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.


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

Faculty Steward: Jacob Hundt


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.


Faculty Steward: Dave Puig


"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

This course will include a five-day wilderness expedition to practice decision-making, overcoming difficulty, and working together within a context of challenge.  Students will also experience four or five overnight solos, spread over the course, in order to facilitate deeper self-reflection, integration of ideas and concepts from coursework, and a chance for more personal introspection and reflection on values and ways of being.

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

Faculty Steward: Robert Karp (Karbelnikoff) 


This course will introduce concepts and practices that will offer Thoreau College students the opportunity to engage in new and more mindful ways with themselves, with nature, with one another and with the challenging times in which we live. We will practice new ways of speaking, listening, leading, collaborating, working together and governing our lives together. The course will introduce a number of important theoretical insights drawing on the work of Rudolf Steiner, Otto Scharmer, Frederic LaLoux, Myles Horton, Nicanor Perlas and others as well as provide students with many opportunities to practice new skills and capacities through social-artistic exercises, wilderness expeditions, solos in nature, and contemplative practices.

As we become grounded in new skills of self-awareness, leadership, empathy, community building, and self-governance, we will turn our attention more fully to the tensions and questions of social change and social transformation in the wider world. 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 as well as into the deeper strata of our own personal value systems and beliefs. And we will ask: what really is social change, at the end of the day, and how do go about it in ways that respect human freedom and draw on the highest creative potential of human beings?  

O R I G I N S & D E S T I N A T I O N S :

W R I T I N G & C R E A T I V E P R A C T I C E S

Faculty Steward: Franciszka Voeltz

Botany professor and enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation Robin Wall Kimmerer explores the language of personhood in her essay “Speaking of Nature,” where she reflects on using a language (English) that provides humanizing pronouns for people, but provides only the pronoun it for referring to other life and elements (wind, beaver, birch trees, creeks, etc.) of the natural world. The poem “There Is No Word For Goodbye,” by Mary TallMountain illustrates how in her Athabaskan family and culture, people say “see you,” when they part because they believe they will never leave each other, that there is always a return of some kind. TallMountain and Kimmerer illustrate that what is packed into language builds a whole world and carries built-in belief systems. In this seminar, we’ll take a critical look at how the tool we’ll be using most throughout the course (language) informs how we relate to the world around us. This is the initial underpinning of the work of our semester together, the rest follows.

How do the languages, the communities, the cultures, and the land (and its plant/animal/element inhabitants) we come from shape our current selves? How do we presently relate to the natural/local/global world we are a part of? What are our deepest longings for ourselves and for the world around us and what steps can we take to bring these things closer to fruition? These are the guiding questions that will lead us through the semester as we study the work of contemporary/living poets and writers also examining these topics. We will look to their work to guide us in our own daily journaling, weekly reflections, poems, essays, storytelling, monologues, graphic novels, journalistic writing, short fiction and other literary forms. We will end the semester with a student-organized community offering, that publicly presents student work generated in this seminar.

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


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.