Insomnia (insomnia) wrote,

Memories of a teacher.

I was curious about a favorite teacher of mine, so I googled him tonight, only to find his obituary. Sadly, I hadn't contacted him since the late '90s.

John Huning

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

John Huning died in his Aromas home on July 16 after a long battle with cancer. He was born in 1938 in St. Louis and moved to Garden Grove CA in 1950. He graduated from Orange Coast College in 1958 with an Associate of Arts Degree. He attended San Jose State College, where he completed his BA and in 1964 he completed a MA in History.

Huning served in the US army and the Army Reserves in the 228th Military Intelligence Detachment during the Viet Nam era.

In 1965 Huning began his teaching career at Live Oak High School in Morgan Hill. In the late 60s he and fellow teacher Jerry Logan developed the Individual Learning Module Program, later renamed Kleine Schule, (KS). It was in KS that Huning's innovative and unique style of teaching really shone. He continually challenged students to do their best by blending independent study with the traditional classroom experience. In recent years Huning received numerous e-mails from past students expressing the impact he had made on their lives. Many wrote how he inspired them to look at the world in different ways and thanked him for believing in them. Outside the classroom Huning coached the Live Oak Junior Varsity Football Team to win their league championship in 1968.

Huning retired form the Morgan Hill Unified School District after 33 years of service.

Huning had many diverse interests. He was a craftsman building his own home in Aromas and after retirement took up auto restoration. His was famous for his gourmet cooking and often served as a guest chef at several restaurants in San Juan Bautista. He also traveled extensively to Cambodia, Europe, China, Mexico, Alaska, Thailand, and the Philippines.


Although I knew him fairly well -- he was my teacher and a friend from grades 8-12 -- he had never mentioned his work in Military Intelligence, although I did know that he had studied psychology, which he taught, in addition to history, humanities, and other subjects.

Huning reminded me a bit of Henry the Eighth -- clever, independent, a bit uncouth, and definitely not politically correct. He was a king, of sorts, reigning over his fiefdom of independent, advanced study and learning, hidden away in the middle of a traditional "sit in your chairs and face the blackboard" kind of school. I didn't have a blackboard, or a desk. I had a table and a cubicle, of sorts, which I and my friends used on many occasions to keep hidden from the eyes of others. My course of study was primarily independent, with visits to the teachers desk and the occasional lecture on specific courses of study... more like college than high school, really.

That said, the assignments were tough, and the teachers kept us busy. By the time I entered college, I had read about 80% of everything required during the two-year humanities program. Unlike the requirements of college, I found myself having not just read bits and pieces, but all of Plato, all of Dante, and far more still. In short, all of the classics that are, by and large, no longer required for most students in either high school or college. College was, if anything, entirely too easy... which arguably was a problem in itself, but not one I can really blame high school for. 

One of his assignments once was a deceptively simple one:
Who was the first American to die in World War 2, and what can you tell me about them?

This led inevitably to having to explain, in detail, the various theories on when World War 2 actually started. Our small group tended to favor either 1931 or 1937, as China was definitely one of the major powers in the war. Approximately 1.1 million Japanese soldiers died fighting China -- a figure which dwarfs those lost in combat vs. the United States. The Japanese attack on French and Chinese territory precipitated an Allied embargo and the freezing of Japanese assets, which made it impossible for them to import oil and operate a modern military. By the time Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, it was running on fumes.

(The first American to die that I could find was Robert K. Reischaur and his wife, who died in the bombing of Shanghai.)

The essential lesson was this -- oftentimes, there is no one simple answer. Instead, there are usually multiple answers that sometimes require a great deal of research to discover, each one adding a new perspective on what we previously considered to be truth. That's probably the most important thing he taught me -- the need to search for a more complete picture of the world, combined with a passion to dig for it.

One time, Mr. Huning brought pictures of his Summer trip to Cambodia to class, making a point of showing everyone his photo of an elephant with a raging, five-foot-long erection. And he hardly stopped there. He'd probably be kicked out of the educational field today, but we loved him for it.

In retrospect, I think I turned out a bit like him... which is kinda cool, really. What a great teacher he was.

So, have you contacted any of your old teachers lately? Who was your favorite teacher, and why?!
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