Faculty Spotlight: Mr. Carson Strohecker

Faculty Spotlight: Mr. Carson Strohecker

Ashlin Roberts '22, Staff Writer

I decided to interview Mr. Carson Strohecker, who happens to be my AP Language teacher for this year. Mr. Strohecker is an English teacher, and he is also involved in sponsoring multiple clubs on campus. Although Mr. Strohecker is a favorite among the students on campus, his life outside of school seemed to be a mystery to most. Let’s take a look into his philosophy of life and some of the interesting things he has done.  

How long have you been teaching at Episcopal, and what made you want to teach here? 

“I came to Episcopal in August of 2020 – about four months into the pandemic. My family and I were leaving Maui, Hawaii, where we had lived for twelve years, and we had options to live in Tacoma, Washington; Chattanooga, Tennessee or Jacksonville, Florida. We chose Episcopal because we were super impressed with the faculty and administration because both were not only at the top of their games in their respective fields, but also genuinely concerned about the well-being of the students and the school’s positive movement forward into the future. The nature and business of education seems to be constantly changing, and Episcopal’s faculty and administration were well-attuned to these issues, had a clear vision about the future and were strong in their convictions about developing the whole student. I knew I wanted to be with folks who had similar convictions as I did, so I was super grateful when I learned I was coming on board! Moreover, the students here are personable, kind, intelligent and talented.  I think I remember telling Ms. McGee that I wanted my son and daughter to be at a school like Episcopal because of the student body’s cohesion and integrity.”

Have you taught anywhere previously? 

“I have been teaching as a paid teacher since 1999, but while I was in high school and in college, I had the great fortune to teach music and instruct folks in mountain activities, river rafting, rock guiding and so on.  So even when I was a dirt-bag ne’er-do-well, I was still a teacher, though unpaid or at least an hourly wage of around five dollars – yikes!. I think everyone is a teacher in some capacity, so I guess the slight distinction is whether you get paid a salary or not. In any case, the first school I taught that I was paid a salary for was in an economically depressed county in the low country of South Carolina. I have many awesome and frightening stories about that adventure! That’s for another article! I then returned to the high school from which I graduated in Columbia, SC and taught there for eight years. It was great to return to high school and teach alongside a mentor of mine, Paul Ragan, who wrote a whole bunch of early stuff on Fred Chappell. Anyway,  I then taught in Hawaii for twelve years. Along the way, I have had the great fortune to teach at community colleges, homeless shelters and in prisons. The best story I have as a teacher was at a homeless shelter on Maui when a recovering addict and I worked together so that she could pass the GED. It was important to her because in order for her to get her daughter back and out of foster care, she had to stay sober for a year and pass the GED. Well, she worked hard and passed the test, and the last I heard, she had a legitimate job, and she and her daughter were doing just fine. In that case, passing the test had some very real consequences for her, and I was fortunate to be able to observe her become more disciplined and more committed to realizing her potential. I have some hysterically funny stories about teaching in Maui’s prisons, and I have a great story of teaching Dante to some really exceptional folks who simply made some bad choices in life. I think that if we had stronger educational programs in prisons there would be fewer folks who felt left out or marginalized, and therefore fewer crimes!   In any case, I guess I have been teaching for around twenty-three years, I think.  Every year is different! Will say that my father and mother, Scott and Marie, have been the best teachers I ever had. I think the mold was broken after them! My father is an old-school academic, and he is a genuine scholar and academician in a multitude of disciplines. I am very much in his shadow! I was fortunate to grow up around his colleagues and friends, and all of them were the real deal. My mother likewise has a scholarly discipline, and her focus is less on academics and more on soul and religious development. Without a doubt, she is the spiritual grounding of the family, and when we have troubles in these matters, we go to her. So, I was super fortunate to have had the best possible parents, and I hope that somehow I can be the same to my children.”

What would you be doing if you weren’t a teacher? 

“If I wasn’t a paid teacher, I would be an unpaid teacher, meaning I would still be teaching but unsalaried. I don’t think that I chose to be a teacher, but rather it chose me. That’s a cliche, but I can’t imagine doing anything else. I love the high school curriculum: from literature, to math, to physics, to art, and so on. I would loathe to teach in college. The high school curriculum is all important, and I love being around interesting people in these interesting subjects without the pretense of being a researcher in college. But, if you are looking for an alternative, as far as a subject, I would love to teach woodcraft and lutherie (how to make instruments).  I make stringed instruments – violins, mandolins, guitars, ukuleles – and I think that young folks ought to learn some kind of craft like this.  It is magical to take what is otherwise dead wood and bring it to life by making it sound, and sound well. Good luthiers are like magicians to me. Perhaps here at Episcopal we could have a lutherie class or summer program? I would love that! I know everyone else would too, so let’s get the ball rolling!”

Do you have a favorite book/reading that you would recommend to your students or anyone else who’s interested? 

“My only recommendation is to listen to Bach. Listening to and playing Bach is like looking into the cosmos. It’s all there. Eat, sleep, play Bach, repeat. A life well-lived!

My advice for a reading list? First, I would encourage everyone to learn multiple languages and read the texts in the original. There is no substitute. Next, I would encourage students and adults to read material that you don’t like and read difficult material.  I am not a person who reads for pleasure. I rather want to get something out of it, which means I have to work real hard while I read – which means I am looking for real rather than a stereotyped or conditioned responses. I want to suffer in order to learn because I know through the suffering I will have a greater accessibility to experience and a greater range of response. If I am complacent and simply read for pleasure and stuff that appeals to me already, I am not expanding my soul. John Keats, who is for me one of the great human presences in the whole of human history said somewhere in a letter, ‘Call the world if you please a Vale of Soul-Making!’  Keats says the soul, or the self, does not exist until we create it; does not exist unless we create it. I think reading anything that pushes you out of complacency helps to expand your soul. And throughout life, we have to continue to push ourselves in difficult terrain. My grandmother used to quote Goerte, and one of her favorite lines was: ‘Whoever strives upward, he must save.’  I think that reading difficult material with a purpose helps to expand your sensibility. I am all for Mortimer Adler’s Great Books series. Read things honestly without reducing them to being canonical, and in the original language if you can. It should compel us to learn more languages and push ourselves every day linguistically.”

If you could give one piece of advice to your students what would it be? 

“The one piece of advice I would give to students is to make mistakes and learn from them.  Andre Gide, the French novelist, was profoundly concerned about the ‘incompleteness’ of people. He believed that people are whatever they make of themselves; our possibilities are limited only by our unfortunate eagerness to accept ready-made definitions. I think in order to get clear of  those ready-made definitions, one must make mistakes; one must be against a desultory non-participation in a narrow, stultifying and prisoner-like activity that reduces the richness of living to a conditioned reflex. Anyone who is afraid of making a mistake anesthetizes themselves to the richness of living. We make mistakes – and we all surely do – but it will strike us out of an invisible apathy that I see so many people drifting towards if not in already because people are afraid to mess up.” 

“Also, I would encourage everyone to fall in love. It is so very important to do so, and let me go ahead and tell you that it won’t work out the first or second or third time and so on. You’ll make mistakes, but that’s fine and expected. You’ll learn from them and be more ready the next time that you do fall in love. Hopefully when you are really ready to fall in love for the last time, you are fully aware that love is a conscious choice you make everyday regardless of how you ‘feel.’  The real deep, sustaining loves are the ones where the lovers choose to be forgiving, demanding, and above all concerned with helping the other to become a better person spiritually and soulfully.  Every day, we have to consciously make the choice to be in love, which means consciously helping that other out in this way.  It is not something that is self-evident or some kind of ‘feeling.’  No – mature love is always a choice.  But you can’t get to that point unless you fall in love and go through the challenging, difficult process that always serves up generous slices of humble pie!”

What’s your favorite color? 

“I have no favorite color because color can exist only as a secondary property; color has to exist through something else. I would rather favor some primary mode of being and existence rather  than a secondary and perhaps subordinate property. To get what I mean, consider this problem: can a person who is blind from birth know what the color red means? By the way, what does the color red mean? If you can wiggle out of this, you’ll have my smile of glowing approval!”

What do you enjoy doing outside of school? 

“I enjoy and love my family very much, and basically my life is centered around them. Marriage rocks! My son and my daughter and my wife are my blood and peace. I enjoy spending time with them no matter what we are doing. I also enjoy playing the piano, violin, ukulele, mandolin, classical and flamenco guitar, and I have recently taken up the banjo. I love making wooden toys and small furniture. I am no spring chicken anymore, so I am not as athletically spry as I used to be – but no matter. I am quite happy with everything that has come my way – both the good and the bad, successes and failures.”

Image courtesy of Ashlin Roberts ’22.