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Remembering Ted Aoki

[A teacher's] pedagogic situation is a living in tensionality—a tensionality that emerges, in part, from the indwelling in a zone between two curriculum worlds: the worlds of curriculum-as-plan and curriculum-as-lived-experiences."
- Ted Aoki
On August 31, renowned and influential educator Ted Aoki passed away at the age of 92. Ted's work and his influence was felt by many people around the world, and affected their lives, their education, and their perspectives on teaching—not just on a professional level , but on a personal one too. The Faculty of Education at the University of Calgary invited the Faculty of Education at the University of Alberta to join with us to pay tribute to Ted, and to share our thoughts about him and his life.
Message from Dean Dennis Sumara

Although I was never Ted Aoki's student, he was most certainly my teacher. Through his scholarship and, importantly, through students of his who were my teachers, I learned to understand conceptually what I had experienced during my years as a teacher: the curriculum as lived is a constantly shifting set of relations. And, while we certainly can measure the effects of learning the subject matter at hand, we have difficulty understanding or capturing the elusive nature of how those other subjects (students and teachers) are changed through their involvement with curriculum.

But we all know that the most powerful teachers have profound effects on the way their students understand their own identities and identifications. As it happened, one of my most influential teachers, Professor Terry Carson at the University of Alberta, was himself a student of Ted Aoki's. During my first semester of my doctoral work I fretted over not understanding a particular philosophical text that Terry had assigned me to read. In my meeting with Terry about my reading dilemma, I pressed for an easier way to understand the ideas. What other books must I read to understand this one?

Pausing, Terry smiled and quoted Ted Aoki on the subject: "Ideas have no obvious or clear beginning or end. You can't find the bottom or the top; you only can immerse yourself in the middle of your experience of the ideas presented." (Now, that's not an exact quote, but it's how I remember it and how I have told this story for years.).

Not the answer I wanted, but without doubt the one I needed. And, really, isn't that the way we derive pleasure and satisfaction from the hard work of learning—by immersing ourselves in the midst of the newness, the strangeness of a curriculum that is not of our making and, hopefully, with some help from a teacher find our perceptions, assumptions, beliefs and knowledge productively challenged? The reading lessons I learned from Terry as passed down from Ted have guided my own scholarship, teaching (and, more recently my work in academic leadership) for more than 20 years. And, I would hope that those early lessons have also challenged and inspired some of my students.

Great teachers do not change students; great teachers create challenging learning opportunities where students transform themselves. Through his deep insight and powerful scholarly abilities, Dr. Ted Aoki was one of those rare teachers. His profound legacy will be the ways his powerful ideas endure through his students and their students.

Dennis Sumara, Dean
Faculty of Education
University of Calgary

Message from Dean Fern Snart

There are many ways to come to know another person. The most meaningful way, and arguably the only legitimate way, is to spend time with someone, "person to person", as teacher and student, close friend, or family member.  I regret to say that I did not have the privilege of any of those avenues open to me as a way to capture a glimpse into the life, character, and impact of Dr. Ted Aoki. 

At the same time, I found myself in a rather unique position as Dean of our Faculty when all of the heartfelt, personal and scholarly tributes to him began to pour in.  In poetry, prose and anecdotes, the words of others described a man whose quiet wisdom and ways had changed lives in a manner that created a "living legacy".  Words from many scholars and friends from many countries carried within them emotion that was palpable. 

Much more than imparting knowledge and teachings Dr. Aoki also appears to have mentored those around him into a way of thinking and a way of life; a way of being with others and being in the world, and a way of learning that lifts us all.

Thank you to my friends and colleagues here at University of Alberta and as far away as Korea; thank you also to authors that I have never met.  By taking the time to write and reflect you have also provided a one-of-a-kind gift to people like me, and that gift is a treasured one.

You have allowed me to sit with Dr. Aoki for a brief time, and become one of his many students. I am better for having known him, even through the words of others."

Fern Snart, Dean
Faculty of Education
University of Alberta