A DIFFERENT PACE
Learn about our choice to move out of the current and what it means to live intentionally at the OE.
With the help of its wilderness setting, the OE allows students to calm down and step out of the frenzied currents in which many spend their lives. We invite students to move out of the fractured routines of simultaneous courses, campus involvements, and part-time jobs for a semester, and to take a sabbatical from nearly constant activity in the electronically-mediated world of texting, social networking, cell phones, & the internet. In exchange, they are given the rare opportunity to come with fewer distractions into the presence of a more basic rhythm of life and to ponder with academic seriousness good books and sources of meaning that sustain people over the long haul.
The community of Lincoln, built in the 1920s for timber-fallers and mill-wrights, offers a rustic setting in which students can ask their deepest questions, read gripping, challenging books, wrestle with big ideas in writing, and converse honestly and animatedly with others who share their excitement for learning. About twenty-five students and five faculty members approach learning one subject at a time, shifting every few weeks from group discussion of common reading to individual study and writing guided by daily tutorials with a faculty advisor. Students participate with faculty in the daily work of running the place. With their cabin-mates they strive to create home environments that feel safe and nurture honesty and mutual concern. At the heart of this communal academic activity is our ongoing search for intellectual insights and spiritual traditions to nurture us in a pluralistic, consumerist world.
The place lends itself to giving 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 crucial age and a clarifying point of reference as we grow older.
These are profound aspirations. The permanent residents of the Oregon Extension, who have hosted more than a thousand college students over the past 40 years, want to create a setting that contributes to achieving them. We seek students who are committed to learning what it means to “stay put” for these sixteen weeks, so we ask them to leave their automobiles at home. To disrupt our dependency on our “gear,” we ask (as many of our former students have recommended) that our students gain some distance from most things digital. We welcome personal computers, but request that students not use them for videos or publicly audible music except on weekends. Earbuds are fine any time.
At the suggestion of our students, we have also in recent years placed limitations on the use of mobile phones. Students are welcome to bring their phones, but we ask them to gently lay them in a cozy cardboard box on Monday mornings, and retrieve them on Friday afternoons. We store the phones safely, and return them for use during the week-end and on our excursions. Public phones and email through two shared computers are available at all times on campus, and the OE has limited web access through wireless zones in the Library and Cookhouse that are made available to students for recreation and social media binging on weekends and for research during the independent study phases.
We who live year-around at Lincoln are citizens of this world as much as our students. We realize that we are asking students temporarily to relinquish items that seem necessary to life itself. Experience has taught us that, in the end, our students will wholeheartedly endorse these restrictions as essential to the quality of their experience – intellectual, social and spiritual – at the Oregon Extension. But we also make certain of these technologies available in measured and communally enriching ways. Students can listen to digital audio and CDs on the music system installed in the Cookhouse common room. (We encourage students to bring their musical instruments.) A projector and DVD player take up a corner of the same room, for weekend big screen viewing.
Weekend shuttles take students down the mountain to Ashland for theater, coffee shops and restaurants, recreation, shopping and church. We transport students for medical appointments and other necessary business. We provide transportation to and from airports and bus or train stations, and on adventures to San Francisco, the Oregon Coast and backpacking sites. For those without computers, we have some to loan. Our home in the Cascades provides numerous opportunities for outdoor individual and group activities, and a playing field and gym are a short walk from campus.
We understand that the mobile phone has become a virtual appendage, so it may be difficult to imagine living without it. We can report that at the end of each semester, our students – even those who at first hesitated to apply to the OE because they couldn’t imagine being without a mobile phone – endorse this policy enthusiastically. They say it is the single most important factor in bringing a quieter spirit and a more satisfying academic focus to their lives. As they prepare to leave, at semester’s end, some express regret that they must return to a world where unlimited mobile phone use is virtually unavoidable.
Since we want our students to have an opportunity to see a sampling of the West, we fit other field trips and weekend excursions in whenever possible. These trips vary each year, depending on the weather and student interest. In the past, we’ve gone exploring the Lava Tubes of northern California, climbed Mount McLaughlin, cross-country skied at Crater Lake, and done day-hikes in various parts of Oregon.