Thoreau and The College Experience

I realized the other day that everything I’ve learned about how to teach has come from one of these three places:  

1 – Watching both my parents teach 

2 – Actually being a teacher and everything that entails —  constant personal reflection, and constant feedback and support from other teachers and administrators etc.

3 – Using some good old-fashioned common sense

On that note, here is a nugget of wisdom from Mr. Thoreau about college:  

Thoreau built his house with his own hands for $28. At that time, a student paid $30/year just to rent a residency while studying at Cambridge.  He believed that the kids should build their own places to stay, and while they’re at it, chop down most of their worthless studies too.  The result:  a more basic, fundamental understanding of life that would strengthen the community and stop the cycle of debt.


“But, says one, you do not mean that the students should go to work with their hands instead of their heads?”

“I mean that they should not play it or study it merely, but earnestly live it from beginning to end.  How could youths better learn to live than by at once trying the experiment of living?  Methinks this would exercise their minds as much as mathematics.  If I wished a boy to know something about the arts and sciences, for instance, I would not pursue the common course, which is merely to send him into the neighborhood of some professor, where anything is professed and practiced but the art of life; – to survey the world through a telescope or a microscope, and never with his natural eye; to study chemistry, and not learn how his bread is made, or mechanics, and not learn how it is earned; to discover new satellites to Neptune, and not detect the motes in his eyes, or to what vagabond he is a satellite himself; or to be devoured by the monsters that swarm all around him, while contemplating the monsters in a drop of vinegar.”  

“Men say they know many things, 

But lo! They have taken wings, —

The arts and sciences,

And a thousand appliances;

The wind that blows

Is all that anybody knows.”

*Excerpts taken from “Building the House” and “Economy” in Walden


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