posted August 30, 2009

Fall Convocation Launches 148th Academic Year

 Although the geography differs, speaker Dr. Peter Schakel found in one visitor's journey through Narnia guidance for the members of the incoming Class of 2013 during their travels through Hope College.

Schakel, a member of the Hope English faculty who is an internationally respected scholar of the Narnia series' author, C.S. Lewis, presented "A Boy Called Eustace and a Hope Education" during the college's Opening Convocation on Sunday, Aug. 30, in the Richard and Helen DeVos Fieldhouse.

Approximately 2,000, primarily new students and their families, attended the event, which marked the formal beginning of the college's 148th academic year.  The new students moved in on Friday and returning students began moving in on Sunday.  Fall semester classes start on Tuesday.

Schakel centered his remarks on the experiences of Eustace Clarence Scrubb in "The Voyage of the 'Dawn Treader,'" the third book published in the Narnia cycle.  Scrubb, he said, was broadened by his time in Narnia, just as Schakel noted that he hoped that the new students of the Class of 2013 would be transformed by their time at Hope.

"Before he went to Narnia, Eustace Clarence thought that education was about mastering content," said Schakel, who is the Peter C. and Emajean Cook Professor of English at Hope.  "But accumulation of information, Lewis believed, is not the real goal of education; rather, the aim is the attainment of understanding and ultimately of wisdom.  And these come through the ability to think clearly, critically and perceptively; the ability to analyze problems and situations acutely; the ability to ask probing, incisive questions; the ability to reflect deeply."

Hope, Schakel said, provides such an education as a liberal arts college in the traditional sense that was prized by Lewis, who was a college educator himself and taught at Oxford and Cambridge for nearly 40 years.

"The origin of the word liberal is the Latin word for 'free,'" Schakel said.  "Thus the Roman orator Cicero says a liberal education is the education of free persons for a life of freedom."

"That tradition carried over to the early colleges of America - they were liberal arts colleges," he said.  "Education was preparation for leadership, not preparation for a specific career."

"A Hope education does aim to equip students for future jobs and careers, but that's not its primary aim," he said.  "The primary purpose of a Hope education is the development of the whole person; it is a preparation for life."

Schakel explained that the college would correspondingly seek to educate the students in four dimensions:  intellect, imagination, outlook and spiritual growth.

Their intellectual development, he said, would come through improving and reinforcing good mental habits such as curiosity, questioning, analysis, reflection, making connections and considering implications.

Imagination, Schakel said, is also a habit of mind that can be developed, and is necessary in every field, a key ability in reaching beyond what is to a vision of what can be.

Expanding one's outlook, he said, involves being open to other positions and beliefs while at the same time subjecting them and one's own beliefs to rigorous scrutiny, and a willingness to recognize that not all questions have safe, tidy answers.

In discussing spiritual growth he referenced Lewis's book "Mere Christianity," in which Lewis called for people of faith to receive the Kingdom of God with a child's heart but a grown-up's head, so that their understanding of God is large enough to handle complex issues and difficult questions.

Stubb, Schakel said, returned home from Narnia much improved--wiser and more compassionate for the lessons that he had learned during his travels.  In the same way, he said, students who make the most of their voyage through Hope will also find themselves changed for the better.

"That's what I, and my faculty colleagues, and the administrators and staff members at Hope wish for each of you in the next four years - that a Hope education will help you mature and grow and change as a human being, and develop to its fullest the great potential God has placed in each of you," he said.