Teaching Students About Transcendentalism

Transcendentalism is a philosophical and literary movement that emerged in the United States during the early 19th century. It emphasized the importance of individualism, spirituality, and self-reliance. Teaching students about transcendentalism is important not only because it is a significant part of American literary history, but also because it can inspire students to think critically and creatively about their own beliefs and values.

Here are some tips for teaching students about transcendentalism:

1. Start with the basics

Begin by providing students with an overview of transcendentalism as a philosophical and literary movement. You might discuss its key principles, such as the belief in the divinity of nature and the importance of intuition as a source of knowledge.

2. Read transcendentalist literature

Next, have students read works by prominent transcendentalist writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Margaret Fuller. You might also include more contemporary writers who have been influenced by transcendentalism, such as Mary Oliver or Annie Dillard.

3. Encourage critical thinking

Transcendentalist works can be challenging for students to understand, so encourage them to engage with the material critically. Ask questions such as: What ideas or themes do you see emerging in this piece? What are the author’s main arguments, and how do they support them? What connections can you make between this work and contemporary issues?

4. Connect transcendentalism to modern life

Transcendentalist ideas may seem outdated to some students, but they are actually very relevant to contemporary society. Encourage students to think about how transcendentalist ideas can be applied to their own lives. For example, they might consider how they can live more simply, how they can connect more deeply with nature, or how they can challenge societal norms that they believe are unjust.

5. Provide creative opportunities

To help solidify their learning, provide students with creative opportunities to express their understanding of transcendentalism. For example, they might create artwork inspired by a particular transcendentalist idea or write their own transcendentalist essay or poem.

Teaching students about transcendentalism is an important way to encourage critical thinking, promote individualism, and foster a deeper connection to nature. By providing them with tools for understanding transcendentalist literature and connecting it to their own lives, you can help them develop a deeper appreciation for the wisdom and insights of this important philosophical movement.

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