Arts & Culture

History Teacher, Mr. Holubar, Retiring after 41 Years

Mr. Holubar at the Middle School in 2019. Photo courtesy of Kent Holubar.

By Jack M. ’23

Mr. Holubar, history teacher at Crystal Springs Uplands School for the past 41 years, is retiring from teaching this June. The entire Crystal community will feel the loss of Mr. Holubar’s presence on campus for years to come. Mr. Holubar has earned the reputation of being one of many students’ favorite teachers across the decades because of his dedication to and palpable love of teaching, his warmth, openness, and sense of humor, his prodigious vocabulary, quick wit, and high standards, and his unique and transformative teaching style that forces students to think outside the box and to synthesize their learning across disciplines.

Mr. Holubar has worn many hats over his illustrious career at Crystal: history teacher, chair of the History Department, assistant coach for high school baseball, basketball, and middle school cross country, grade level advisor, Crystal parent, mentor, and friend to all. 

A Bay Area local with a global sensibility, Mr. Holubar grew up in Menlo Park and attended Menlo-Atherton High School and Stanford University, where he majored in history. He was inspired to become a teacher after his experience as a camp counselor at Stanford Sierra Camp, where he realized that he enjoyed relating to children and their parents. Mr. Holubar enrolled in the Stanford Teacher Education Program (STEP) a few weeks after graduating from college, completed his teaching internship at Aragon High School, and landed his first paid teaching job at the Salzburg International Preparatory School in Austria before coming to Crystal Springs in 1981. The rest, of course, is history.

“The Odd Duck” photo of Mr. Holubar by Mark Lowpensky, class of ’88. Photo courtesy of Kent Holubar.

Outside of the classroom, Mr. Holubar is perhaps best known for his amiable manner and formal attire. His sartorial style, featuring a coat and tie, with argyle socks peeking out from under his slacks, dates back to the earliest days of Mr. Holubar’s teaching career at Aragon High School when his students were only five years younger than he. Mr. Holubar’s deliberate formality persists to this day and has become his universally admired signature style.

Another hallmark of Mr. Holubar’s unique flair is his colossal lexicon, which inspires many students, like Drew S. ‘23, to keep a dictionary and thesaurus nearby. Drew S. ‘23 noted, “His use of vocabulary educates us far beyond history. I absolutely love his class and teaching style.” Mr. Holubar’s lessons, emails, and assignments are often peppered with distinctive words such as chin-wag, missive, triumphalist, ginned up, and a panoply of other words which keep students on their toes, simultaneously dazzling and educating us. His emails are also legendary, often starting with his inimitably congenial “Hi Ho!” and ending with inviting sign-offs like “Questions? You know how to reach me :-)” 

Within the classroom, Mr. Holubar is renowned for his ability to teach students how to draw connections between seemingly disparate themes and ideas in history, politics, literature, and art – all in an effort to make sense of the world we inhabit today by deepening our understanding of the world that preceded us. One unique teaching tool, the “odd duck,” is a quintessentially Holubar-esque open-ended writing prompt encountered on tests, in which students are provided four terms (such as the Berlin Wall, Glasnost, the European Economic Community, and the Cold War) and are tasked to explain in a short, timed essay why one of these terms is a “leftover” and thus deserving of the moniker “odd duck.” Of course, every student will be inclined to name a different odd duck, and the mastery is in each student’s ability to draw connections between various themes discussed in class. In Mr. Holubar’s words, “the imperative final step: conclude with the analysis of the Moral of the Story, the Socko Idea, represented by all four items.”

The origin of the odd duck prompt dates back to a lesson Mr. Holubar learned at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education when he took a class from Pulitzer Prize-winning History Professor, Carl Degler. “Professor Degler’s midterm gave us two terms that we’d been familiar with from the first part of the year, and we had to write about the relationship between them. It was a very powerful teaching technique.” Before students face the gauntlet of the odd duck on his tests, Mr. Holubar wishes us well with the valediction: “Have fun! You’ll miss these in your old age.” According to Charlotte D. ‘22, “It truly challenged me the first half of sophomore year, but I learned so much in his class as a result. I learned to love it.”

Mr. Holubar in the classroom ca. 1988. Photo courtesy of Kent Holubar.

Mr. Holubar is widely known for his generosity of time and spirit when it comes to his students. “I love how enthusiastic he is about his subjects,” shared Jasmyn M. ‘23. “Every day you can tell he’s so excited by how he’s bouncing around while he’s teaching, and by how he’s willing to talk to his students at any time,” she continued. “He’s willing to meet before or after school or basically any time we need it. You can tell he really wants to make sure that every single one of his students succeeds.” 

Many of Mr. Holubar’s students have surprised themselves with their sustained interest in a subject they might not have initially expected to love so much. In each of his history classes, students are assigned college-level reading assignments, drawn from Mr. Holubar’s vast library rather than an off-the-shelf high school history textbook. According to Drew S. ‘23, “The lessons that come out of his notes are well beyond anything that could come out of a textbook.” 

Jasmyn M. ‘23 agreed, “It’s clear that every lesson is something he’s been thinking about for the past forty years. It’s not just memorizing straight facts, it’s about ideas and life lessons. The material I’ve learned in this class isn’t just about history but will give me important life skills for the rest of my life.” She continued, “What I love about Mr. Holubar is that he’s all about the big idea. He doesn’t want us coming away from a unit with a bunch of dates memorized. He wants us to come away with an understanding of what has happened and how that’s affected the world.” 

Just as important as all that we have learned about history are the curiosity, maturity, and self-confidence Mr. Holubar has imparted on us all. Charlotte D. ‘22 expanded on this idea: “Mr. Holubar is one of those teachers who, from the beginning, treats you like an adult. Especially when I was enrolled as a junior in a mostly senior class,” she continued, “it was one of the things that made me look forward to college. I felt like I was already an adult, doing meaningful work in his class. When you are 17 looking through JStor, it really means a lot to have a teacher who makes you feel proud of the work you’re doing.”

Ms. Matossian, Ms. Shin, and Mr. Holubar at Commencement in 2018, by Maggie Fongheiser. Photo courtesy of Kent Holubar.

Caleb Q. ‘23 sums it up well: “He’s just a great teacher. He’s super insightful and seems to know almost everything. He has a special quality when you’re talking to him. He has this energy where you kind of want to just sit down and listen to him for hours.”

In an interview with the Gryphon Gazette, Professor Holubar reminisced about some of the many highlights of his career at Crystal. “One of the favorite parts of my career was having my sons at school and having them in the classroom, and getting to see them at lunch hanging out with their friends, you know, the usual critters in their natural environments. It was a really valuable experience for me to have them here at Crystal.” 

Bringing students on field trips was another meaningful highlight for Mr. Holubar, and included trips to see performances at the San Francisco and San Jose Operas and the San Francisco Ballet, excursions to the De Young Museum, the Legion of Honor Museum, and the Palace of Fine Arts, as well as visits to various churches, mosques, and synagogues for his Western Religions class. 

Mr. Holubar also traveled with students in his Power of Memory class as far as Washington D.C. and Berlin. His interest in German and European studies was inspired by his high school German teacher, “the formidable Frau Parker” who was famous for “rigor in the sense of extreme, extreme torments inflicted upon young people. I exaggerate, but we had homework every day of the school year with a double dose on weekends, and a homework assignment for every single day of Thanksgiving Break and Winter Break.” Frau Parker’s high expectations equipped Mr. Holubar to go to The Stanford Program in Berlin as a sophomore in college. In his words, “that was one of those things that influenced me in the sense that she got me interested in all things German, which continued through college and has continued to this very day.”

Mr. Holubar having fun with his granddaughter Samantha in 2022. Photo courtesy of Kent Holubar.

One of Mr. Holubar’s favorite historical figures is Vaclav Havel, a notable Czech statesman, playwright, and dissident, who noted, “Keep the company of those who seek the truth. Run from those who have found it.” In Mr. Holubar’s classes, we always get the sense that we are always trying to seek the truth, no matter how elusive, complex, or nuanced it may be. 

Mr. Holubar has bestowed upon us all a profound appreciation for the complexity of history, art, and geopolitics. His unwavering enthusiasm, optimistic and friendly demeanor, humility, curiosity, and brilliance, as well as his enthusiastic approach to life and learning have transformed generations of Crystal students. Thank you so much, Mr. Holubar, and congratulations on an inspired teaching career at Crystal Springs!

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