Thoreau Essay Research Paper Henry David Thoreau

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Thoreau Essay, Research Paper Henry David Thoreau On Education Brad Crowley Professor Giavanni English Comp II 12 April 2000 Henry David Thoreau On Education Thoreau’s relation to the institution of education has been problematic. He entered the teaching profession early, as an undergraduate, and left it a few years later, when he closed the private school he had conducted with his brother. Although there were external reasons for this action, Thoreau’s departure from teaching also resulted from disillusion with the conventional classroom, a growing sense that it prevented learning rather then fostering it. Despite having undergone a formal education at Harvard University, Thoreau challenged existing teaching standards and sought to implement idealistic educational

principles. He emphasized a deep respect for the local and concrete as the basis of all learning, education through experience as intrinsically valuable, and a vision of schooling in which knowledge is as much constructed as it is transmitted. Also, placing focus where it really should be, he increasingly came to feel that “it is strange that men are in such haste to get fame as teachers rather then knowledge as learners” (Allen 217). He spent the rest of his life learning and writing; the two were usually the same for him. He never lost his concern for teaching, both envisioning better ways to go about it and launching a powerful critique of the way it was usually done: “What does education often do! – It makes a strait-cut ditch of a free, meandering brook” (Allen

312). Because he stands outside the mainstream of educational practice, Thoreau can help us transcend the false oppositions that have arisen between traditionalists and progressives, between advocates of traditional education, and those of openness and creativity. Thoreau envisioned and enacted a necessary synthesis, a working dialectic of thinking and doing, of transmitting old cultural forms and creating new ones, and of democratic schooling and the pursuit of excellence (Hovde 18). Joseph Krutch, a Thoreau historian details that Thoreau can help us reconcile these self-defeating oppositions because he himself was a doer and a thinker, an innovative teacher, and a speculative writer. Although his career as a classroom teacher ended early, he continued to reflect on the process

of education throughout the voluminous writings that recorded and shaped his own low-key but intensely experienced life. He embodied the notion of continuing education and lifelong learning. Thoreau was an advocate for continuing education more fundamentally in the sense that he knew that no that no system is sufficient or permanent, that to be responsively alive is to be a perpetual learner, always aware of both the possibilities and the limits of one’s current knowledge. Thoreau remained a learner of how he learned, keeping in his journal a series of internal reflections. His journal is one of the most thorough and detailed records we have of fruitful insights between world and mind, experiencing and conceptualizing, living and writing (Allen 12). The fact that Thoreau’s

educational philosophy was rooted in his own immediate experience does not mean that this philosophy was eccentric or narrowly personal. Thoreau’s vision of education can best be explained and appreciated by viewing it as part of the “tradition of the active mind” (Hovde 8). The term tradition is somewhat contradictory here, since this flowing together of thinking seeks to free itself from the grip of the past in favor of the immediate act of the mind encountering the world. The active mind trusts its own workings over any previous formulations, whether by itself or others. It has played a vital part in our educational history, although ignored or suppressed by forces Thoreau constantly battled: unthinking routine, institutional inertia, and blind authoritarianism. This