Nature Nurtures the Liberal Arts

By Adam Thompson

Nature answers all he asks; 
Hand in hand with her he walks,
Face to face with her he talks, 
Part and parcel of her joy,— 
Blessings on the barefoot boy! 
From John Greenleaf Whittier’s “The Barefoot Boy”

Screen Shot 2014-10-12 at 12.35.27 PMThough Whittier’s Romantic conception of Nature as a benevolent female companion to the barefoot boy may blithely paper over the often brutal character of a natural order that is frequently indifferent to man’s plight, the characterization nonetheless illuminates the great potential for learning that Nature extends to those who requite her offers of love. The barefoot boy who delights in the manifold sights, smells, sounds, and textures of Nature will grow into a man alive, a man better able to appreciate the poetic mysteries of the created order and to master the fickle temperament and prickly perils of his moody friend. In fact, the barefoot boy perfectly captures one of the touchstones of a liberal arts education— Nature provides the ideal learning environment for a boy to discover the true meaning of his freedom.

At Western Academy, we hold up the barefoot boy as the kind of student most receptive to a liberal arts education. Freedom is imprinted in the hardened callouses on his feet, in the stinking mud and muck soiling his clothes, in the leaves strewn through his disheveled hair, in the jagged scars lining his arms and legs telling a thousand and one stories, in the wild glimmer of his untamed eye, and in the general fidgety disposition of a person ready to vault right out of his chair to the nearest tree without the slightest moment of hesitation or pause. These are boys full of daring, these are boys dripping dewfall hope, these are boys of primal contemplation, these are boys ready for wisdom, these are Western boys.

The nurturing hand of Nature pervades Western Academy. The grounds have been chosen and maintained in such a way as to encourage the development of the barefoot boy on his own terms. The Great Oak at the center of campus, the green hills, the bamboo forest, the bees, the pigeons, the chickens, the turtle, each of these companions embodies the boy’s friendship with Nature and each “answers all he asks,” speaking directly to his heart and imagination where they foster a receptivity to the song and story of life and freedom woven into the fabric of Nature.

Screen Shot 2014-10-12 at 12.36.41 PMThe classrooms, too, are designed to blend harmoniously with the natural environs with their cabin exteriors, custom wood chairs and desks, stone tile floors, and rich hues of paint. The omnipresence of taxidermy in every classroom also encourages the boys to make connections intuitively between the classroom outside and the one inside. People sometimes remark that Western Academy does not look like a school but a summer camp, and they would be right because our school is forming barefoot boys for life, and an education in freedom demands a campus reflective of that aim, a campus in which Nature truly extends her “blessings on the barefoot boy.”

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