In Ralph Waldo Emerson’s day, people from the community, from all walks of life, gathered on an afternoon or evening in some community Lyceum lecture hall to hear a talk and be inspired by some eminent member of the community in an age before television and radio. The speaker might be, among other things, a minister, a writer, an educator, a social activist, or a poet, male or female, who would give a passionate talk about some social, economic, or spiritual concern of the times.

Each year students in the Hartsbrook High School senior class recreate a Lyceum Evening of their own. The evening is the culmination of the 12th grade Main Lesson block in the American Transcendentalists, in which students explore the works of four of the first great literary figures in America:  Henry David Thoreau, through the non-fiction account of his experiment at Walden Pond, Ralph Waldo Emerson, through his philosophical essays, and Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson through their poetry. The students keep journals, write essays, and engage in experiential and artistic projects. A keystone assignment is the Lyceum Lecture, in which the students speak passionately for the changes they would  like to see in their current world.

This block is especially suited to serving the 12th grade pedagogical goals in a Waldorf high school. Through striving to understand the complex ideas of the authors, especially in their openness and relationship to the natural world, and then imitating their modes of expression, the students explore their own individuality and how to articulate their original perception of truth. They learn to appreciate flexibility in thinking at the same time as they strengthen their capacities to speak from their own point of view. Their work in the natural world is a welcomed antidote to the heady demands placed on them as they make their plans and applications for college or other life beyond high school.

The evening is a celebration, and an opportunity for the community to experience the range of their accomplished work.

Cherrie Latuner, High School English and Literature Teacher