Theses Doctoral

“The Prophetic American Voice of Our Day”: The Implications of Wendell Berry’s Cultural Critique for American Education in the Twenty-first Century

Driver, Betty Ann

This study examines Wendell Berry’s cultural critique to identify implications for American education. It explores three themes in Berry’s fiction: land and place, community, and character, and considers Berry’s observations about education in his non-fiction and interviews.
The health of natural resources is a fundamental value for Berry who believes that human beings have a moral obligation to be stewards of the Earth. Practicing stewardship enables the creation of valuable places. A vital connection links the health of the natural world and human community. Healthy communities are radically inclusive, work for a sustainable future, and care for those with special needs. Community “members” exemplify qualities of character, knowledge of the community, good work, and neighborliness, all essential for responsible stewardship.
The study assesses Berry’s claims that: (1) formal schooling often lacks vibrant association with the local community; (2) our reliance on discrete academic disciplines fosters over-specialization and academic isolation; and (3) the standard for education should be revamped to focus on the health of the community rather than job preparation. American education often serves economic and political agendas that ignore the well-being of natural resources and human communities.
In spite of our daunting challenges, Berry maintains hope and charts constructive steps forward. Students learn best, he believes, through apprenticeship and mentoring. The study concludes that with substantive changes education can play a major role in enabling students to grasp the needs of a healthy, life-supporting planet and to develop the skills, values, and disciplines of responsible community members. Replacing corporate-dominated, technology-driven, and shortsighted attitudes and behaviors with restorative practices and values requires commitment from all of society’s sectors, and perhaps especially from our schools, colleges, and universities.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Arts and Humanities
Thesis Advisors
Budin, Howard R.
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
June 4, 2018