When longtime teacher Matt Schlein started a foundation and began raising funds to buy the 260 acres of land necessary for his dream of a high school in the woods I imagine most people thought he was completely crazy. And if they ever saw the tent he’s using to house the student body during bad weather I suspect they might think they had him pegged from the start. But he’s pulled it off in amazing fashion, and now kids of all stripes who don’t see the wisdom of conventional learning are finding themselves a part of the Walden Project at what just may be the most unique environmental high school in America.Around here, Thoreau himself is usually referred to as ‘HD’ or ‘H-Dog’, though sometimes even the most devoted students tire of him. And they’ve put up a (non-working) satellite dish above their tent, showing they’ve got a sense of humor about seeing the world through the often grim eyes of a man who gave up on city life and headed to the isolation of the wilderness to be alone.
But it seems the idea of an open-air classroom and a style of teaching that uses the events of the day as a tool to both intrigue and educate is what draws them in. A recent lesson, in fact, tied in the recent primary held in neighboring New Hampshire to their class discussion of politics, the natural world, and humanity itself. A stratagem which, I suspect, we all one day will come to use… Tying the scattered threads that make up the past and future of humanity to the topics so often glossed over in the traditional classroom setting.
And while it’s clear that the more rustic outdoor learning experience of the Walden Project is most certainly not for everyone, there’s definitely something special about a teacher who can inspire his students to spend high school in the woods with Henry David Thoreau.
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