Issue 8 T.O.C. – “Crafting an Education: Recreating Henry David Thoreau’s Desk with Eleventh Graders" – Cameron Turner


This is part of a blog series revealing the table of contents of upcoming Issue Eight. As is our custom, we’ll be discussing one article per weekday in order to give you a taste of what is come.  

Please note that the subscription window which includes Issue Eight is open now through March 25th.

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Crafting an Education: Recreating Henry David Thoreau’s Desk with Eleventh Graders – Cameron Turner

High-school English class is a time often spent lost in the pages of Homer or Emerson, learning the use of metaphors and semicolons – about as cerebral and bookish as an educational pursuit can be. It’s miles away from the grit of the woodshop.

But…what if it wasn’t?

Author and educator Cameron Turner decided to take an American Literature unit in a different direction for the 62 girls he teaches at Regis Jesuit High School. Instead of just reading about Henry David Thoreau’s experiment in self-reliant living (a unit, Turner notes, that is “an old chestnut of American Literature, having inspired (or bored) millions of high schoolers for well over a century”), these students would also re-create his writing desk – the very one on which Thoreau penned Walden – using hand tools. Rather than simply poring over his philosophical meanderings on economy, physical labor, and the value of independence, they would put those values into practice with clear lumber and sharp steel.

The result is a story of enthusiastic, hands-on learning, culminating in not only the successful completion of several Thoreau desks, but in a new appreciation for the skills that can enable a life of self-reliance.

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