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The Pursuit of Education

July 28, 2017 | By Tim Pratt

Daryl Breithaupt (SF13, EC14) is a substitute teacher in his hometown of Rogers, Arkansas.
Daryl Breithaupt (SF13, EC14) is a substitute teacher in his hometown of Rogers, Arkansas.

This story is the fourth in a series of alumni profiles compiled on a road trip between Annapolis and Santa Fe. To follow the series, visit Exploring the Johnnie Way.

ROGERS, Ark.—Walking along the brick streets of this city in northwest Arkansas, Daryl Breithaupt points out an old barbershop and a boot repair business.

A short time later, the St. John’s College graduate talks about the local library, City Hall and train station—moments before a train sounds its horn and rumbles through town.

Breithaupt (SF13, EC14) is intimately familiar with this city. He was born and raised here, and after graduating from St. John’s, he returned.

Now, Breithaupt is a substitute teacher in the Rogers School District. It’s a job in which he regularly uses the skills he picked up at St. John’s in Santa Fe, first as an undergraduate, then while studying the Eastern Classics.

“One of the main things we do at the college is, by encountering all these great texts, we hone our skills of observation and infer from those observations,” he says. “Those are useful in any field, but I found that very helpful in the education setting to catch on to ‘Why did that kid just do that?’ It allows you to ask why that happened and investigate. You fine-tune the educational experience.”

Education always has been important to Breithaupt. Growing up, his house was full of books. His family even had a set of great books, like those he would eventually read at St. John’s.

“My dad would say, ‘If you read all of these, you’ll be the smartest man in town,’” he says.

Breithaupt recalls asking family members during his childhood years to tell him stories. His grandfather would regale him with tales by Homer. It was later, when Breithaupt read Homer, that he realized the origin of his grandfather’s stories.

“It was like, ‘Wait a minute. I thought this was something he made up,’” Breithaupt says with a smile. “I had a Greek childhood in a way.”

After high school, Breithaupt attended Hendrix College in nearby Conway, where he studied chemistry and religious studies. After graduating, he returned home to work in his family’s restaurant. Yet, something was missing, he says.

Breithaupt wished he could have studied abroad as an undergrad, so he decided to join the Peace Corps. Over the next few years, he lived and worked in Niger, where he volunteered as a natural resources management rural extension agent—addressing people’s needs in everything from health and education issues to agriculture and water management.

“It was my first time overseas, so that was pretty eye-opening,” he says.

When Breithaupt returned to Arkansas, he worked for a couple of years, and then enrolled in the School for International Training in Vermont. It was during that time, as he was fulfilling a language requirement at nearby Middlebury College, when he met a St. John’s graduate. Within a year, Breithaupt applied and enrolled.

“I visited and realized this is the kind of education I’ve been trying to create for myself for a long time,” he says.

Breithaupt enjoyed his time in Santa Fe. He was part of the search-and-rescue team, did karate for four years, worked as a lab assistant and participated in the Iron Bookwork club.

“One of my favorite things was being a lab assistant,” he says. “I liked that you had what you were going to cover for the day, but you also had to be ready to adapt as people followed different lines of inquiry.”

While he planned to attend medical school after he graduated, he instead decided to stay at St. John’s and enroll in the year-long Eastern Classics graduate program.

“They have a wealth of interesting texts to consider,” he says. “Just doing it in one calendar year can be kind of a whirlwind, but I enjoyed it a lot.”

Afterward, Breithaupt returned to Arkansas and worked in retail for a year before getting his job as a substitute teacher. He has been teaching kindergarten through 5th grade, though he also occasionally teaches at the junior high school level.

“I like it so far,” he says. “One of the surprises is that I’ve been doing a lot of work in special education. I've enjoyed it and I’ve sort of stuck with it.”

Looking ahead, Breithaupt plans to continue teaching. His interest in education, formed decades ago, continues.