U.S. Rep. Ed Case credits Hawaii Preparatory Academy teacher Paul Knauff for inspiring him to view the world through a more critical and thoughtful lens.
“He taught me to think critically, and that’s pretty foundational to a lot of adult life, the ability to step back away from yourself and see what the world is really all about, and try to make sense of it, make the right analyses and make the right decisions, ” Rep. Case said.
It was Mr. Knauff who introduced him and his classmates to classic literary works including J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye.
“The discussions that he would evoke about those books were experience-turning because that wasn’t the way I’d ever thought before,” Rep. Case said. “That’s where I really started to understand, for the first time, the broader world. I started to think like an adult.”
Mr. Knauff was masterful in how he set up the context of a book, Rep. Case said. “It wasn’t just about the book or what was happening in the book — it was the times of the book, it was the place, it was the author, it was the manner in which it was presented.”
Mr. Knauff was also “an exceptional human being,” Rep. Case said. A German-American who was in his 30s, Mr. Knauff spoke about growing up on the East Coast and how his family experienced discrimination in the shadow of World War II.
The future attorney and U.S. representative was a rebellious 9th grader who would challenge his teachers’ authority, so he and Mr. Knauff clashed often.
“I fought in class, and disagreed unreasonably – probably, always in the context of debating a book. But Mr. Knauff understood that his job was to expand my horizons, and he certainly did that.”
Mr. Knauff was “a steadying influence, and a credible one. He was not only a great teacher, but a mentor of sorts. He helped me get through my adolescence.”
Rep. Case said he was neither Mr. Knauff’s top nor favorite student, and he only took one or two classes from him.
“But if he were alive today, he would remember me as that kid that gave him a lot of trouble,” he said. “And I think he would be shocked to hear me talking about him having this kind of an influence on my life.”
Nonetheless,”this particular teacher touched me very deeply at exactly the right time so I remember him.”
Mr. Knauff left HPA after Rep. Case’s junior year and then was tragically killed in a car accident while still on Hawaii Island. Mr. Knauff appears to have had a positive and profound impact on others he taught there because the senior class decided to dedicate its yearbook to his memory.
Because he was killed shortly after he taught Rep. Case, Mr. Knauff had no inkling of the influence he had on his contentious student, nor would he ever know that he would one day go to Washington, D.C. to serve Hawaii’s people.
“There was no good evidence at the time that I would amount to much to anything,” Rep. Case said, with a chuckle.
“Good teachers are critical to bringing up our children because they give them parts of the foundation that it takes to build them into solid adults,” Rep. Case said. “Teaching is not just about accumulating knowledge, it’s about how to use that knowledge once you have it. That’s what good teachers do. It’s not just a download of how to do math or how to read a book. It’s everything that goes with that. It’s the application of that and the integration of that with the other subjects. Good teachers understand that. They always put the acquisition of knowledge in context.”