Our hope is that a semester at the OE will:
- Give students an experience of living closer to the basic conditions of life.
- Make students more aware of the fragile gift of the natural world.
- Expose students to experiments in sustainable living.
- Provide students with an experience in intentional community.
- Foster in students a stronger sense of their own “voice.”
- Provide students with a richer understanding of the expansive world of Christianity and its effects.
- Put some new tools in students’ intellectual toolbox to examine social, cultural, and historical processes, toward the end of attaining a more coherent vision of life.
Or, to unpack these aims a bit:
- Give the students an experience of living closer to the basic conditions of life, making them more aware for a period of time of the basic necessities of life—food, shelter, warmth, ideas to engage their minds, friendship, faith—and what treasures these are. With our lives as mediated by technology and driven by consumerist compulsions as they are, simplifying one’s life, even for a season, can be an invaluable reset of one’s priorities at a formative age and a clarifying point of reference as we grow older.
• Make the students more aware of the fragile gift of the natural world, to appreciate its intricacies and to kindle within them a greater sense of wonder and gratitude for how nature carries on. The deep history of western science has been driven by people who saw in the operation of the natural world traces of God’s own eternal mind. The environmental awareness that our society is acquiring will gain staying power from Christians who see in it a way to be faithful stewards of God’s good creation.
- Expose students to experiments in sustainable living that are being practiced at the OE and in our neighborhood. This includes living more simplified lives, heating with renewable resources, cycling compost to poultry and, in turn, to gardens, recycling our trash, and sustainable forestry. Having seen these practices up close, students may, in the future, be inspired to undertake their own experiments.
- Provide the students with an experience in intentional ommunity that cultivates social skills that will serve them well in their post-college years. On a small campus in the woods, at which 20-35 students live with each other in cabins of four occupants, where they shop for groceries, prepare, eat, and clean up after meals together, join with the faculty in chores (cutting and chopping firewood, cleaning bathrooms and rain gutters, helping neighbors), travel together, read the same core books on a shared schedule, engage in formal and spontaneous small group discussions of books and ideas intensively with the same people for four months, look to each other for entertainment when the study and work load eases—students pick up skills of accommodation, confrontation, appreciation, empathy, forgiveness and resilience that are easier to avoid on a larger campus where they have more options in their social and online lives.
- Foster a learning atmosphere in which, given the intentional community among students just described, and the daily contact students have with faculty, both in the classroom and outside of it, and because of both honest scrutiny and generous encouragement, students gain confidence and skill to express to others what they are learning and what matters to them, and attain a stronger sense of their own “voice.”
- Provide the students with an enlarged understanding of the expansive world of Christianity—historically, sociologically, intellectually, spiritually. Maturing in faith is often facilitated by discovering how extensive and varied the legitimate expressions of Christianity are, and how people of faith across history, in spite of sometimes falling short, have cultivated virtues and built compassionate institutions that have contributed to the flourishing of many, both individuals and societies, inside and outside of the church.
- Add to the tools of analysis by which the students examine the dynamics of social, cultural, and historical processes. This will both reinforce and supplement what they learn at their home colleges. Because of the way we study, with time for sustained reflection on basic parts of a worldview—the Natural World, the Social World, the Human Person, and Religious Faith—time at the OE encourages students to pull together many of the analytical skills they’ve learned in college into a more synthesized vision of life.