Meet Mr. Thoreau / Student Writings, 2001

For several years now, I have been illuminated and, at times, nearly blinded by the radiant mind of one Henry David Thoreau. Apparently, a number of my students have found that same mind no less bright or inspiring. This book is the proof.

It all began for me in 1996, when I became obsessed with the idea that a replica of Thoreau's Cabin needed to be built at my school. Not only would the cabin serve to tie the school to its local history, but it would, through its very presence, offer a silent challenge to the consumer culture that engulfs so many of our students. A few years later, with the support of several foundations, technology teacher Joe Pacenka and I organized a class that succeeded in building the cabin. It was a memorable project.

As a follow-up, I created a course called "Meet Mr. Thoreau," which was intended to introduce students to the life and mind of the man who built the original cabin on the shores of Walden Pond in 1845.

Because it is a general elective, the class meets only twice a week and makes only modest academic demands. Students are asked to read four essays by Thoreau and miscellaneous journal entries. Beyond this, the course has students keeping their own journals, completing a "Seeing Nature" project, and, for their final effort, finding a creative way to illustrate their favorite Thoreau quotation. We also engage in a variety of Thoreauvian activities, including sauntering in the woods behind the school, taking a sunrise swim at Walden Pond, boating on the Concord River, staying alone in the cabin replica, and so on.

This book is a means of sharing some of the stunning work that students have done for the class. Perhaps this compilation will be experienced as a refreshing alternative to the current standardized test assessments that would have so horrified the sage of Concord.

"It is always essential that we love to do what we are doing, do it with a heart," Thoreau wrote in his journal on September 2, 1851.

This is work done "with a heart." The authors are high school students who were inspired by the spirit of a man who bemoaned the possibility that the wild apples he found in their home town might one day be unknown to them.

Here is a bushel basket of wild apples from Sudbury, Massachusetts.

Bill Schechter
Regional High School

March 2001


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