Commonplace Book #133

… a good teacher is the trustee of a vital and delicate organism: the life of the mind in his community.  The ultimate and defining standards of his discipline is his community’s health and intelligence and coherence and endurance.  This is a high calling, deserving of a life’s work.  We have allowed it to degenerate into careerism and specialization….Education is coming to be, not a long-term investment in young minds and in the life of the community, but a short-term investment in the economy.  We want to be able to tell how many dollars an education is worth and how soon it will begin to pay.  

To accommodate these frivolous desires, education becomes training and specialization, which is to say,  it institutionalizes and justified ignorance and intellectual irresponsibility….The careerist teacher judges himself, and is judged by his colleagues, not by the influence he is having upon his students or the community, but by the size of his salary and the status of the place to which his career has taken him thus far.  And, typically, he is where he is only temporarily; he is on his way to a more lucrative and prestigious place.  Because so few stay around to be aware of the effects of their work, teachers are not judged by their teaching, but by the short-term incidentals of publication and “service.”  That teaching is a long-term service, that a teacher’s best work may be published in the children or grandchildren of his students cannot be considered, for the modern educator, like his “practical” brethren in business and industry, will honor nothing that he cannot see.

Wendell Berry, “Discipline and Hope,” in A Continuous Harmony: Essays Cultural and Agricultural (1970), 135-137.