This year St. John’s had the pleasure to welcome six new tutors to the Santa Fe campus and I thought this month’s spotlight would be the perfect time to introduce one of them. Ms. Shannon Chamberlain has an impressive academic background, receiving her bachelor’s in early modern history and literature from Harvard and her PhD in English Literature from Berkeley. When I asked her how she ended up at St. Johns after having a more traditional education she said that it had been a familiar name but she really began to think about it seriously when she heard all about it from Mr. Venkatesh, a tutor at St. John’s that she met at a conference. At that point, Ms. Chamberlain became more interested in the school and what she said appealed to her was the idea of starting from fundamentals, “I’m teaching freshman math right now and well, I’ve never been very good at it. So I feel like I’m kind of going back to the human reckoning of math and getting to experience it all over in a way that makes me much more confident in the conclusions I’m reaching and that we’re all reaching. There’s something always very disorienting for me about being in a classroom and someone just saying that this is just the way math is with no explanation.”
Another thing that Ms. Chamberlain loves about St. John’s is how she has been able to engage with the texts. She says that understanding how the ideas came to fruition is a really invigorating sensation, citing her experience reading Hobbes for the first time as an example:, “I kind of hate where he’s going with it but I love how he’s thinking!” And though she wishes there was more Adam Smith on the program she says she looks forward to all the other texts that she’ll have the opportunity to explore(a true Johnnie sentiment).
Aside from the program Ms. Chamberlain just has a general love of books and is interested in everything they have to say. Currently, she is in the process of writing her own book about what the great books have to say about parents. Being a parent herself she’s says she’s been looking for examples of classic parenting situations that come up in great books, “It seems like parents get kind of a bad rep. They’re always a plot impediment and so I’m always looking for examples of different kinds of parenting. Not necessarily good parenting but parenting with a lot of moral nuance and a lot to say to us about the condition of being a parent.”
Ms. Chamberlain has an undeniable passion for the great books that is so infectious (She even made me excited to read Adam Smith when talking about her dissertation) and makes her a great fit for the college. We are so lucky to have such a wonderful addition to our faculty.