|Features Around the College Departments Alumni Notes In Memoriam|
Remembering John Haefner
The Best Teacher Anyone Ever Had
Social Studies Education Professor Emeritus John H. Haefner, 96, who passed away November 1, 2009, is remembered by all who were lucky enough to be one of his students as “the best teacher I ever had.” Haefner is also remembered as a wise and trusted mentor, a respected professor, and a lifelong leader in social studies education. He was taught social studies at Iowa City’s University High School and in the College of Education for 46 years.
“John’s passing leaves a hole in my heart,” Associate Professor Bruce Fehn said. “He was special.”
Special indeed. His U-High students, who went on to earn graduate degrees at some of the country’s most prestigious schools, define Haefner as being in “a class all by himself.”
Nicholas Johnson, a U-High student best known for his controversial term as FCC commissioner, said, “John Haefner was probably the single most influential teacher I ever encountered, from kindergarten through law school, in shaping the additional near 60 years of my life that have, so far, followed his extraordinary class.”
Haefner’s “Reading in Social Studies” course for U-High seniors was legendary. Nearly 60 years later, his former students instantly recall the books they read and impact this course had in their overall education.
“John Haefner was one of the most influential people in my life,” Robert V. Price (BA ‘61/JD ’67), who was Haefner’s student both at U-High and the UI, said. “His ‘Readings’ course was probably the most important and intellectually broadening course I have ever taken. John was a bundle of energy and enthusiasm in the classroom. He exuded a genuine interest and pleasure in every subject he taught which, in turn, rubbed off on his students.”
Through the “Readings” course, he introduced his students to classics in the field—the concepts of basic economics, individual and collective power, consumption, and political control through the writings of authors like Plato, Machiavelli, and Adam Smith.
“We started the class by reading a book on thinking and that was really what the course was about—teaching us to think. We read, we discussed, we wrote, we thought,” Martha (Spitzer) Clatterbaugh (BA ’61) said.
“He was brilliant, as well as a remarkably warm person who challenged all his students with his Socratic method to illicit thinking and dialogue,” Richard L DeGowin said.“
Margie (Ladd) DeKock (BA ‘60/Ma ’70) agreed. “Dr. Haefner taught the importance of analytical thinking, not merely regurgitating facts,” she said. “Our term paper was not unlike my master’s thesis in scope and structural correctness. He demanded the best and he got it from his admiring students.”
Haefner had the same effect on his college students and colleagues as well.
“John Haefner, more than anyone, had the greatest influence on my professional career. His willingness to always put aside his work and spend time helping me made a lasting impression,” said John J. Chiodo (PhD ’74). “He taught me many things about teaching and research, but most of all to care about students.”
“John taught all of us by example,” said Jerry Moore (PhD ’64). “He was an exemplary teacher in the high school and college classroom—demanding rigorous, reflective academic approaches to solving problems or issues. I admired his work and his integrity.”
Professor Emeritus Bea Furner (MA ‘63/PhD ’67), who taught with Haefner for over 30 years, said she valued and admired his many attributes. “John’s ability to get to the heart of complex issues by using concrete, everyday analogies was testament to his feisty spirit and wonderful sense of humor,” she said.
Robert Roddewig (BA ‘51/MA ’52) said Haefner was one of Iowa’s finest, providing input throughout his career. “Those fortunate enough to know him and study under him are so much the better for his long life,“ he said.
“As my mentor and friend, the best I can do is to summarize his approach,” Price said. “Love to learn as you learn to live
In Their Own Words
By Robert V. Price (BA ‘61/JD ‘67)
John Haefner was one of the most influential people in my life. I was lucky enough to know John, Dorothy, and their family from my earliest childhood; all due to my father, Vernon Price, being a colleague of John’s at Iowa City’s University High School. My father was head of the Mathematics Department and John, whose office was a mere 25 steps away, was head of the Social Studies Department. Because of their close friendship, our families spent a great deal of time together, long before I was one of his students. Probably the most important and intellectually broadening course I have ever taken was John’s course, “Social Studies Readings,” in my senior year at University High School. At the time I did not realize what a “Tour de Force” educational experience it would be. Through our exposure to a broad panoply of writers—from Thorstein Veblen to Niccolo Machiavelli to Robert Heilbronner to Vance Packard—we rode through history and stimulating thought via a heavy reading load plus a focused but open discussion of all the figures and their writings. John was a bundle of energy and enthusiasm in the classroom. He exuded a genuine interest and pleasure in every subject he taught which, in turn, rubbed off on his students. Thanks to his teaching techniques, such as inviting a member of the Law School faculty to talk to us about the due process of law, it opened new worlds of critical thinking that have been of great benefit throughout my life. I compounded my good fortune when I went on to student teach that same “Social Studies Readings” course during my senior year at The University of Iowa. In preparing for my teaching stint, John suggested I consider a course on national security, a subject recommended by another former student, Sidney Winter, who was then working at the Rand Corporation. I took John’s advice and chose to teach from a book by an obscure Harvard professor, Henry Kissinger. As my mentor and tutor, John was a demanding professor while inspiring me to learn his teaching techniques (with limited success, at best). Apparently, the results were good enough that he invited me back after graduation to teach the same subject prior to my going off to “Ft. Benning’s School for Boys” (a.k.a. the U.S. Army). There are too many stories to tell here about John Haefner’s impact on his students’ lives. The best I can do is to summarize his approach: Love to learn as you learn to live.
By Mike Fuller (MA ‘65/PhD ‘71)
Professor, Dept. of Education, Miami University
Those of us who worked for and with John Haefner, who we fondly referred to as Dr. H., admired him for his intelligence, teaching skills, loyalty, and humanity. He made sure that the graduate students who taught in the Social Studies Department at University High School were doing their jobs well and, in return, he helped in every way to secure their career goals.
Dr. H. was always overworked and probably underpaid for all that he did. When we were finished with our graduate work and spread to the four winds, he remained our professional colleague and friend. For more than 30 years after receiving my doctorate and leaving Iowa City to teach at Miami University, we corresponded with John and Dorothy Haefner by letter, Christmas greetings, and by telephone. Whenever we were in Iowa City, we would meet the Haefners for lunch as did many others who were loved and supported by Dr. H.
I remember most vividly a graduate course Dr. H. taught during a summer session in the midst of the Vietnam War and the unrest that festered on most campuses. Dr. H. stated something to the effect that he was not sure that freedom of speech was being carried to the extreme, and others in the class agreed or acquiesced. I remember saying, “I don’t think you really believe that, Dr. Haefner.” It was at the end of the class, and discussion was delayed until the next session. Some of the others in the class chided me afterwards, and I could tell that they thought that I had really done myself in for the course and for the almighty grade. I did my homework, and when class time came again, Dr. H. started with, “Mike, at the end of class yesterday we were discussing teaching of political rights.” He proceeded to recap the previous session and asked me to explain why I had disagreed with him. My response was in his own words gleaned from articles he had written and speeches he had given in which he had expounded on the need for Social Studies educators to teach the understandings and skills necessary for citizenship in a democracy—including freedom of speech. As a true professional, other graduate students in the class never knew that Dr. H., after class and out of earshot of the others, congratulated me on understanding and putting into practice the critical thinking skills he espoused. From that day on, we were professional and personal friends and remained so until his death.
By Nicholas Johnson
A member of the U-High class of 1952, Johnson is best known nationally for his controversial term as FCC commissioner. He returned to Iowa City in 1980 where he has been teaching at the University of Iowa College of Law.
John Haefner was probably the single most influential teacher I ever encountered, from kindergarten through law school, in shaping the additional near 60 years of my life that have, so far, followed his extraordinary class.
Dr. Haefner played a major role in my life, and I thought I would share with you – for such use or interest as they might be to you – this material of mine in which I have mentioned him, or that otherwise relates to him that I found with a Google search. As you’ll see, one of them involved an award I created in his name.
And see, Dr. John H. Haefner, “Swan Song of An Old School Teacher,” October 17, 1999
By Jerry Moore
Professor Emeritus at the University of Virginia
John Haefner meant a great deal to me. I had the privilege to serve as his graduate assistant while he was on national television with John Coleman—an approach to teaching economics. John taught all of us by example. He was an exemplary teacher in the high school and college classroom—demanding rigorous, reflective academic approaches to solving problems or issues. At the same time he was a good friend. Whenever he worked with his graduate students on a project, John Haefner always gave full credit to your work. I admired his work and his integrity and I still miss him.
By Martha (Spitzer) Clatterbaugh
John Haefner had a great influence on my life and on the lives of many of my friends at University High School. He was one of the education giants at the school and students looked forward to the class he taught to seniors, “Readings in the Social Studies.” In that class he introduced us to classics in the field—the concepts of basic economics, individual and collective power, consumption, and political control through the writings of authors like Plato, Machiavelli, and Adam Smith. We started the class by reading a book on thinking and that was really what the course was about—teaching us to think. We read, we discussed, we wrote, we thought. John Haefner was a master at pulling thoughts out of our high school minds that we were not even aware of before entering his classroom. He expected high-level accomplishments and we all worked to achieve them.
At the same time, he was able to relate the concepts we read about in difficult texts to our own lives. I remember writing a Socratic dialogue about the problems with the current rules at the U-High library. I still remember some of the books we read in “Readings” in 1957, but what I most remember from those long ago days is that Dr. Haefner always seemed genuinely interested in each of us and in what we thought and how we said it.
After high school I had many fine professors at a number of universities around the country, but for me, John Haefner remains the best. Whenever I get together with other former U-High students we remember his class and agree that he was our best teacher ever.
I always considered John a mentor in my career as a teacher and tried to emulate his techniques and methods in my classroom. In the 1970’s The Seattle Times started a “Newspapers in Education” program and I used it extensively for several years. It was only much later that I found that “NIE”, which is in use all over the United States, was started by John Haefner. No wonder it was such a natural fit for me and my classroom. I’m sure he had other influences on me of which I am still unaware.
I was fortunate to know John Haefner outside of class. The Haefners were family friends. He and my father, Herbert Spitzer, were colleagues in the School of Education, and the Haefners were frequent guests at our home. And as an adult, I was able to continue my friendship with John and Dorothy. I particularly enjoyed visiting them in their home in Iowa City when I would return to visit family. Our discussions often revolved around education. On one of those visits we were talking about the “Readings” class and the rigorous term paper assignment that accompanied it. John disappeared into the basement for a few minutes and returned with a copy of the paper I had written for the class, along with copies of those my brother and sister had written and those of a few other students whom I would remember. He recalled details from each of those papers.
The University School in Iowa City was a special place and John Haefner was one of its major influences. Starting in first grade, social studies was the heart of the curriculum for the elementary school. That center became diversified in high school but Haefner’s class put the crown on a distinctive curriculum and steered many students into the social studies as a career. The school always remained an important, even essential, place for John, and he remains integrated into its best memories for those of us lucky enough to have had him as a teacher.
By Anna (Spitzer) Quandt
A class by himself. Correct. My sister Martha called and said John Haefner was the best teacher I ever had. Richard Degowin (yes the doctor) called and said John Haefner was the best teacher I ever had, and I went to the U. of Chicago and,… And then I said John Haefner was the best teacher I ever had and that includes teachers at Stanford and Harvard. So let’s just say it: John Haefner was the best social studies teacher in America ever!
By Robert Roddewig (BA ‘51/MA ’52)
One of the UI’s first graduate students in Social Studies Education who went on to set the record for longevity in the classroom in Grosse Pointe, Mich., where he taught for 42 years. Roddewig went on to earn a Ph.D. in Education after Iowa.
I am deeply sorry to read your message concerning the passing of Dr. John Haefner. He was one of the really finest and Iowa had many of those in my day—certainly in a “class by himself” and those of us who were so fortunate to know him and study under him are so much the better for his long life.
Dr. Haefner was always my advisor and, I believe, I was the very first student to major in the Social Studies Program—at least this is what I was told. He was a particularly close professor to me and he encouraged me to take my major in what he had developed as the “social studies” which was five areas of teaching skills. With my B.A. degree I did not feel I really had enough preparation to proceed to the classroom so I went on for an M.A. in the social studies. It was the wisest thing I did as I had a diverse background which gave my students much more than if I had majored in just one area such as history. For all these umpteen years, I have been of the impression I was the first social studies major at the University of Iowa. I never knew what had developed beyond my years at the college.
I taught in the Grosse Pointe, Michigan, a very prestigious school district for 42 years and retired in 1994. Over the years I had close contact with teachers from some of the really top universities in the Midwest and the nation—any from Univ. of Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State Univ., Wayne State, Univ. of Wisconsin, and Univ. of Illinois. We hired the best we could find and I was instrumental in many of these. However, I cannot honestly say that there were any I have ever known whom I felt had the kind of education for the job that I had acquired at Iowa. I never came across anyone who had ever heard of the 'unit method' which amazed me. The Social Studies Elective Program we developed around the Unit Method (over forty study units from which students could elect four time per year) was a resounding success. Teachers were teaching in areas of strength (most of us wrote units we loved to teach) and students were learning at their maximum for the most part. Many of us traveled the nation introducing our program to other interested districts.
The Michigan Superintendent of Instruction included our work with a compilation of other innovative ideas in education. This program came about as a result of comments Dr. Haefner made during my classes and conversations with him. I was, in time, elected as our Social Studies Chairman and it was not long before I began rounding up staff who would want to “try something different.” I kept Dr. Haefner advised during our development period and much of what we did was of his comments back to me. He had input along the way.
I learned the University of Iowa was 'up at the top' and, though well regarded, never really received the accolades deserved. Interesting.
And on a side note: I am very pleased to find that the University has the Social Studies Program. I can well attest that it was a very good major for me and gave me the necessary background expansion I needed to really do a good job teaching our young people who had such a limited knowledge of history, geography, sociology and especially economics and finance. I think you should be aware that the background I had in econ and finance became a bonanza for me in terms of investment and income outside my teaching salary. If I were thinking in terms of preparing for a teaching career today I would do my studies all over again. Our students need much more input regarding econ and finance.
By Margie (Ladd) DeKock (BA ‘60/MA ’70)