A Community of Students, Teachers, Researchers, and Activists
Edited By Nancye E. McCrary and E. Wayne Ross
Chapter Thirteen: “Putting First Things First”: Obligation and Affection in Ecological Agrarian Education
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“Putting First Things First”: Obligation and Affection in Ecological Agrarian Education
In a 2009 commencement address at Northern Kentucky University, farmer and writer Wendell Berry (2010) calls out higher education’s “Upward Mobility major” as an instigator of “social instability, ecological oblivion, and economic insecurity” (pp. 32, 33). The upward mobility major, he argues, “has put our schools far too much at the service of what we have been calling overconfidently our economy” (p. 32). It has been preparing graduates for “expert servitude to the corporations” (p. 32) rather than for reciprocal community membership. Echoing his colleague Wes Jackson, Berry calls for an alternative: a major in “Homecoming,” a curriculum that, rather than leading up and away from socio-ecological communities, brings students down to earth. A homecoming major, as Jackson (1996) puts it, educates “the young to return home, or to go some other place, and dig in” (p. 3).
To be sure, as access to postsecondary education expanded in the United States, it tended to separate students from the cultural and ecological contexts they inhabited. As a result, our colleges and universities generally fall short of Berry’s exhortation to “draw succinct and tangible connections between education and communities and the land” (personal communication, January 12, 2012). Instead, college advertisements and curricula often construe education as job training, as a product to be traded in exchange for employment—wherever that happens to be—and...
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