Section: Opinion

The “Bubble”: a Kenyon advantage

Matthew Eley, Contributor

One of the great victuals of travel is the unexpected vantage point. It is always sudden and inconceivable, adding curious meaning to what we see from it — a meaning not inherent, yet somehow essential upon its being seen. A long-held favorite of mine (a vintage vantage, perhaps) is on Route 229, approaching Gambier from the east. The tree-line along a cornfield vanishes, and in the distance Kenyon tacks out from the surrounding hills like a great earthen ship, all arbor and spire and tower.

Life has these vantage points, too, and I have been coming across a good helping of them — not because I am particularly favored by the scenery but because, imitating others, I have begun to seek them out.  “Experience slowly overcoming duncehood,” a sound motto for my life.

It occurs to me that these four years at Kenyon are a peculiar vantage point and about as fleeting as those spied from the car. It is of equal caliber to the other vantages of life other folks around the world experience, but certainly more agreeable than some. We are brought here for a good long spell, fed well and taught well, and do very little in the way of unenjoyable work — all in the historically-grounded belief we will amount to something.

And so we often do. But no wonder that we occasionally hear the Kenyon vantage point derided as a “bubble,” usually by our own members. It most certainly is.  We are certainly not the “real world,” nor did we ever set out to be — and that is of value. Leastways, I did not come to Kenyon to experience what it would be like not to come to Kenyon. I suppose it puzzled me initially, then, that some seem fixated on the idea of “getting off the Hill” after working rather hard to get onto it.

It is sometimes suggested Kenyon introduce “business skills” into its classrooms, and more “practical” matters into the mostly staid curriculum.  Some modern educational theorists think the liberal arts to be a good main course but a better side dish; we are not prepared enough, it is thought and believed, for real life or its travails.

Engineers might as well complain that their schools do not prepare them to be successful crankshafts. Liberal arts enables us to create meaning, not simply have it. Irene Britt, president of Pepperidge Farm, had a lovely talk on campus this week to that effect — she will forgive me for appropriating her lecture, I hope. Britt had about her the sort of vim of one who had taken the full measure of wealth offered by the liberal arts, but also of the sort of person who most deserves them. She understood that an individual must make use of the liberal arts, not expect them to make her useful.

I suspect that the world is confused by recent suggestions in academia to move liberal arts schools toward more “practical” educations. The assumption among most, it seems to me, is that if liberal arts makes us haughty or serves us badly, it is because we are individually poor masters. If there is any sentiment in Knox County about Kenyon, it is that our time here is a gift to be used responsibly — not an excess to be rejected piously.

The view from 229 is telling of a great deal; our buildings seem organic and hewn from the Hill rather than built there. It is an island, separate from the hills around it but equally natural; placed with purpose, not hubris, with the intent its residents eventually return to and learn from the mainland. It is a grand view for more reasons than one.

Matthew Eley ’15 is an English major, IPHS concentrator from Howard, Ohio. He can be contacted at eleym@kenyon.edu. 

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