Suzanne James runs the theology department at the Willows alongside our chaplain, Fr. Pete Arriaga. She also teaches theology, philosophy, and math. Her philosophy classes are catered toward students who opt out of the theology requirement and are also available as an elective for all students. The philosophy classes are a four year sequence and are built by James herself: Truth, Goodness, and Beauty; Justice, Law and Freedom; Human Flourishing; and the Classical Mind.
BACKGROUND AND EXPERIENCE
Originally, James studied economics and music (piano) at Albion College. She began a Ph.D in Economics at Northwestern University but realized her true interest was mathematics, causing her to pivot. She graduated with a master’s degree instead and pursued a career as an actuary.
After five years of working as an actuary, James decided to stay home with her kids full time as her family grew. Since then, James has had six children, including two Willows daughters (one graduate and one current student).
BECOMING A PHILOSOPHY TEACHER
During this time, she began to take some courses in theology and philosophy and unexpectedly fell in love with the subjects. When the two-year course ended, Willows was opportunely looking for a part-time philosophy teacher. James took the position and taught one class–just twice a week–allowing her the flexibility to remain as available to her children as she wanted. The position turned out to be a wonderful fit: nine years later, James has a full course load (including a Theology course on the Blessed Trinity and Algebra 2, an ode to her mathematics background) and has only grown in her love for teaching.
“It’s not so much when they understand the concept but when they see the value of it,” James explains. “Why are we reading John’s gospel, Plato’s Republic? Because there are things here that can help you figure out your life.”
James is constantly emphasizing the applicability of the concepts and texts they are studying. She wants her students to know that the things they are learning can have a say in everyday decisions, including discerning a career, finding a spouse, and bettering oneself as a friend.
She has built a strong philosophy curriculum for her students based on her own critical analysis of the texts as well as other high quality resources, such as research by professors at the University of Dallas, Notre Dame, and Catholic University, among others. While she has already established a strong four year program, she is continually finding ways to enrich her curriculum.
HOPE FOR WILLOWS GRADUATES
The thoughtfulness behind James’ curriculum reveals how sincerely she believes in the power of philosophy in preparing students for life beyond Willows.
She sees the urgent importance for graduates to know how to face the increasingly prevalent relativism in today’s thinking alongside the myriad of other problems in the world–injustice, unhappiness, isolation, and more. James sees the potential in her students to have an impact on someone’s life, regardless of where their journey takes them. But she also understands that the challenges of our world will not make it easy.
“There are so many things in a culture that pull us in different directions,” she says, but has high hopes that Willows and her classes equip students to “actually get things done and do it with a sporting spirit and joy….to laugh at themselves, be attractive, and attract others to Christ.”