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Working for Social Justice Inside and Outside the Classroom

A Community of Students, Teachers, Researchers, and Activists

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Edited By Nancye E. McCrary and E. Wayne Ross

What were once distinct professions for serving others and building knowledge are now communities of workers struggling against a tide of increasingly unregulated capitalism that is being fed by human greed. Teachers have become education workers, joining a working class that is rapidly falling behind and that is increasingly being silenced by the power elite who control nearly all the wealth that once supported a thriving middle class. Working for Social Justice Inside and Outside the Classroom delivers critical counter-narratives aimed at resisting the insatiable greed of a few and supporting a common good for most. The book is dedicated to hopeful communities working against perpetual war, the destruction of our natural environment, increasing poverty, and social inequalities as they fight to preserve democratic ideals in a just and sustainable world. Written by some of the most influential thinkers of our time, this collection is a tapestry of social justice issues woven in and out of formal and informal education.
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Chapter Thirteen: “Putting First Things First”: Obligation and Affection in Ecological Agrarian Education

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THIRTEEN

“Putting First Things First”: Obligation and Affection in Ecological Agrarian Education

Leah Bayens

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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