Wendell Berry and Higher Education: Cultivating Virtues of Place

Jack R. Baker and Jeffrey Bilbro. Univ. of Kentucky, $50 (268p) ISBN 978-0-8131-6902-6
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. As the book moves into its second part, “Cultivating Virtues of Place,” its conceit is more cumbersome. The connection between Berry’s work and the concepts of tradition, hierarchy, geography, and community—such as how Burley Coulter’s infidelity relates to the need “for educational institutions to be faithful members of their places”—requires pages of explanation, so much so as to undermine earlier arguments. Aside from these shortcomings, the authors present an enlightening interpretation of Wendell Berry’s philosophy for the pursuit of a holistic higher education. (June)
Reviewed on: 04/24/2017
Release date: 06/01/2017
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