Just a few more on the Road and Wheel before I move on…

I think I have probably about worn this wheel down into the road.  But Berry had two more ways of comparing these views and so I will treat each rather quickly in this post.

First, there is the “Road’s” desire for the new, the unique, and the original.  What’s behind is gone.  What is new is cool, interesting, and engaging.  There is no time for the past.  Everything is in the future.  The “Wheel” thinking person looks ahead as well, but by looking back he better sees the future, and in that future he sees renewal, the recurring.  In education, this has had severe consequences on both sides.  The Road path has led educrats to seek a new technique, new material, new ways of learning around every curve.  Meanwhile, the wheel thinkers have sought to renew the old in new ways.  Man is basically the same, so the same things must be taught, learned, and loved.  But the old idea fit to the new day is basically the same.  The Road cannot tell if it is the same or different: it only cares that it is new.  And then Quohelet’s phrase, “There is nothing new under the sun” comes thundering in and those on the Road have to hold their ears.


Second, and finally in this long list of comparisons, The Road seeks only life.  The here and now, this life, my life, is all that is considered.  But the Wheel must consider both life and death.  This is not it.  There is more than just this life.  There is the life before and after mine.  There is for some a life beyond this life (by some I simply mean that some people believe in life hereafter, others do not – as a Christian I certainly believe in such).  I believe that for both WB and myself this is the summary comparison.  Mention the end of the road to those on the Road and they grow nervous, perhaps even angry.  Why bring that up?  But mention death in the context of life to one viewing things with the Wheel and you get quite a different reaction: one of peace, unity, harmony, understanding, perhaps even joy.  And you can’t teach from either point of view without causing the same reactions in your students as you would have.  So for the Road, youth, long life, health, etc. are key ideas.  For the Wheel, it can include such considerations as how to die well, how to pass on things beyond our own life.  We can plant trees, invest in the millennium, and the like.  I think WB’s poem is the best way to end this extended meditation of the Road and Wheel:

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

(from Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” from The Country of Marriage, copyright © 1973 by Wendell Berry)


It’s About Life

I have been on a reading kick lately that has led me through more modern literature than I have ever read before.  The past two years have been a watershed for me as a reader and professionally.  Even as my reading has taken me deep into the “heart of darkness” my own life has met what I guess we all refer to as that “mid-life” crisis of seeking my vocation, of re-examining the foundations upon which I am to move forward.  I won’t say it has been fun.  It has not.  But it has been worth the difficulty and tears.  There is a refining process that is only found in the midst of fire.  There is no “cool” way to go through it.  And I am not done with it, and not sure if it will ever end, but I have been hesitant to share much of this darkness publicly such as on this blog.  But there are some things that should be shared.

Education is about life.  It is not a business.  It is not about production.  It must be brought to farming terms for it is about the forming of life.  The industrial model of our day does not promote learning, education, or life.  It churns out products, period.  And yet most of my career in education has been reduced and evaluated by the industrial model of education.  One friend, in commenting particularly on the money issue in education, said, “It’s like blood to the body.  The body is not about blood, but boy you sure need it.”  I think that sums up the issue of money, business, bottom line thinking in education well.  Money is not why education exists.  It cannot exist at least in its school form without it, but it does not exist to earn a profit of money.  It exists to grow a soul.

This confusion of ends is much of the trouble we have not only in education but in the general living of life these days.  There must be more to our existence than subsistence.  In this election year there are so many promises, so much angst about “the way things are” and the desire to elect someone who will make it better.  But at the heart of that is our appetites – what we want is what we will elect, always.  And there may be the problem.  We want the wrong things, perhaps.  We are too easily pleased with the notion that a good education will get us into X college, or will provide us with a job of Y salary.  We should want more.  It should be about life, not just money.