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I’m a single dad with two high school children, both of whom live with me full-time. They’re good students. Good kids. I’m very lucky. My house has been the go-to place for their friends since they were little, and, having coached sports for years, I feel I know most of them well.
So, I’m not worried when I say, if you can show me a teenager who read Walden over the summer, for fun or even as an AP English class requirement – and I mean cover to cover – well, I’ll eat a bowl of raw mushrooms (and those that know me know that’s saying a lot).
What does worry me is that my bookshelves are filled with titles of similar fate, fiction and nonfiction. Those volumes are the accumulation of centuries of knowledge. Without a basic understanding of what’s in them – the core purpose for education – opinions are unsupported and society cannot advance.
When these kids get to college, and their professors make reference to Thoreau’s reflections on isolating himself from society (conveniently neglecting to mention his frequent trips into Concord for a fine meal and a glass of vino with Emerson), my guess is these students will recall the summary in SparkNotes that they gobbled down a week before summer ended. They will not have experienced the subtle poetic language or the grace of his internal reflections.