Jeff Polet is professor of political science at Hope College. He graduated from Calvin College and The Catholic University of America. He has written widely on subjects such as the American Founding, constitutional law, American political thought, contemporary European political thought, education policy, and more. His work has appeared in journals such as Modern Age, the Political Science Reviewer, and Humanitas, and in popular online venues such as The Hill, Law & Liberty, the American Mind, and Public Discourse. He has edited two volumes and is currently writing a book dealing with identity politics. He sits on the board of directors of the Front Porch Republic and is the academic director of “Kirk on Campus.” He is also a senior fellow of The Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal. He is married with three adult children.
Talk: “Enemies of the Real Things: Education in a Time of Abstraction”
<p”>Higher education has exacerbated rather than addressed its and society’s central problem: disconnectedness. The exacerbation results from conscious strategies of disconnection. The emphasis on leadership, global citizenship, career preparation, and sexual license offers abstractions instead of concrete experiences. The surfeit of technological devices deepens rather than alleviates disconnection. Tribalism results from fragile individuals trying to maintain their sense of self in an increasingly abstract age. At the social level, this involves identity politics as well as organized and informal identity groups. At the intellectual level, it involves a hermeneutic that approaches the humanities and social sciences, and increasingly the natural sciences, purely in terms of tribal or personal identity. Another result is the growth of the student life and counseling complex on college campuses. Schools may offer international travel, global awareness, and heavily theorized approaches to education, but they are not offering rootedness, a sense of being anchored in something solid and enduring, which are parts of the great legacy of Western civilization. Such anchoring requires attentiveness to real things, to concrete objects and realities, and neither the nostrums of the left or the right, nor a large therapeutic regime, will accomplish that purpose. The crisis of the academy is not simply a crisis of language. But language, like all symbols, and most students, has become unmoored from its connection to reality. Tradition means “to hand down.” In connecting students to the Western intellectual tradition and to the student’s cultural inheritance, we are connecting them to the real things that give life its shape and meaning. “Reality” comes to us in particular forms, particular iterations. Helping students learn the ideas, events, people, and art that shape their reality is what enables them to become educated people.