Joseph, it was good working with you…
Joseph N. Feinstein, 74; innovative L.A. teacher and host of ‘Teen Talk’
By Jocelyn Y. Stewart, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
June 2, 2008
Joseph N. Feinstein was a champion of the idea that education should address young people’s hearts as well as their intellect.
He developed the first class in Los Angeles city schools designed to help students deal with death and other forms of loss. In the 1980s, Feinstein was host of an award-winning television talk show that allowed teenagers to tackle tough social and family issues.
Decades later, the harvest of his idea stood before him. One of Feinstein’s former students, now a social worker specializing in geriatrics, tended to him in a skilled nursing facility.
“His class had such an impact on me,” Jill Spector said. “When I look back on it, it’s one of the main reasons I went into social work.”
Feinstein, who taught at Grant High School in Van Nuys for more than 30 years and was a talk-show host for nine, died of heart failure May 24 at Kaiser Permanente Panorama City Medical Center. He was 74.
Beyond the generations he taught at Grant, Feinstein reached many more students and their parents over the airwaves. During its height, “Teen Talk” aired Saturday mornings on Channel 9 and featured youth talking about issues that included divorce, turning 13, drugs, class clowns, AIDS and incest.
With his training as a child counselor, years of teaching experience and natural affinity for the age group many parents dread most, Feinstein was the perfect host.
“He would look at you and listen to you and get what you were saying,” Spector said. “So you wanted to talk to him, you wanted to spill your guts, because you knew you had somebody who was going to genuinely listen.”
Authenticity mattered to Feinstein, who also co-produced the show, selected the topics and often found young people willing to talk on air. “Teen Talk” promised the straight talk teens appreciate: “No baloney, no hiding, no copping out,” he said in a 1986 Times article.
Feinstein taped 237 editions of the show, which ran from 1981 until 1990 and received four local Emmy Awards for children’s programming. Feinstein also won a local Emmy as co-producer of a documentary on incest.