How We Measure “Success”

Because of the obsession with short-term results that may be contained with the terms and demands of a single life, the interest of community is displaced by the interest of career. 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 number of his publications, the size of his salary and the status of the place to which his career has taken him thus far. And in ambition he is where he is only temporarily; he is on his way to a more lucrative and prestigious place. Because so few stay to be aware of the effects of their works, 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 of 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, A Continuous Harmony: Essays Cultural and Agricultural (HT: Chris Gordon)

Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!


  1. As a professional swindler of the young and their families–oops, teacher–I couldn’t agree more. Berry’s comments are precisely the reason why I too often feel that I am doing something other than what I truly signed on to do. While I recognize that getting the information across to the young is indeed a “practical” matter, too often “practicalities” obscure the whole issue of the transmission of knowledge.

    • Kepha,

      As the federal government has become more deeply involved in education, since the formation of the Dept of Education as a cabinet-level dept in Carter Administration, educators and administrators have been pushed (and are being positively shoved now) to quantify everything. People do that for which they are rewarded and if teachers are rewarded for hitting a qualitative mark for publishing etc then that’s what they will do.

      I’ve been influenced by Mark Schwehn’s Exiles From Eden. Teachers, at the post-secondary level anyway, should be researchers but that they are researchers first is a Weberian premise that Schwehn came to doubt. I think he’s right. Teaching, communicating, forming students is a valuable vocation and it’s typically American to trade what cannot be measured easily in favor of the busy (production) or that which can be measured more easily.

Comments are closed.