I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.
Henry David Thoreau, Walden, 1854
Similarly to how Thoreau built his cabin near Walden Pond in 1845 from recycled and hand-cut materials, we’re starting from scratch to build the school in the woods of Vis. Arriving at Harvard as a 16-year-old, he encountered a system that he called “superficial scholarship” as opposed to real knowledge. After Thoreau graduated from Harvard, he and his brother John set up their own school. They surveyed the school grounds and planted crops with the students, who learned basic mathematics and science along the way. And they took numerous journeys to outdoor sites — hence the term “field trips” — where the students found out about local history and gained access to local knowledge. Thoreau understood education not simply as a means of preparation for something (a job or a career), but as something that is intrinsically valuable. Through his writings and his “experiments” in nature, Thoreau made real progress in unlearning and relearning what we thought we knew. His concept of learning, besides being critical of authority and state structures, involves an intense observation of the natural world and the inner self that is also one of the missions of ISSA.
In honor to the great thinker and doer, one day we will build a replica of Thoreau’s cabin at the School of ISSA and offer it as a residency for writers.