Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy
His father and grandparents both once worked at Maytag, but Brandon Polite
went down a different road.
Polite, a Galesburg native, graduated from Galesburg High School in 1999,
Knox College in 2003, and the University of Illinois-Urbana in 2005. He is currently a Ph.D candidate at the University of Illinois-Urbana, and a philosophy teacher at Knox.
His wife, Katie Koca Polite, whom he met while at Knox, lives in Champaign-Urbana and works at U of I as a curatorial assistant.
"She commutes here on the weekends so she has the car. I don't have a car," he said. "I walk to campus. I'm basically just stuck to downtown. I don't get to the other side of town at all ever, other than the weekends."
Polite enjoys his walks to Knox's 90-acre campus.
"I walk to campus every morning through downtown Galesburg. There are not that many people out on the street, but everyone that is out there says hello," he said. "I tested this out once and walked around downtown Champaign and would say hello to someone and they would be offended by it. In Galesburg, they are offended if you don't say hello -- much more down-to-earth people, which I prefer. I hate pretentious people."
Polite didn't always plan on teaching philosophy. When he first arrived at Knox, he intended on becoming an engineer. He struggled in a few classes, found philosophy, and loved it.
Polite describes his passions with a cool detachment that is perhaps appropriate to his chosen profession.
"I don't think a person can be a philosopher without being a teacher; it is part of what doing philosophy is," he said. "That's what pushed me into teaching rather than doing something else. Plus, I like it -- that's always helpful."
As a grad student, Polite taught Intro to Logic and Intro to Philosophy. A Knox connection brought him back to his hometown after six years in Champaign-Urbana.
Lance Factor, who is the chair of Knox's philosophy department and has worked at Knox since 1969, gave Polite a call over the summer of 2007. During their conversation, Factor informed Polite that he was going on sabbatical for the next academic year to work on his recently released book, Chapel in the Sky: Knox College's Old Main and Its Masonic Architect, and asked Polite if he would come to Knox to teach.
"His experience there included teaching so there was evidence from his advisers and so forth that confirmed our department's sense of his promise as a teacher. All that has been fulfilled happily," Factor said.
Factor never gave Polite advice on how to teach his classes, but he has noticed that Polite is good at what he does, and has changed since he wandered around Knox's campus as a student.
"As a student, I think two words sum up Brandon: quietly extraordinary," Factor said. "He is not quiet anymore and that's a joy ... As a teacher, his classes are enormously successful -- very positive evaluations. He has a great teaching style. He is lively. He has elegant organization. He knows a lot of the teacher's tricks and ploys, which took me a lot longer to learn. He has a natural knack for asking the right questions and using the right amount of visual material. There is an aspect of performance in teaching at Knox, and he is spot on and understands that important fact of what teaching is."
Polite isn't quite sure of his future in the 'Burg or at Knox, because his contract is re-upped on a yearly basis, but he is glad that he is back.
"I had the opportunity for the job, but I was thinking about going out on the job market and what sort of place I'd want to teach at. The thought was I'd always want to teach at someplace like Knox," he said.
"Small liberal arts schools where you have close working relationships with students and you can actually watch students develop over the years -- have lasting relationships with students. I always wanted to teach at a place like Knox, and you know there is no better place than Knox if you are looking for a place like it."
For Polite, there is no better place in the world he would rather teach than in Galesburg. Food and family also make Knox a good fit.
"I'm back where I was born. My family is definitely excited that I'm back. I'm definitely excited to be back. Now, I can eat at the Pizza House whenever I want," he said with a chuckle. "I've been eating there since I was like two years old. I go there. I go to The Landmark or Kastle Kreme in the summers or the Rib Shack during the weekends when my wife is here. It is places like that, and I still have family in town and around here. It is good to have them around. ... Not that I see them all that often, but it is good to be able to see them whenever."
Polite doesn't see his family very much, because he spends what little free time he has away from teaching working on his dissertation. Only time will tell if he stays near his relatives, but Polite knows Knox changed his life, and knows individuals in the Knox community are the same as those in Galesburg.
"We sort of speak of ourselves as a college that changes lives, which seems like this vague weird sort of platitude, but I think with Knox it is true. Knox is a college that changes lives. It certainly changed mine for the better," he said. "People at Knox don't think they are better than you. They just have a different set of interests and goals. They are not better goals. They are different. People at Knox don't think they are better."
This profile appeared in "Galesburg Is Knox: Breaking the Bubble," a senior captstone project by Knox College student Matthew Wheaton '10 that explored connections between the city of Galesburg and Knox. View more of Wheaton's project.
Photograph of Brandon Polite by Evan Temchin '10.