College is defined in the English dictionary as "an educational establishment providing a higher education or specialized training." It is seen as a place to gain knowledge and an experience that is needed in order to survive in the real world; A place that is almost mandatory if one wants to achieve their ultimate goals. Yet, not every person sees it like this. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau had a conflicting view on the idea of American colleges. Emerson is widely regarded as one of America's most important authors, philosophers, and thinkers. He urged independent thinking and believed that not all of life's answers are found in books. Thoreau is also considered one of the most influential figures in American thought and literature. As a true individualist, he fought for the human spirit, and against materialism and social conformity. They defined higher education and the essentials to living a better life, in a different way than most. Evidence of this is seen in Emerson's Selected Essays, and also in Thoreau's classic, Walden.
Emerson's, "American Scholar" was an address to the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Cambridge in 1837. The address was highly controversial and raised many eye brows. Emerson states, "The state of society is one in which the members have suffered amputation from the trunk, and strut about so many walking monsters,-a good finger, a neck, a stomach, an elbow, but never a man. Man is thus metamorphosed into a thing, into many things(pg. 84)". Here, Emerson criticizes institutionalized education and gives an example of what he believes it has done to people. Emerson believes that education has made man into just a part of a man, that education specializes and therefore takes away from the true essence of being a man, robbing man of his integrity. Emerson continues on in his criticism. "Instantly the book becomes noxious: the guide is a tyrant.