Rememberance of Professor Klass

by Tom Dulaney

You probably already know David Morrell, bestselling author of First Blood—which gave us Rambo—was very close to Klass at Penn State. See what Morrell says of Klass in the "About the Author" note on Amazon for First Blood.

Klass, two years into his long tenure at Penn State in 1968, grabbed a grand opportunity during that spring semester. In the full rush of Flower Power and the Sixties' exuberances for attacking the establishment, protesting Vietnam, overturning traditional mores and enjoying the Free Love fruits enabled by both The Pill and the generational divide caused by the war, Klass grabbed a golden opportunity.

Penn State offered in Spring 1968 a series of 900 level courses unlike those ever seen before. Professors were encouraged to think way outside the box and dream up ground-breaking, innovative courses to offer to grad students and Seniors. Some of the first African American studies courses seemed to be birthed that semester.

Klass, whose off-the-wall Sci Fi novels dotted the bookshelves in State College stores, offered his class: "The Future As History." What wild educational adventure would a science fiction writer usually at odds with all things establishment concoct, I wondered, and signed up.

Day One of the class told the tale, and chased more than a few students to Drop--Add lines to switch to something less----well, different. The course plan was to look at predictions of all kinds, from economic forecasts to Nostradamus and everything else we could research. The key to choosing predictions: They had to have been made in the past (of course, but with a Sci Fi writer you have to ask) AND they had to have already been scheduled to happen.

We would look at Nostradamus. The Bible. Economic forecasts in the Wall Street Journal prior to the Crash in October 1929. Jules Verne, and more.

Our goal: See what went wrong when the predictions, forecasts and seers were wrong. See what went right when, like Jeanne Dixon, they sometimes hit the jackpot. For example, in 1968 we didn't realize that Verne's "From Earth to the Moon" would play out in reality--and in suprisingly accurate detail--just a year later in 1969 with the first human setting foot on the Moon.

Our class conclusion, as I recall: All predictions will fail, including this one.

Full of our youth, passion and the spirit of the Sixties, Klass appealed to us as a wise adult who likewise attacked tradition and business as usual. We felt we had a kindred spirit at the lectern.

Imagine our shock when he attacked us! We had become an establishment of sorts.

He'd read our major project proposals, and in a furious session chastised the lot of us. "You've learned how to work the system, so you stopped thinking," he shouted at us, sending most proposals back to the drawing board. The class was a rant at how we had learned how to get a grade, work the system, give the professors what they wanted in return for an A. This was not a warm and fuzzy mentor, this was a man furious with a failing of humanity in general and we were the incarnation of that failure. He ripped us.

More personally, again in the spirit of youthful daring and intellectually pure pursuit, I had the chance to confront an angry Klass mano a mano. I had proposed writing my own Sci Fi novella to meet the demands of the assignment, display the mechanics of predictive failure, and support the fictive effort with data from our class research.

Klass angrily rejected the idea.

Where I got the courage, I do not know, but I defied him. I told him I would do the project and didn't give a (f****) if he flunked me or not. We both stormed away.

I've lost that defiant short story, I am sad to say. But I did get an A+ on it from Klass. The moral I learned from the experience is that it may be admirable to go up against the world defiantly, but you have to lay it all on the line and risk failure---and if you are supremely fortunate, once in a while you will succeed and break new ground.

Well, for what it is worth to you, that is my memory of Philip Klass, a teacher who stalked my last sweet spring at Penn State as the dogwoods burst and the flowers bloomed and the students shed mantles of winter.

In just a few short months, I was drafted and in training to go to war, with other concerns.

Tom Dulaney
Journ 1968

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