This article is part of the Johnnie Chair project “The Johnnie Bookshelves”. We will interview Johnnies around the campus about their experience at St. John’s, the program and the books that they like to read outside and inside the program.
By Brian Liu
Ms. Kraus currently serves as the Dean of the Annapolis campus. We met earlier this week for an interview. I grew up in schools styled after British preparatory schools, so till this day I get nervous around faculty members. I must admit I was a little nervous to meet Ms. Kraus.
I was pleased to find out though that she is someone very grounded and down to earth, yet more importantly, she is a teacher in her heart.
I asked her if she could trade any job with anyone on campus, with whom would she trade with?
“Boy…that’s really tough, I don’t feel qualified for other jobs here.”
When she recalled her passion for teaching, she shared this:
“I do love teaching. I love being with students. I find teaching very exciting.”
It makes sense, she has been here since 1985 and has had the titled of tutor till just recently. In 2010 she became the Dean.
In a way, our desire to learn here brings us to face the profound every day, and yet that desire can sometimes come from a very simple place. The same goes with teaching, because, as Ms. Kraus alluded to in our interview, you cannot love to teach, unless you love to learn. At the core of who she is, is a really simple desire to learn.
“I remember one of my first memories as a child was hearing the name ‘Aristotle’ and wanting to know more about that…”
It brought her here to St. John’s:
“Coming to St. John’s means you’re really making a career decision…Coming here you won’t have as much time to publish and attend conferences.”
St. John’s is a bit of a stopping place for those who make scholarly living. Unlike most institutions, it does not require faculty to attend academic conferences or publish papers in journals. The typical avenues of advancement are not available here as they are in other schools.
This was not so much of a problem for Ms. Kraus. She came with the encouragement of her husband who also taught here previously.
“I felt like the ethos here, if you will have it, was more welcoming to really exploring one’s own assumptions and testing them and being challenged by students and colleagues…you’d have a different challenge here than traditional academic life.”
It’s a challenge that has kept her here. Her love of learning is nourished here; it is nourished by the conversations and discussions. It is nourished by other people. At St. John’s, her curiosity found friends.
The ethos she is talking about is the result of St. John’s collective learning environment. The discussion formatted classes facilitate that. Collective learning though is somewhat of an oxymoron, because one learns for the individual and as an individual, and yet somehow the endeavor must be done with other people to gain particular kind of success.
“What’s so interesting about community as we have it here, I wouldn’t want to have to define it [community], is that we are engaged in the same enterprise and cooperate with one another in our learning…it is paradoxical to me that the people with whom you are talking can help you so much to learn but can’t do the learning for you…”
Ms. Kraus has been recently reading Vladimir Nabokov’s Speak Memory.
“I’m rereading that because I’m interested in his sense of time and I think it’s a very beautiful book.”
“I chose Joyce’s The Dead…and I’m very interested in the presence of the past and the way the past stays the same with us, both through recollection and when one tries to remember and in ways that it comes to you in a moment…I’m very interested in the experience of the past being present within us.”
Aside, Ms. Kraus likes acapella music. She loves Lyle Lovett. She thinks Kanye West is ok.
To finish our interview I asked her to give one piece of advice to our students regarding anything, even life outside of St. John’s. I’ll end with her words:
“Don’t be afraid. There’s a big world out there, and it has lots of opportunities. Don’t be afraid of it. Try new challenges, take yourself seriously, and reflect on what you’re doing. “