The Whole Horse Project Posts

A Missive from India

By Aparajita Sengupta

Response to “The Progressive Urban Consumption Complex” by Danny Mayer

Since last year, our family of three has been living in a village, growing most of our own food on two acres of land using natural farming methods. We have no full-time employees, no external funding from anywhere, and our business plan, if we must call it so, is to lower our spending, sell our excess locally, host volunteers and share the little we know. I guess people see us as the new generation of back-to-landers in India, typically upper-middle class, upper-caste professionals who got fed up with their high-paying corporate jobs, and decided to come back to the land with their savings from said corporate jobs.

Read More The Slow Process of Real Life:


By Danny Mayer

June Featured Essay

One of the effects of a globalized world, geographer David Harvey has observed, is a more localized world centered around cities and their regions. In the U.S., the rise of city-regions has unsettled older assumptions of red-state conservatism competing against blue-state liberalism. It may be more accurate now to describe prosperous blue belts of urban progressivism surrounded by receding red seas of rural libertarianism. This transformation has enabled new centers of power that—if you are left-leaning like me—should herald a more fair, just, and culturally interesting world. Except that it hasn’t. This four-part series asks why that is.


Read More The Progressive Urban Consumption Complex

Danny Mayer

By Ryan Koch

Response to “Institutionalizing Affection” by Leah Bayens

Editor’s note: Ryan is the director of Seedleaf, a community gardening non-profit in Lexington, Kentucky.

I have been growing gardens in small city lots over the past nine years, learning loads along the way. The learning never stops, though some days I wish it would. This is not the work for which I trained. In fact, I had a very difficult time discovering the work for which I trained. I was glad to finish college, approximately on time, but I did not come out with much of a plan to make a living, or to build or nurture anything. I vaguely recall having a great list of unanswerable questions in my imagination, and I took some pride in this.

Read More Telling Garden Stories


By Leah Bayens

March Featured Essay

Editor’s note: this is part two of Leah’s two-part series on the Berry Farming and Ecological Agrarianism Program at St. Catharine College in Kentucky. Part one, “A Way of Thought Based on Land,” introduced readers to Wendell Berry’s vision and an affection-based curriculum. PBS has also recently featured Wendell Berry and the program; watch the PBS video here.

I am aware of the potential damage of institutionalizing “land affection”—or institutionalizing anything, for that matter. Berry, after all, has long censured the “fierce and protective orthodoxy” of scientific, agricultural, political, economic, and religious institutions that reinforce the status quo. He writes that our “history forbids us to be surprised that an orthodoxy of thought should become narrow, rigid, mercenary, morally corrupt, and vengeful against dissenters.” So why would we be interested in institutionalizing agrarian thought within a college run by Catholic sisters?

Read More Institutionalizing Affection

Leah Bayens

By Tara M. Tuttle

Response to “Institutionalizing Agrarian Thought” by Leah Bayens

Doing activist work in an institution is tricky. Institutional practices can suppress activism in a variety of ways including discouraging dissent, depleting resources of time and energy, and distancing activists from the individuals directly affected by the very injustices they are trying to prevent. On the other hand, institutions sometimes support activism through providing funding, disseminating information, coordinating volunteer or paid labor, or hosting space for public dialogue. Social justice educators and activists working in institutions must navigate this confusing and often contradictory landscape.


Read More Flint and the Need for Institutional Affection


Institutionalizing Agrarian Thought

By Leah Bayens

February Featured Essay

Editor’s note: this is part one of Leah’s two-part series on the Berry Farming and Ecological Agrarianism Program at St. Catharine College in Kentucky. PBS has also recently featured Wendell Berry and the program; watch the PBS video here.

Before I ever met him, Wendell Berry had already influenced some of my most deeply held beliefs. This is not particularly novel. People from across the country and further afield say the same of their experience reading this Kentucky farmer and writer’s essays, fiction, and poetry. His aficionados run the gamut: farmers, teachers, writers, women religious, monks, economists, gardeners, shopkeepers, journalists, heiresses, artists, researchers of all stripes, community organizers, doctors, cooks, ascetics, distillers, lawyers, politicians, conservationists, preservationist, wilderness advocates, and even the President of the United States and the Prince of Wales.

Visitors to Berry’s Henry County, Kentucky, farm lay out their personal and philosophical quandaries, seeking his advice on farming practices and on peaceable ways in the presence of fear. Colleges and universities grant him honorary degrees, citing, as Duke University did, their admiration for Berry’s “respect for the land, love of community, and the stewardship of creation,” as well as his “belief that industrialization poses a threat to the natural world.” The U.S. government bestows on him the nation’s highest honors, recognizing his persistence as “a great contrary to the compromises others take in stride” and his defense of “what is being lost to the forces of modernization.” Economists look to him for counsel about how to reunite ecology and economy through oikos, home, or as Berry puts it, “the making of the human household upon the earth: the arts of adapting kindly the many human households to the earth’s many ecosystems and human neighborhoods.”

Read More “A Way of Thought Based on Land”:

Leah Bayens

Teaching in an Age of Ahistorical Individualism

By Matt Godbey

Response to “Teaching Amid Terror: A Meditation on Whiteness

Beth Connors-Manke’s “Teaching Amid Terror” offers a profound and profoundly necessary reflection on the role of teachers and educators in a time of increased violence against black bodies by individuals and institutions tasked with protecting them. For all of us, it is a reminder that in America when we talk about race the past is never the past. For white educators, especially those like me who focus on and teach African-American literature, it reminds us as well that whiteness is an identity whose roots are grounded in racism and, though we abhor and reject racism and violence, we nonetheless have profited from our whiteness and owe it to our students to acknowledge such privilege. Further, as she writes, this has never been more true than it is now, when college campuses are increasingly corporatized and pledging fealty to the seductive allure of neoliberalism’s promise of profits and shiny new facilities.


Read More From Effigy to Empathy:


A Meditation on Whiteness

By Beth Connors-Manke

October Featured Essay

Note: in August The Whole Horse Project published Jeff Gross’s “Into the Caldron: Neoliberalism, Ideology, Education and Life Itself” which discussed, in part, the controversy over social media posts by sociology professor Zandria F. Robinson. Below is an extended reflection sparked by one of Robinson’s tweets.

“Whiteness is most certainly and inevitably terror.” –Tweet by Zandria F. Robinson

An assertion like this—an assertion so sweeping—troubles me. Many categorical statements, like this one, aren’t true. They need qualifiers; they need limits set on them.

Like this: Whiteness is most certainly and inevitably terror when a man walks into a church and kills nine church folk during Bible study.

Or, like this: Whiteness is most certainly and inevitably terror when a police officer shoots a 12-year-old boy dead in a park.

It’s hard to argue with those qualified statements, although a number of people still would. But maybe what troubles me here isn’t that lack of qualifiers—maybe it’s the definition of whiteness.


Read More Teaching Amid Terror:

Beth Connors-Manke

By Leigh M. Johnson

Response to “Into the Caldron

If there is an award for packing the most multivalent and oft-exploited terms into a single essay title, Jeff Gross should win it for what follows “Into the Caldron”: neoliberalism, ideology, education, and life itself. Those four words and things are the conversational equivalent of IEDs in the Academy these days. Buried along the discursive roadside, lying in wait for some poor soul with insufficiently protective theoretical armor to trip their wires and unleash their autoschediastic havoc, these are the sorts of broad conceptual terms that earn students demerits in their essays—What exactly do you mean by this? Define your terms. Be Specific.—though I suspect many of us worry that we’re also hand-waving in the general direction of mysterious phenomenon most of the time we employ them.

If there is another award for clearly and succinctly explicating workable definitions of “neoliberalism,” “ideology,” and “education” in the service of an eminently persuasive argument about what really matters in and for “life itself,” Gross should win that prize as well.


Read More Shut Up and Teach


Neoliberalism, Ideology, Education, and Life Itself

By Jeff Gross

August Featured Essay

When I started college during the fall of 1998, our entire incoming class was given Canisius College t-shirts with the following oft-cited John Dewey “quotation” on the backs: “Education is not preparation for life but life itself.” The passage is bastardized from two different Dewey pieces. In “Self-Realization as the Moral Ideal,” Dewey suggests, “if I were asked to name the most needed of all reforms in the spirit of education, I should say: ‘Cease conceiving of education as mere preparation for later life, and make it the full meaning of the present life.’” His quotation would take up a little more space on the back of a t-shirt or on a bumper sticker, though the oft-cited misquote seems to grasp the core of Dewey’s sentiment. Later, Dewey returns to the idea in “Educational Lectures before Brigham Young Academy, 2. Social Aspects of Education,” where he describes one of the purposes of education as the “social idea”: “The definition which it offers is that education is the preparation for the social position of life, the preparation of the individual to play his proper part in the community or state of which he is a member.” Dewey’s sentiments echoed Thomas Jefferson’s ideals for higher education in the United States as a space where a citizenry capable of self-government would emerge.

That same semester, as our t-shirts proclaimed a celebration of the intellectual experience of education and the meaningfulness of education for life, signs of a different meaning of college were all around. Bookstore bags, from the eFollett campus store, were preloaded with brochures and offers for credit cards and magazine subscriptions. The financial aid office recommended Sallie Mae loans. Education as an idea and education as an enterprise shared common ground, but a battle was afoot on campuses all over for which version of education would win. The subsequent decades have shown the battle lines emerge, especially as neoliberalism and conservatism have aligned to attack liberal arts programs as well as programs specifically aimed at the studies of racism, sexism, ecology, and poverty. Donors have influenced hiring; governors and legislators have pressured programs and orchestrated financial attacks, which—done in the name of austerity—have forced universities to be remade in a revenue-driven way.

Today, we’re left in a precarious position where university faculty and students can no longer question everything because academic departments are cut in the name of austerity and academic freedom is undermined. In this paradigm, if we apply the ethos that education is supposed to be life itself, then we end up with a system in which not all lives matter, especially those already decentered from power.

Read More Into the Caldron:

Jeff Gross