Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882) - American EducationAmerican philosopher, author, scholar and “public teacher,” who used his oratorical skills to “educate” Americans in public lectures. A graduate of Harvard, Emerson spent several unhappy years as a schoolmaster before attending and spending several more, equally unhappy years as pastor of the Second (Unitarian) Church of Boston. In 1832, he resigned and went to Europe, traveling through Italy, France and Britain and meeting the likes of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, William Wordsworth, John Stuart Mill and Thomas Carlyle. Their influence convinced him to return to the United States the following year and assume the role of “scholar,” which he defined as “delegated intellect” of all men everywhere and a combination of philosopher, prophet, poet, critic, seer and public teacher. As such, it would be his role not just to impart knowledge but to continue discovering it through self-education in three spheres: nature, poetry and literature, and action.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (Library of Congress)
In 1834, he moved to Concord, Massachusetts, where he spent the rest of life writing and making forays to Boston and elsewhere to lecture. In 1837, his Phi Beta Kappa address at Harvard electrified his listeners but produced a storm of controversy in the academic world and church by calling for intellectual independence from the church and academic traditions of Britain and Europe. He charged both institutions with using education to enslave their charges rather than as a means of freeing them to achieve their greatest potential. He urged his audience to search out their own knowledge and truths through self-education. Emerson’s words and writing influenced an entire generation of educators and thinkers, including Harvard University president Charles W. Eliot, poet Walt Whitman and others who, in turn, would change the course of American education and letters.