I recently had the pleasure of attending “An Evening with Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson,” one of the highlights of Edible Austin’s Eat Drink Local Week. It was a fascinating, wide-ranging dialogue between two of the world’s most interesting and important thinkers about food, agriculture, sustainability, and—yes, indeed— education.
Berry’s remarks that evening led me to revisit some of his writings (which are many and varied, including poetry, essays, and fiction) as well as his always enlightening interviews. In one such interview, published back in 1993 by Jordan Fisher-Smith, he articulated what for me are the most valuable characteristics of the schools here at Alt Ed Austin:
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’s the best thing that we can do here for our community, you can’t rule out any kind of knowledge. You need to know everything you possibly can know. So, . . . all the departmental walls fall down, because you can no longer feel that it’s safe not to know something. And then you begin to see that these supposedly discrete 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 the connections are, or show us that connections exist.
The people I’ve met and observed at these little schools share a deep sense of community and an understanding that real education is about seeing and making connections. I believe Wendell would approve.