Monday, March 19, 2012

Walden - by Henry David Thoreau

I think the biggest obstacle I have to becoming a hermit (my long-time dream) is that I would miss people. I have suggested to my husband that we build a log cabin and go be hermits together (my friends point out that such a dwelling is more properly called a "love shack", rather than hermitage) but he likes being a New England professor too much to give it up. We have, however, visited Walden pond a number of times since we moved to Massachusetts and I often ponder Thoreau's deliberate residence there, although I had never read his book about it. One of the most interesting things I  learned from  this work is that my fellow Unitarian Universalist actually had plenty of company, and not just of the wildlife / varmit type either. Turns out folks frequently stopped by, and he made his own way in to town on occasion. It seems he found the perfect way to be a hermit, without being lonely.

Walden is divided into 18 thematic chapters. The first two "Economy" and "Where I Lived, and What I Lived for" were rather long, but the rest were shorter essays. One of these is on "Reading" and the importance lifelong learning and reading books, but not just any books, not the "Little Reading" of "several volumes in [the] Circulating Library" that will not help to expand our minds, but rather will keep us as children by keeping "our reading, our conversation, and thinking...all on a very low level, worthy only of pygmies and manikins." As a society we should "not stop short at a pedagogue, a parson, a sexton, a parish library, and three selectman because our pilgrim forefathers got through a cold winter once on a bleak rock with these." Thoreau advocates for villages in New England to "act collectively" to "hire all the wise men in the world to come and teach her (New England)."  Instead of noblemen, let us have noble villages of men."

Thoreau eloquently speaks to both my passions - of reading, and of learning for its own sake. I am afraid that the educational assessment craze will cause colleges and universities to become less effective at teaching students to learn as they (the universities) are forced, through political motives, to move toward "measuring outcomes".

My daugher, Paloma, in deep thought at Walden Pond - Halloween 1999

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