LIBERAL ARTS for the whole human being
Thoreau College is dedicated to the revitalization of higher education, starting with a re-imagining of the liberal arts curriculum towards the goal of fostering the higher development of whole human beings. Our sources of inspiration are many - including the archetypal life and writings of Henry David Thoreau, the example of Deep Springs College as a living model of threefold higher education, and the classical academic canon of the Great Books colleges. Above all, we are inspired by Rudolf Steiner’s vision of the human being as a threefold being of Body, Soul, and Spirit, enmeshed as an integral participant in the ongoing evolution of the cosmos. What follows is a brief sketch of how the intentions and inspirations behind Thoreau College might manifest in practice in the form of an undergraduate liberal arts experience in three distinct phases:
During their first two undergraduate years, Thoreau College students engage in a broad array of academic, artistic, practical, social, and spiritual experiences, a liberal arts education expanded to its widest possible frame. A major theme of these years is the relationship between the human being and the natural world, explored through immersive experiences in the local environment, through the great mythic stories of creation and natural forces found in world culture, through agricultural work, and through the practice of empathic observation of nature, as described in the writings of Thoreau, Goethe, Steiner, Aldo Leopold, and others. With this grounding, students embark on a systematic reading and open discussion of key texts of Western and Eastern philosophy and literature, focusing on themes such as the development of epistemology, models of the cosmos, ideas of justice, beauty, and morality, and archetypal stories of individual human development. These studies are accompanied by ongoing engagement in many practical and artistic activities, as well as by service in the community and participation in college self-governance.
All the pursuits of the Foundation years guide the student into contemplative inquiry, where questions like: What does all this mean to me?, and, What am I going to do about it?, are considered in sober earnest. This culminates in a Walden-esque contemplative experience, the pivot-point in the student’s journey, at the end of the second year. This might take the form of a solo wilderness expedition, a pilgrimage by foot, bicycle, or kayak, or simply an extended period of solitude and reflection in nature similar to that which Thoreau created for himself at Walden Pond.
Leading from the inspiration thus awakened, the student enters the culminating years of their Thoreau College journey, during which they embark on an individual, self-designed Mission. Each student works to define a task for themselves, one which calls them to become more for the sake of others and which will have enduring meaning for their future lives. Missions may take many forms, such as the creation and presentation of great works of art, the publication of works of intellectual and scientific research and writing, the creation of new businesses and organizations, or the invention and refinement of new technologies. Whatever their form and content, these capstone Mission projects are expected to be ambitiously designed and rigorously pursued and to make a real impact on the world as a result of their completion.
LOCAL COMMUNITY PARTNERS
Thoreau College considers Viroqua and the Driftless Region in general to be our campus and we seek to embed the liberal arts experience of our students deeply in the social, cultural, and economic life of our vibrant rural community. In Concord, Mass., Henry David Thoreau was known as a versatile and helpful jack-of-all-trades - always ready to help put in a garden, tutor children, survey a plot of land, or join in a harvest of wild foods. It is our hope that the small group of Thoreau College students - envisioned as no more than 30 people - will come to play this kind of role in our own community, thereby enriching it in myriad ways while also augmenting and helping to financially support their studies. We are seeking partners of all kinds in the local area - farms, schools, businesses, community organizations, artists, craftspeople, healers, and caregivers - who would be willing to work with Thoreau College students in some fashion. This might be paid part-time employment, work in exchange for food or other goods, internship and apprenticeship opportunities, or opportunities for interesting and meaningful unpaid service work. Even more fundamentally, we would like to identify a circle of individual and institutional partners in our unique local community who are willing to be recognized as supporters of this project.