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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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5. Masculine Heroes   



12. Migrant
Struggle


•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- Rudolfo A. Anaya
- Carlos Bulosan
- Robinson Jeffers
- Alberto Ríos
- Tomas Rivera
- Muriel Rukeyser
- Upton Sinclair
- John Steinbeck
- Henry David Thoreau
- Helena Maria Viramontes
- Suggested
Author
Pairings
•  Timeline
•  Activities

Authors: Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)

Battle of Buena Vista
[5678] Currier & Ives, Battle of Buena Vista. Fought Feby. 23rd, 1847. In Which the American Army Under Gen. Taylor Were Completely Victorious (1847), courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division [LC-USZC4-2957].

Henry David Thoreau Activities
This link leads to artifacts, teaching tips and discussion questions for this author.
Best known as one of the first proponents of American Transcendentalism, Henry David Thoreau was also one of the first American naturalists and eco-literature writers. He was the third child of John Thoreau and Cynthia Dunbar and spent most of his life in and around Concord, Massachusetts. His father operated a pencil manufacturing business in the area. Thoreau attended Concord Academy and graduated from Harvard College in 1837. The next year he and his brother John opened an innovative school, which operated until 1841. Afterward, Thoreau worked as a tutor, handyman, carpenter, surveyor, essayist, and speaker. At the outbreak of the Mexican War, Thoreau protested slavery by refusing to pay his poll tax and was jailed for one night. His essay "Resistance to Civil Government" was written as a response to that event. During his life, he was an outspoken abolitionist and wrote a number of popular antislavery tracts. His books, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (1849) and Walden (1854), and his journals, record observations of nature and meditations on humanity's place within it. Thoreau's most widely read book, Walden, documents two years he spent living in a small cabin beside Walden Pond just outside of Concord. This experiment in self-reliance gave Thoreau a way to practice his philosophy of living. (Recent scholars have noted that Walden conveniently neglects to acknowledge the extent of the domestic and practical help Thoreau's mother and sister provided.) Thoreau believed that people were too concerned with materialistic desires and that they should lead simpler and more purposeful lives. His rejection of the values of a rising consumer society complemented his reverence for nature and belief that humankind should live in harmony with it.

Considered by many of his fellow townspeople to be a loafer, Thoreau worked from time to time in his father's pencil factory, but the dust from the graphite aggravated the tuberculosis he would later die from. His legacy continues to inspire social and environmental activists. Thoreau's early biographies and published works attracted the attention of European socialists and Labor Party members, and his essays "Resistance to Civil Government" and "Life Without Principle" influenced Mahatma Gandhi's struggle for Indian independence and were also inspiring to Martin Luther King Jr. in his efforts to gain broader civil rights for African Americans. Edward Abbey, naturalist and author of Desert Solitaire and The Monkey Wrench Gang, is among the many environmental writers Thoreau inspired. Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild, the story of a young man who journeys alone into the Alaskan wilderness, pays homage to Thoreau's naturalist philosophy but shows what can happen if his ideas are taken too far.



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