Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Thoreau on Dorms and College Tuition

I stumbled across this humorous piece of criticism while reading 
Henry David Thoreau's magnum opus, Walden... 
Would you agree with him? 


Thoreau on Dorms and College Tuition 

Context: After explaining in great detail how he built his own little hut by Walden Pond (for under $29) and arguing against the vanities of frivolous architecture, Thoreau weighs in on the benefits of "building" one's own education... 

"At Cambridge College the mere rent of a student’s room, which is only a little larger than my own, is thirty dollars each year, though the corporation had the advantage of building thirty-two side by side and under one roof, and the occupant suffers the inconvenience of many and noisy neighbors, and perhaps a residence in the fourth storey. 

I cannot but think that if we had more true wisdom in these respects, not only less education would be needed, because, forsooth, more would already have been acquired, but the pecuniary expense of getting an education would in a great measure vanish. 

Those conveniences which the student requires at Cambridge or elsewhere cost him or somebody else ten times as great a sacrifice of life as they would with proper management on both sides. Those things for which the most money is demanded are never the things which the student most wants. 

Tuition, for instance, is an important item in the term bill, while for the far more valuable education which he gets by associating with the most cultivated of his contemporaries no charge is made. The mode of founding a college is, commonly, to get up a subscription of dollars and cents, and then following blindly the principles of a division of labor to its extreme—a principle which should never be followed but with circumspection—to call in a contractor, who makes this a subject of speculation, and he employs Irishmen or other operatives actually to lay the foundations, while the students that are to be are said to be fitting themselves for it; and for these oversights successive generations have to pay. 

I think that it would be better than this, for the students, or those who desire to be benefited by it, even to lay the foundation themselves. The student who secures his coveted leisure and retirement by systematically shirking any labor necessary to man obtains but an ignoble and unprofitable leisure, defrauding himself of the experience which alone can make leisure fruitful."