Henry David Thoreau was born on July 12, 1817, in Concord, Massachusetts. He was an essayist, poet, naturalist, schoolteacher, and political activist. Thoreau is perhaps best known for his literary works such as Walden and Civil Disobedience. He also tutored Louisa May Alcott (she fictionalized him as Mr. Hyde in Little Men). Thoreau believed that children should not have to study exclusively from texts, so he created a curriculum that included journal writing (rather than just memorization and recitation) and field trips (to the countryside for nature study, as well as to the local newspaper office, gunsmith, etc.). Although he ended his classroom career early to spend the rest of his life learning and writing, Thoreau continued to reflect on the process of teaching and he was a pioneer in adult education.
Quotes by Thoreau, from Learning for Life: Educational Words of Wisdom:
“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”
“A river, with its waterfalls and meadows, a lake, a hill, a cliff or individual rocks, a forest and ancient trees standing singly. Such things are beautiful; they have a high use which dollars and cents never represent. If the inhabitants of a town were wise, they would seek to preserve these things, though at a considerable expense; for such things educate far more than any hired teachers or preachers, or any at present recognized system of school education.”
“We saw one schoolhouse on our walk and listened to the sounds which issued from it; but it appeared like a place where the process, not of enlightening, but of obfuscating the mind was going on.”
“We boast of our system of education, but why stop at schoolmasters and schoolhouses? We are all schoolmasters, and our schoolhouse is the universe.”
“There are nowadays professors of philosophy, but not philosophers.”
“Which would have advanced the most at the end of a month, –the boy who had made his own jackknife from the ore which he had dug and smelted, reading as much as would be necessary for this—or the boy who had attended the lectures on metallurgy at the Institute in the mean while, and had received a Rogers’ penknife from his father. Which would be most likely to cut his fingers?”
“The Scripture rule, “Unto him that hath shall be given,” is true of composition. The more you have thought and written on a given theme, the more you can still write. Thought breeds thought. It grows under your hands.”
“We do not learn much from learned books, but from true, sincere, human books, from frank and honest biographies.
“Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.”
“A man receives only what he is ready to receive, whether physically or intellectually or morally… By and by we may be ready to receive what we cannot receive now.”
“I do not know that knowledge amounts to anything more definite than a novel and grand surprise on a sudden revelation of the insufficiency of all that we had called knowledge before.”
“A nation may be ever so civilized and yet lack wisdom.”