Sunday, February 7, 2016
Thoreau in High School: Prereading
Ever since I visited Walden pond in 2009 with my wife and son, I've tried to do a good job bringing Thoreau's mind to high schoolers (better, I hope than my American Lit teacher did for me: I graduated thinking Thoreau was the Unibomber), so this year we've spent a semester writing Nature Journals that require students to take a picture of something in nature and then to reflect upon it in one of three ways. This is a pre-writing exercise; I provided students with the following examples:
Basic - Journalistic “In Goose Pond, which lay in my way, a colony of muskrats dwelt, and raised their cabins high above the ice, though none could be seen abroad when I crossed it” (Thoreau 255). In another section of Walden, Thoreau talks about being on a frozen lake and dropping his axe into a hole in the ice, cutting a long branch, fixing a noose and hauling it up and out again. These entries are general reporting about something you saw or did.
Challenging - Poetic “A lake is the landscape's most beautiful and expressive feature. It is earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature. The fluviatile trees next to the shore are the slender eyelashes which fringe it, and the wooden hills and cliffs around it are its overhanging brows” (Thoreau 176). These entries report, however they go one step further by using devices like personification, metaphor, unique sensory language, etc.
Advanced - Philosophical “…I saw a striped snake run into the water, and he lay on the bottom, apparently without inconvenience, as long as I staid there, or more than a quarter of an hour; perhaps because he had not yet fairly come out of the torpid state. It appeared to me that for a like reason men remain in their present low and primitive condition; but if they should feel the influence of the spring of springs arousing them, they would of necessity rise to a higher and more ethereal life” (Thoreau 38). These entries can be journalistic and /or poetic while also reflecting on human nature.
My students' work has been incredible. They have proven to be very gifted photographers (they almost all have smartphone cameras), and very insightful writers. I ordered each student a paperback copy of Walden, which we are now reading in class.