Henry David Thoreau, Walden, And Transcendental Values For Education

968 words - 4 pages

Henry David Thoreau was testing transcendental values when he took up residence at Walden Pond in 1845. During his time of simple living at the pond, he studied nature and applied those observations to humans and everyday life. He was always learning from the woods, pond, meadows and animals in the natural world around him. Nature was his classroom and everything was an opportunity to learn. In Thoreau’s book, Walden , written at the pond, he theorized that education could come through an intimacy with nature and the end of education would come with death.
Even while Thoreau was young he never agreed with a traditional classroom setting. Attending Harvard corrupted his belief of the current education system. In his eyes, school, “prevents learning rather than fosters it.” (Bickman) There are many aspects of traditional schooling Thoreau does not agree with. For example, punishment was unacceptable. After studying at Harvard, while teaching at a small college prep school, he was told his class was unruly and should resort to corporal punishment more frequently. This caused Thoreau to quit the school because of his strict opposition to that type of reprimanding. Amos Bronson Alcott, a 19th century teacher, also frowns upon corporal punishment and looks up to Thoreau’s education values. Alcott, in Correspondence, writes, “[He] chooses to see education not simply a means, a preparation for something else, but as intrinsically valuable.” Despite his opposition to schooling, Thoreau and his brother opened The Concord Academy, which created, “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.”(Bickman). At his school the lessons were supplemented with activities that brought education beyond classroom walls. Thoreau takes inspiration from John Dewey, a philosopher who supported lifelong education. Dewey believes that in today’s education system, “the teacher’s business is to hold the pupils up to requirements and to punish the inevitable deviations which occur,” (Democracy and Education). Thoreau sought to reform the educational system through outdoor observations.
Working outside the classroom, taking lessons from nature is very important to Thoreau. Throughout Walden his transcendental educational values are shown. In the second chapter, Where I Lived and what I Lived For he begins an education theme. His goal for living in the wood is to learn and strive for enlightenment. He went so far as to say, “see if I could not learn what [nature] had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived”(Walden). Thoreau wanted to find the truths of life and the only way that could happen is to become close to nature. He takes every opportunity to observe nature. While observing a war between two races of ants on his wood pile and an ignorant ant couple nearby, he takes note on the...

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