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The curriculum of the Thoreau College Semester Program will be a tapestry woven of five different interlocking strands embracing the full range of human experience, laid over the natural contours of the seasons as they transition from summer, through autumn, and into winter.  Each strand will be interdisciplinary in nature and integrated coherently into the program as a whole and each will involve work with a variety of different local and visiting faculty. These strands will focus on the study of great books and natural phenomena, community self-governance and inner development, manual labor and practical skills, artistic practice, and wilderness group and solo expeditions.

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H U M A N S & N A T U R E S E M I N A R

Faculty Steward: Jacob Hundt

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A broad tradition in Western thought and culture has for centuries held that nature and humankind are fundamentally opposed to and in conflict with one another. Whether in folk tales filled with dark forests and dangerous animals, or in economic drives to drain the swamps and subdue the virgin soil, or environmental narratives of humankind as a disease infecting and polluting the purity of wild nature, the story told in Western culture has long been one of unceasing warfare between ancient and irreconcilable foes. At this moment of unprecedented ecological crisis, the need to answer Wendell Berry’s urgent question “What are people for?” on both a personal and a societal level has never been more critical. Fortunately, many promising seeds have been planted for a holistic reconciliation of the nature-human dichotomy. These include the wedding of indigenous wisdom to the spirit of scientific inquiry, as well as the growing movement to reimagine the ways in which we produce food and steward land, such as regenerative agriculture, permaculture, and biodynamics.


Throughout this semester, we will explore the origins and consequences of the apparent dichotomy between humans and nature through the lenses of literature, science, mythology, art, and religion, as well as through immersions in natural places and guided introductions to our old and new neighbors, the plants, animals, landscapes, and natural forces of the Driftless Region.  The course will be anchored by the study of texts by three writers who addressed this issue from distinctive perspectives over the course of the past 200 years - Walden by Henry David Thoreau, Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer, and Saving the Appearances by Owen Barfield.  These landmark texts will be supported by excerpts from ancient wisdom literature, conservation scientists, poets, and philosophers, but also by hands-in-soil engagement with biodynamic agriculture and permaculture, by botanical drawing and plant identification, by nature journaling and poetry writing, and by expeditions and hikes throughout the region.

W I L D E R N E S S E X P E D I T I O N S

Faculty Steward: Dave Puig

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"Expeditions ask us to step up to our lives, take initiative, problem solve, work together, and live into the truth that the only way out is through.  Arriving at the end is never the true goal, only the means to a richer and deeper experience. They are meant to be uncomfortable, meant to challenge us, meant to take us new places--within the world and within ourselves.  Our lives are full of journeys. At Thoreau College we embrace the wisdom of journeys as mirrors, reflecting the qualities of our strengths and clarifying the steps we have yet to take toward our best selves.

We camp.   We take retreat in the woods.  We live communally. We govern ourselves.  We challenge each other. We grow with the seasons.  We take the next step. We say yes." Dave Puig, Expedition Faculty and Student Mentor

During the Thoreau College Semester Program, there will be several week-long group expeditions, as well as guided overnight solo experiences in nature. Expeditions will give students time away from the established context and routine for reflection and renewed perspective on themselves, our environment and our work together. Dave Puig, who has 14 years of experience as a wilderness instructor,  will lead our expeditions as well as mentor students individually and advise the student body about self-governance and community living.

I N NE R D E V E L O P M E N T A N D C O N S C I O U S C O M M U N I T Y

A S A P A T H T O S O C I A L C H A N G E

Faculty Steward: Robert (Karp) Karbelnikoff

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At the beginning of the twenty-first century, probably for the first time in human history, the living presence of the abyss—that is, the simultaneous existence of one world that is dying and another one that is being born—is a widely shared experience for millions of people across cultures, sectors, and generations. It is experienced in communities as well as in ministries, global companies, NGOs, and UN organizations—wherever people are looking at the real picture. It’s a felt sense that applies to relationships, institutions, and systems, but even more to the personal level of our journey from self to Self.                                                                                        

Otto Scharmer, Leading from the Emerging Future: From Ego-System to Eco-System Economies

This course will introduce concepts and practices that will offer Thoreau College students the opportunity to engage in new ways with themselves, with nature, with one another and with the challenging time in which we live. We will practice new ways of speaking, listening, collaborating and governing. We will learn to sense that which is greater than the sum of the parts in any given thing, person, place, situation or social problem. We will delve deeply into the wisdom of our biographies as well as into the wisdom of our time—the living presence of the abyss—as Otto Scharmer calls it—that seeks to awaken each of us to our higher callings. As we become grounded in new skills of self-awareness, conscious community building, and self-governance, we will turn our attention more fully to the world and to the tensions and questions of social change and social transformation. We will explore specific polarizations in contemporary society that interest us and seek to penetrate beyond the flashpoints into the deeper ‘spiritual, historical and philosophical strata’ of these tensions. And we will ask: what really is social change, at the end of the day, and is there a more holistic way of thinking about it and going about it?  While the course will introduce a number of important theoretical insights, drawing on the work of Rudolf Steiner, Otto Scharmer, Frederic LaLoux and others, it will primarily involve an immersion in community building, social-artistic, and inner development exercises designed to awaken and strengthen our capacity to be a source of healing in the social fabric of our lives and of our time.

A R T I S T I C P R A C T I C E

Faculty Steward: Magdalena Bermudez

Throughout the semester, students will engage with a variety of creative work, from learning wildcrafting and cooking skills, to phenomenological nature drawing and community singing. The arts will be integrated into both the academic and labor curriculum, offering opportunities to cultivate powers of observation, cognition, willpower, and the exteriorization of the inner self. Over the course of the semester, a variety of guest artists and craftspeople will lead different sessions, exposing students to the range of media and methods, which could include poetry, painting, drama, film, ceramics, wood carving, basketry, circus arts, land art, and blacksmithing.

L A B O R, S E R V I C E, & M A N U A L S K I L L S

Faculty Steward: Bryan Heystek

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The Labor Program provides students an opportunity to develop their own personal relationship with nature through activities like growing fruits and vegetables in the Thoreau College garden, and cooking communal meals. This labor extends into the community, where students help Community Hunger Solutions provide food equity to families in need. Students also take care of communal living spaces and work on various projects at Bear Creek Farm to improve the Driftless Folk School campus, where they will spend time periodically throughout the semester. The labor program also extends its hands in service to the community when local needs arise, such as disaster flood relief.