Sunday, October 2, 2016

With a Twinkle in His Eye: John Stratton, Educator

By Becky (Myher) Schaaf, class of 2004, English major

I had the pleasure of having Dr. Stratton as my professor in a class that he co-taught with his wife, Dorothy. It was an Honors course called "The Harlem Renaissance." As an English major, I flew through so many novels throughout my time at AU, so I know the books that remain with me and come to mind most often must've resulted from courses that were particularly meaningful. This was one of them.

I remember how fascinated I was with the dynamics of a husband and wife co-teaching a course. It was entertaining to see their love expressed through annoyance and amusement, irritation and agreement, frustration and acquiescence as they each shared their respective opinions. Perhaps it was so interesting to me as a young, unmarried person to see two such different people sharing their passion for a course and for life and yet holding their ground in the areas most important to them.

I have shelved memories, both in physical and mental form, of works such as The Big Sea, The Blacker the Berry, and Passing. I often return to these texts, both literally and figuratively, as I have always found literature the best way of processing the happenings in our world. After reading works full of so much beauty and pain, how can we ever not have some sort of basic understanding of the hearts of our fellow humans? (Sometimes, I think world problems could be solved by those who read deeply and enter a world so far beyond our own.)

I remember, in particular, a wonderful conversation about African American churches and a fellow student, blond and fair-skinned, who shared how much she loved attending these services because of the passion and emotion she felt when she was there, and "after all, if I'm passionate about the Word when I'm there, isn't that a great place to be!?" Dr. Stratton always helped facilitate these sorts of discussions, pushing his students far past their boundaries to a place of being able to sit with some new discomfort and consider it for awhile.

During class discussions, I found myself disagreeing with Dr. Stratton most of the time (likely to his amusement!), but his responses, though calm and collected, always pushed me to find my true feelings on a topic rather than skating on the surface. He always had a twinkle in his eye when engaged in disagreeing with or challenging a student, and as I reflect on that now, I believe he must've gotten particular enjoyment either from being just a little bit difficult or from watching his students muck through our own value systems and come out with some clarity. Perhaps a little of both. 

After graduation, I enjoyed seeing Dr. Stratton (and Dorothy) on walks around our neighborhood, stopping by to smell their roses, and exchanging stories of my children and their grandchildren. On a regular basis, I find myself being thankful for my varied experiences at Ashland University, and much of my gratitude goes to professors like Dr. Stratton who were always challenging, engaging, thoughtful, funny, and kind. I will truly miss him and all he represents to me, the university, Ashland and the world.