We remember teachers who were bold, experimental, inventive, real.  John King was all of that.  And for that he was fired at the end of my senior year in 1964.  That wiry, high-energy teacher taught American history, government and sociology during his tenure at Parkersburg (IA) High School from 1959 to 1964.

We sheltered kids off the farm were held in rapt attention by this teacher who spent a number of days in sociology class seated on the front of his desk or at the blackboard informing us about the truly human side of sociology  — things like sexual patterns and habits, deviancies and more liberal ways of Europe.  We had never heard anything like it.  It may have been the first time this high school senior heard about homosexuality. Mr. King told us about transvestites, rape, prostitution and open nudity in European films of the 1960s. We were transfixed. That 33-year-old Korean veteran with a bachelor’s degree from what is now the University of Northern Iowa had the courage and instincts to tell us what no other adult would do — and in an informed way in a classroom.  He talked to us like adults in a high school of 160 kids.

Well, it didn’t take long for the word to get to the Parkersburg Board of Education, whose president, I recall, was Louie Dreyer, who owned the drug store in town and who was a Baptist.  (His son was in our class and a good friend who came out as gay at our 25th high school reunion in 1989 and who died of AIDS a couple years ago in California).

I was editor of the high school newspaper that senior year, Mr. King’s final year at Parkersburg.   The Top Talk pages were printed inside the Parkersburg Eclipse, the largest paper in Butler County and I relished how far and wide my writings went. On May 6, 1964, we published an article I wrote titled, “My Favorite High School Subject.”  I queried 14 classmates.

Gretchen Kneppe wrote:  “History courses because, I guess, it just comes naturally to me and I’ve always had a good teacher who made history courses interesting.  Mr. King told us little details and things that aren’t mentioned in the book to make history seem real.” (On the side, my last paragraph noted, “Though some seniors didn’t want their names mentioned, they like study hall the most because they could sleep in study hall with no teachers lecturing.”)

Almost a half-century later, the details of this teacher controversy are vague in my mind. I think it was early spring when we learned that his contract would not be renewed because of what he was teaching. Nothing formal was said.  My news clippings from April 22 carried a story “Eight Members of the Parkersburg School Resigned at School Year End.”  The fifth on the list:  “Mr. John King, social studies, will teach in the fine Mason City school system next year.”

Each week that school year, I wrote a column, identified as an editorial.  My second editorial (“English Should Remain a Requirement”) infuriated the school supertendent and principal, who together sat me down in the principal’s office and told me their concept of high school journalism.  My March 11 editorial was titled, “Social Studies Must Never Fall to the Elective Status as English Has.”  I went into great words about the nobility of social studies, government and history.  My last paragraph read, “We fortunately have had an instructor with a broad knowledge in these areas and others.  With his articulation, Mr. King has competently revealed  to us the aspects of our American heritage during the past five years. He has taught us much that isn’t taught in books, things that are important to us in enabling us to more capably take our place in society. Therefore, educators must use prudence and foresight when they plan the future of teaching young people in school.”

That 18-year-old writer, with an immersion that year in high school journalism,  subsequently opted to launch into a 50-year career in newspaper journalism.

I remember during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 how Mr. King told us what to do if the Russians bombed us. In great detail, he discussed the showdown between Kennedy and Khrushchev. He had a major role in my love for public affairs, politics and world issues.

I always ranked Mr. King as my most gifted and talented teacher.  He died Jan. 8 in Mason City at the age of 82. From 1964 to 1989, he taught at Mason City High School and also night classes at Buena Vista University.

I recall he came to one class reunion.  When I published a 70-page booklet for our 40th class reunion in 2004, I reached out to John King for some bio updates and reflections. He declined.  I shared my long-held admiration for him and for his being so candid and adult with us unworldly, insulated kids.  He chose not to respond.

To be a great teacher must have untold rewards and gratification. Sometimes students deserve to know more than they are told to be told.

We so very much respected John King, and he won’t ever be forgotten.

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