell Berry. For those largely unfamiliar with his work, this book can be a helpful place to start. This is especially true of Berry's holistic economic philosophy, to which he refers as The Great Economy, a complex and rich vision of holistic communal flourishing.

In a competitive market, where college campuses engage in expensive marketing campaigns, amenities arm races, and cutthroat discounting to recruit students, Wendell Berry and Higher Education raises critical questions for higher education leaders. Those looking for a catalyst for deep conversations on the role of higher education within the fabric of local communities and economics, this is a provocative read."—Englewood Review of Books

"Baker and Bilbro do a fine job pointing out the ways in which imagination, work, and language can become portals for learning the art of caring for our places. With a swift burst of energy and clarity, the authors show how Berry affirms the virtues of place through tradition (remembering our story), hierarchy (practicing gratitude and respecting limits), geography (reaping the fruits of fidelity), and community (learning to love the membership)."—Spirituality & Practice

"Baker and Bilbro do admirable work of applying Berry to the Leviathan of higher education."—Ordained Servant

"Baker and Bilbro have written a thoughtful treatise about conceptualizing and implementing education as grounded, embedded wisdom formation rather than as instruction in dislocated knowledge acquisition. The primary enticement of this text is the interweaving of Wendell Berry's poetry, fiction, and non-fiction writings into the process.

This is a text for educators and citizens willing to take a hard look at current higher education's pedagogical proclivities and ask whether we might not often be increasing socio-cultural harm rather than promoting good when we do not encourage that learning be tied to the particularity of place. Baker and Bilbro have written this work hoping to increase focus on learning that emphasizes social stability over social itinerancy."—International Journal of Christianity & Education

"Baker and Bilbro encourage readers to think of alternatives to the standard way we esteem higher education, careers, and success. [They] do admirable work of applying Berry to the Leviathan of higher education."—Front Porch Republic

"Within the classroom, Bilbro and Baker remind those at the lectern that we need not encourage every student to shoot for the stars. Shooting for the county may well result in a better life, and a better world."—First Things

9780813169026 : wendell-berry-and-higher-education-baker-bilbro-berry
268 Pages
$50.00 USD

Other Titles by Jeffrey Bilbro

Virtues of Renewal

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For the Hog Killing, 1979

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Taking Root

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