Wendell Berry on Education and Scholorship

Wendell Barry: “My approach to education would be like my approach to everything else. I’d change the standard. I would make the standard that of community health rather than the career of the student. You see, if you make the standard the health of the community, that would change everything. Once you begin to ask what is best for the community, what’s the best thing we can do here for our community, you can’t rule out any kind of knowledge. You need to know everything you can possibly know. So, once you raise that standard of the health of the community, all the departmental walls fall down, because you no longer feel that it’s safe not to know something. And then you begin to see that these supposedly  discreet and separate disciplines, these, “specializations,” aren’t separate at all, but are connected. And of course our mistakes, over and over again, show us what these connections are, or show us that these connections exist.”

Jordan Fisher Smith: “So this calls into question, doesn’t it, the whole structure of postgraduate work where people find a tiny speciality to become the worlds foremost expert on it?”

Wendell Barry: “It calls into question the whole organization of intelligence in the modern world. We’re teaching as if the purpose of knowledge is to help people have careers, or to make themselves better employees, and that is a great and tragic mistake.”

Wendell Barry:” There’s a difference between thinking about problems and having problems. Where experts are thinking about problems, the people who have have problems are usually absent, or not even well represented. The only way out of this is for the teacher, the person of learning, the researcher, the intellectual, the artist, the scientist, to make common cause with a community. They must commit themselves to a community in such a way that they share the fate of that community — participate in it’s losses and trials and griefs and hardships and joys and satisfactions — so that they don’t have this ridiculous immunity that they now have in their specializations and careers. Then they would begin to learn something.”

From Conversations with Wendell Berry, edited by Morris Allen Grubbs, 2007.

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