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Wendell Berry and Higher Education: Cultivating Virtues of Place

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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 c 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.


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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 c 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.

46 review for Wendell Berry and Higher Education: Cultivating Virtues of Place

  1. 4 out of 5

    Ben Goller

    I'm going to be talking about this book with my (university) co-workers for a while. While it clearly reads like it is written by two English professors (meticulously formed chapters with an intro based on one of Berry's fiction works, practical suggestions and wrapping up with a meditative dip into Berry's poetry), this books hits a lot of what is good about the liberal arts and whole-person education. Perhaps I liked this book so much because I was already on board with its premise before I hear I'm going to be talking about this book with my (university) co-workers for a while. While it clearly reads like it is written by two English professors (meticulously formed chapters with an intro based on one of Berry's fiction works, practical suggestions and wrapping up with a meditative dip into Berry's poetry), this books hits a lot of what is good about the liberal arts and whole-person education. Perhaps I liked this book so much because I was already on board with its premise before I heard of it. I just put together a presentation for students based on my master's thesis in which I encourage students to think not so much about how college can prepare them to get a good job and make money, but how college can prepare them to serve others. Bilbro and Baker do an excellent job of distilling Berry's philosophy and fiction into an incisive critique of higher education culture. They focus on what David Brooks calls eulogy virtues rather than the resume virtues that universities are currently known for. They highlight how Berry is correct that many universities are largely servants of corporations: training workers and sorting knowledgeable people to be hired into the system of capitalism. But universities are more about developing whole people, who care for their place and people around them. It's a Christian calling and while the authors and Berry are Christian, the book is not evangelistic in tone. It simply resides in the knowledge that all truth is God's truth. The main draw back is if you are currently unfamiliar with Wendell Berry, you may be lost. The authors reference his fiction at length and their brief introductions may suffice for the most attentive readers, but those who know Berry's stories already will get the most out of this book's arguments.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

    Great Analysis and Application of Berry to Higher Education The authors provide balance, yet challenge the reader to reckon with Berry’s prophetic voice of reason for the cultivating of the mind and body.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Nathan Huffstutler

    I really enjoyed this review of the book. The reviewer points out that "Our nation’s top universities have embraced a detached, globalized approach to education." For example, "Yale assures visitors that it is training 'the next generation of world leaders.' Harvard boasts that it develops leaders 'who make a difference globally.' The University of Virginia, meanwhile, promises to foster 'illimitable minds,' and 'endless pursuit.'" In contrast, Berry reminds us that a calling to simply return to I really enjoyed this review of the book. The reviewer points out that "Our nation’s top universities have embraced a detached, globalized approach to education." For example, "Yale assures visitors that it is training 'the next generation of world leaders.' Harvard boasts that it develops leaders 'who make a difference globally.' The University of Virginia, meanwhile, promises to foster 'illimitable minds,' and 'endless pursuit.'" In contrast, Berry reminds us that a calling to simply return to our hometown and live a life of quiet service, rooted in a local community, is a high calling.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Tom

    This book is quite good, but no better than its source material. I appreciated the occasion to revisit Berry’s work, but I don’t know that I learned anything that I would not have known apart from the primary material. Still, a good book for administrators and faculty alike to reflect upon.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ivan

    I love Wendell Berry, and our evangelical culture needs more engagement with his thought. In a culture marked by restlessness and consumerism, this book on “cultivating virtues of place” is an oasis.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Eric

  7. 5 out of 5

    Chuck Huston

  8. 4 out of 5

    Aubrey

  9. 4 out of 5

    jennet wheatstonelllsl

  10. 5 out of 5

    Justin Metzger

  11. 4 out of 5

    Andi

  12. 4 out of 5

    Milk Badger

  13. 4 out of 5

    Ross Jensen

  14. 5 out of 5

    Zachary Barnes

  15. 4 out of 5

    Casey

    Our universities. Our education. We don't have to make it more expensive to make it intelligent. When are the refusals going to start coming. That would be really radical. We've become our careers - we are trained as a "living" - resume' virtues- where in the process of becoming something ; we are nothing- where we feel excluded even when we are "in it" - how bout knowledge for 💓 rather than competition - how bout knowledge as living participation rather than exploitable control - how bout we st Our universities. Our education. We don't have to make it more expensive to make it intelligent. When are the refusals going to start coming. That would be really radical. We've become our careers - we are trained as a "living" - resume' virtues- where in the process of becoming something ; we are nothing- where we feel excluded even when we are "in it" - how bout knowledge for 💓 rather than competition - how bout knowledge as living participation rather than exploitable control - how bout we stop reciting facts and start healing our contexts. It's a new soundtrack - dance to the beat - turned away from it all. Like a blind man. Under pressure 🎶🎶

  16. 5 out of 5

    Steve

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kelly Givens

  18. 5 out of 5

    Josh

  19. 5 out of 5

    Grant Humphreys

  20. 4 out of 5

    T.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Marcy

  22. 5 out of 5

    D

  23. 4 out of 5

    Bekah

  24. 5 out of 5

    Joe

  25. 4 out of 5

    David

  26. 4 out of 5

    Joshua Gentzler

  27. 5 out of 5

    Josh

  28. 5 out of 5

    Lauren Fernandez

  29. 5 out of 5

    Alison

  30. 4 out of 5

    Bill

  31. 5 out of 5

    Amber

  32. 5 out of 5

    Hannah Reeves

  33. 4 out of 5

    Garrett King

  34. 4 out of 5

    Emily

  35. 4 out of 5

    Kim Pyle

  36. 4 out of 5

    Jeanann

  37. 5 out of 5

    Arjun

  38. 5 out of 5

    Ethan Chitty

  39. 5 out of 5

    Eric

  40. 4 out of 5

    Judi

  41. 5 out of 5

    JPK

  42. 4 out of 5

    Sharon

  43. 5 out of 5

    Ben Andrus

  44. 4 out of 5

    Vanessa Johnson

  45. 5 out of 5

    Dominika

  46. 5 out of 5

    Katharine

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