As a Johnnie, partaking in conversations is a part of our daily lives and by doing that you can always discover more about other people and the way that they think. I had the opportunity to discuss with my tutor, Steven Crockett, and I can now say that I have gotten to know him a lot more. I hope that, by reading this interview, you will also discover more about how wonderful he is.
LS: Where did you go to college/university and how did you discover about St. John’s?
SC: I went to Earlham College and then to the University of Chicago for graduate work. It was at Chicago [University] that I first learned about St. John’s. Many of my teachers at both schools had been students at the University when Robert Maynard Hutchins presided over it, and so discussions of good and great books were still very much a part of what went on in both places. In Chicago I began my trek from music to law — not so far, really.
LS: What drew you to St. John’s as a tutor? What class do you like the most to “tutor” and why?
SC: Many things drew me here, among them the opportunity to “teach” in the most serious music theory course I’d ever seen, and I’d seen a lot at Chicago; to learn more mathematics, which I’d begun to study at Chicago, with a friend who was a PhD student in mathematics and a musician; and to study more thoughtfully what at Chicago was sometimes called “the history of culture”. Douglas Allanbrook, distinguished Tutor here when I came, asked me during my first interview at the College, “Are you some sort of Hegelian? Spirit of the Age and all that?” I don’t think The Phenomenology of Spirit was on the reading list then.
LS: What is your favorite part of the program and how do you think that coming to St. John’s has impacted your life?
SC: Perhaps, impossibly, all the parts are my favorite, partly because there are so many moments in the Program when the view suddenly opens onto a wider plain — as when it becomes clear that two lines may have a common measure there are some things in mathematics that can’t be said, or that the earth moves with a triple motion. Such moments aren’t always happy ones, and in many cases are preceded by the difficulty of having to learn new “technical” matters — but that’s just the effort of climbing up to where one can see more.
I speak here from just outside what I sometimes hear called the St. John’s “bubble” — I’ve spent more time outside it than in. But the time inside is well spent. Here one can think more carefully about the kinds of decisions that can affect oneself and others deeply. And in this college, the world is often an open book, written by someone who has spent time in a difficult world, stepped away from it for a time, taken thought, and then written something to help us seek a better way.
LS: Another question that comes to my mind is just about what you enjoy doing in your free time. I assume that discovering new music to listen to might be part of it and lastly, if you are reading anything for your leisure, what book are you reading and what piqued your interest, so much so that you chose to read that book and not another.
SC: In my too little free time, I walk or cycle, read things not always directly connected with the Program, watch British detective shows, and spend not enough time with music. Among the things I’m reading right now: Karl J. Weintraub’s The Value of Individuality, a history of the gradual emergence of individuality in autobiographical writings (those who are pretty sure they know what “historicism” is, and that it’s not a good thing, might read Weintraub); and various writings by Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, James Madison, and W. E. B. Du Bois. Why these books and not others? For too many reasons, some quite personal, others connected with the topics that have long drawn me in — music, time, history, constitution making, and mathematical discovery.