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Reflections in Exam Week

By May 18, 2017 2 Comments

by David Hoekema

The last few weeks have been stressful, for me and all my colleagues, with piles of papers and worries about whether Calvin College’s eminence in Christian liberal arts will survive the budget pressures bearing down on the college. But the last student to finish my Phil 153 exam today added a short note at the end of his exam that reminded me of what drew me into this vocation and what sustains me after many decades:

Prof Hoek — This class has been a joy like no other. I can’t properly express what it has meant to me. I am motivated to continue this sort of study, to keep asking these questions. Thanks! As a friend, J——

That helps make up for the sullen young men who glowered at me from the back row all semester, when they bothered to come to class, aiming to do just enough cramming before tests (mostly from Sparks notes, probably) to get a passing grade. For some reason the women students who hate philosophy usually pretend to be interested, but the men don’t bother. In a class of 30-35 there always seem to be one or two of those.

And yet, not to end on a sour note, I’ve also had three or four conversations in the past week with students who said, “I really dreaded this class and I didn’t think I would like philosophy at all, but when I read [Augustine, or Kierkegaard, or Simone Weil–even Descartes in one case] it helped me answer some questions that have been bugging me since junior high. Now I understand myself and my faith and my life more clearly.” That’s a paraphrase, not a direct quotation, but it’s pretty close.

David Hoekema teaches philosophy at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

David Hoekema

David A. Hoekema is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and retired Academic Dean at Calvin University, and, in the winter, a Visiting Scholar at the University of Arizona.  His most recent book, We Are the Voice of the Grass (Oxford University Press), recounts the tireless work of Christians and Muslims who came together to strive for an end to a brutal civil war in Uganda. In light of recent developments in the Christian Reformed Church, he is now a member of Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Arizona and he also participates in the worship life of St. John’s Episcopal Church of Grand Haven, Michigan. Hiking, bicycling, choral music, old-timey string bands, and conversation with Christians whose minds and hearts are open to all are among the things that gladden his heart.  


  • Ann Carda says:

    Oh wow, they get to read Simone Weil! Every student should be so lucky 🙂 I didn’t discover Gravity & Grace until I was 38. But I get it… I too was frightful of taking my first Philosophy class at Calvin but fell in love with it quickly (thank you Kelly James Clark).

  • David Andrew Hoekema says:

    I open and close my intro class reading non-philosophers: Tolstoy’s “Death of Ivan Illyich” to get the students’ skepticism about conforming to social expectations up and running, Simone Weil’s “Waiting for God” to follow Kierkegaard in our last week. The essay in that collection on “school studies” is a gem.

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