John King, an English teacher for more than 40 years, is one of the reasons that generations of student alumni remember Crespi Carmelite High School in Encino, California with pride.
King’s long history with the school and his sense of community has helped “tie-in five decades of Crespi history,” says Dr. Kenneth A. Foersch, the school’s president, noting that whenever he meets old alumni, the first thing they ask is: “Is John King still there?”
John’s impact creates an instant connection between Foersch and the alumni he meets during his international travels and campaigns. “They may have gone to school in the 70’s—but they hear that John King is still there, and they just light up.
“He’s really an important person. He’s one of our brothers, a father figure, someone who has a really high standard in the classroom.”
King did more than teach literature for testing purposes, instead he wanted the classic literary works to help students better deal with, what he calls, the “ultimate issues”—meaning the matters that relate to the human condition. Is there a God? Is there a final judgment?
He sees these kinds of ultimate issues addressed in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago—books that King reads and explores with his students.
Though some high schools cut back on philosophy, poetry and classic texts to make room for science, technology and math, this all-boys high school opts to keep both—knowing the value of each, and the strong foundation the humanities bring to the sciences.
“All of these things are so critical and so important,” King says. “Young people who don’t have the benefit of dealing with these issues—that is extremely limiting, and it’s going to be limiting to the overall career of that individual man or woman, not to have that liberating education.”
A liberal education, meaning an education that liberates students to think critically, to construct an argument and tackle new subjects and problems long after they have left school.
“He may be the greatest lawyer or doctor, but if he does not have this overall perspective on life, he is not truly liberated,” King says.
“A good doctor, a good lawyer, a good businessman is going to first of all know history. He needs to know the background of his country, of Western Europe, of the world, just to be able to understand political and cultural situations.”
Foersch says that the required computer coding and the other STEM subjects all build off the strong foundation taught in English class.
“We believe that in any field that you go into, you are going to have to communicate clearly, concisely, and with meaningful brevity,” Foersch says. “That’s something that [King] really instills from day one.”
Foersch notes that in the school’s 60-year history, King has taught most of the Crespi students. “Because we are a smaller school, most of the students of all time have had him,” he says. “We’ve had nearly 7,000 students and he’s made an impact on nearly all of them, which is an amazing feat.”
One of the schools notable alumni, Chris McGee, ’89, Host of Lakers Pre and Post on Spectrum Sportsnet LA, spoke of his enduring Crespi pride when he was the recipient of the 2012 Crespi Man award.
“Crespi meant so much to me—throughout my adult life as well. The relationships that I formed with my friends and my brothers has carried me throughout my life and had taught me so much about how to be a man in this world.”
He added, “And what I really love about Crespi were the mentors and the teachers that I had growing up. They meant so much to me. They really helped build my character, my integrity, and I look back with great memories on Crespi High School.”
King says one of the characteristics of a Crespi man is a life-long learner. “If people stop reading and learning and seeking wisdom after they graduate from college, we’ve failed somewhere,” he says. “What we do is prepare students to become lifelong learners.”