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Personal Reflections

This section is open to any and all who would like to share their memories of Ted. If you would like to contribute, please send your reflections to Betty Rice at

Dr. Aoki: A Department Colloquia Organizer

Yan Guo

University of Calgary

From 1996 to 1998, I was a doctoral student in the Department of Language and Literacy Education (then called LANE) at the University of British Columbia (UBC). Dr. Ted Aoki was Adjunct Professor at UBC and the organizer for the department colloquia. I worked as his assistant. The colloquium usually started from noon with a light lunch, followed by a speech offered by scholars from various disciplines for about one hour. The speakers were mainly from UBC, but sometimes we did get speakers from different parts of the world.

Dr. Aoki organized eleven colloquia during the two years. For example, in 1996-1997 we had a theme of “In the Midst of Disciplinarity/Interdisciplinarity” and we invited five famous scholars, such as Dr. Derek Gregory from the Department of Geography, formerly of Cambridge University, UK, and Dr. Bonny Norton from LLED. Dr. Gregory spoke about “Sly Spatiality,” and Dr. Norton spoke about “Reconceptualizing the Language Learner.” In 1997-1998, our theme was “Language, Education and Research: Mastering Signifiers a-Trembling.” We had a variety of topics such as “Performing Language in Research: Fifty Ways of Listening to Light” by Dr. Carl Leggo, a UBC professor and well-known poet. We also invited Dr. Alistair Pennycook from the University of Melbourne, Australia to talk about “Rethinking Language and Power in the Global Context." I was fortunate to attend all eleven colloquia.

Dr. Aoki’s job was to invite speakers, write ads, and comment on the presentation immediately following each colloquium. One of my jobs was to type his ads, make posters, and distribute them. I found that Dr. Aoki’s handwriting was impossible to read. Sometimes I asked friends and colleagues in the department for help, and quite often I had to call Dr. Aoki at home after I had exhausted my assistance. Dr. Aoki would always patiently clarify for me. At that time I had just started my doctoral studies (my MA was in English Literature) and there were many terms that were new to me. For example, I had a hard time understanding the meanings of “discourse,” “sly spatiality” (see appendix I), “Foucault” (see appendix II) and “epistemology” (see appendix III), not to mention that Dr. Aoki is difficult to read anyway. Dr. Aoki often used examples to explain these terms to me. He encouraged me to read widely and critically.

I found that Dr. Aoki is a serious scholar. He always checked my printed posters before I sent them away. Sometimes he kept revising the ad and I secretly complained, “Oh, not again!” We often had to go through several drafts until he was satisfied.

I enjoyed his introduction of the speaker at the beginning of each presentation. His introduction was brief and often made people laugh. At the end of each presentation, he always gave a brief summary and offered some provoking comments and questions for the audience to think about. Perhaps those who attended Dr. Leggo’s presentation still remember the lively conversation between Dr. Aoki and Dr. Leggo, and Dr. Leggo’s unique dancing in response to Dr. Aoki’s comments at the end of his presentation.

Even though I did not take any courses from Dr. Aoki, his thoughts broadened my visions. Born and raised in the People’s Republic of China, I began to learn English when I was thirteen, and later I taught English in a Chinese university. I recently completed my doctorate in Language and Literacy Education at UBC. In the last ten years or so, I have been struggling to find a place and a voice in English speaking academia. Dr. Aoki’s theory of spatiality offered me comfort, peace, and confidence. I began to see my otherness as an asset, not a liability. I am proud to be a citizen of between-the-worlds. Once, a friend of mine asked me: “Yan, are you a Chinese or Canadian?” With a nice smile, I answered: “I am Yan.” 

In Memoriam

What I will remember most about Ted was his extraordinary generosity, a mark of a truly enlightened being, according to many wisdom traditions, since it speaks of egolessness. Ted gave of himself materially through the thousands of lunches and dinners he shared with graduate students and colleagues over the years. As a mentor, his generosity was revealed especially in his discernment of positive potential in even the most ordinary of us, nurturing it to bear fruit. A conversation with Ted could get one dreaming in once unimaginable ways, so that a new freedom was born, and a new person too. My debt to him is immense, never to be forgotten, carried forward as a challenge to a life still unfinished.  Blessings and peace to his family.

                                              David Geoffrey Smith, University of Alberta



There was an adage by Robert Bly where he said that the role of older men is to admire the younger ones. Ted understood something of this. This was part of his beautiful encouragement to me when I was a younger man, and part, now, of a role I'm slowly understanding more of in my aging. Teacher. It is what H.G. Gadamer called "the art of strengthening"--taking up what students offer and handing it back to them burnished and truer than they might have imagined, more full of free space and subtle breath. This is part of the gift Ted gave me without hesitation and with great love, over and over again.


I never took a course from Ted, but not everyone we take a class from is our teacher. The reverse is also true. It certainly is an odd thing when your real teachers die. It is a great last lesson, perhaps best learned before we disappear--to lay one's burdens down, take some joy in this fleeting life and its impermanence, and simply give one's gifts away.

                                              David W. Jardine, University of Calgary



Dr. Ted Aoki, In Memoriam

I have been wondering what words to choose to describe my deep sadness at the passing of Dr. Ted Aoki. How best to honor the memory of Dr.Ted Aoki? I could not help but look again at a small speech I once made in dedication of Dr. Aoki being honored with an award for his lifelong efforts to further qualitative research in education and other professions. The award was sponsored in part by the International Institute of Qualitative Methods (IIQM), which was founded and directed at the time by Dr. Jan Morse, an internationally well-known scholar in the health sciences.

As one of his early graduate students I had been asked to officially present the award to Dr. Ted Aoki. Of course, I knew that Dr. Aoki had received many awards already, and some were very prestigious; but I thought that this one was somewhat special because it was granted not only by representatives from education, but this award came from a broad community that also included, importantly, the complex field of the health sciences. The award was given in recognition of Dr. Aoki’s contributions to this unique field of studies: “Qualitative Research Methods.” These are the words I used to introduce Dr. Ted Aoki to the audience of several hundred attendants of the awards ceremony:


Telling you something about Dr. Ted Aoki is not easy. Many of his past students and colleagues would say that Ted was a true mentor to them and they would be proud to be able to say that. The notion of mentor is becoming increasingly popular in education. But mentorship is a weighty and honorary term. It is reserved for rare and special teachers. Unfortunately, the deeper meaning of mentorship is being eroded in education—as so often happens when a concept becomes a fashion word. There are now workshops in mentoring. Training to become a mentor! But that is a sacrilegious misuse of the word. Mentorship is not even something that a fine teacher or professor can claim or assume—rather, mentorship is something that must be acknowledged, granted, usually with deep appreciation and respect by the student. Even outsiders are not really permitted to use the word “mentor” on behalf of someone else. It is not appropriate to say: “Oh yes, that person is so-and-so’s mentor.” Only the student can do that. It is the student who says about someone special: “That is my mentor!”


It is in this respectful sense that I say, “Dr. Ted Aoki has been my true and only mentor.” I have heard many other students and colleagues name Dr. Aoki as their true mentor. Now, I hope Jan Morse does not mind, but I am going to tell you how this award for Dr. Ted Aoki came about. It was a qualitative research moment. And like a conscientious researcher I have written this down almost verbatim:


A couple of months ago, professor Jan Morse took me aside and said, do you have a

minute? I like to ask you something.

– Sure.

I looked at Jan’s face and indeed she looked puzzled.

– Who is Ted Aoki?

– Ted Aoki? … Well, for one thing he was my supervisor …

– Yes, yes, I realize that. But you know every time I go anywhere in Canada or abroad and people talk about qualitative research methods at the University of Alberta, they always talk about the Department of Secondary Education. And then his name often comes up.

Who is this Ted Aoki?

– I answered, well he is a scholar of teacher education, social studies, and curriculum theory. And as professor, and as Department chair, he has taught, published, influenced colleagues, and supervised dozens of doctoral students, many of whom are now leading scholars and administrators, and ……

– Yes, I know, Jan interrupted again. All these people who have made a name in qualitative research methods had Ted as their supervisor or mentor in their academic life: Professors Terry Carson, Peter Roth, David Smith, Walter Werner, Jan Jagodzinski, Hans Smits, Joe Norris, yourself, but who really is Ted Aoki?

– (Now—as you must have figured, I am a bit slow--this is where I finally caught on–Jan Morse was asking me a qualitative methods question!)

Oh you are asking who Ted really is?

– Jan, looking at me expectantly: Yes, how can it be that he seems to be at the origin of all these movements in qualitative methods? Phenomenology, ethnography, critical theory, action research, autobiography, … Did he teach all these courses in qualitative methods?

– Actually no … he did not teach qualitative research methods per se.

– So who is he?

– Then I gave Jan Morse the only answer that I know I could give. It is a bit of a phenomenological answer, I guess. I told an experience I had with Dr. Aoki:


Well, I remember the first class with Dr. Aoki. This was in 1969. It was a senior curriculum studies course and as we, the students, were taking our seats, still chatting, Ted walked to the board. He stood there for a while. Seemed to hesitate. And as we all began to quiet down and look at him, he did it.

– He did what? Jan queried.

– He wrote down this ONE word.

– This one word?

– Just this one word. Yes. Then he slowly stepped back folded his arms, frowned his enigmatic “Ted Aoki smile,” looked at us and then looked again at the word he had written.

It seems so simple when I tell this now. But it was truly quite amazing. Because without saying anything to us, he had us already intrigued and wonder about something in quite a profound and unsettling manner. To reflect, investigate, unravel the meaning of educational phenomena.

Anyway, that one word changed everything for me!

–Jan Morse was now almost getting beyond herself. (this is all in my transcript!)

–She nodded and nodded again. And then asked, excitedly … “so?”

– So what?

– What was that word?

– That word?

– Yes, that ONE word that he wrote on the board!?

–Well Jan. That’s just the thing. I cannot remember. It does not really matter. You asked me to describe who Ted Aoki “really” is.


The truth is that I cannot remember whether Ted Aoki ever taught a course on qualitative methodology per se. At least not in the earlier years which “produced” scholars specializing in ethnography, hermeneutics, critical theory, phenomenology, and so forth. But somehow, every course Ted Aoki ever taught always was about qualitative methodology. He would always push back our assumptions and use whatever methods to have us ponder the most fundamental method of all qualitative inquiry—the meaning of something, and the meaning of meaning.


Someone once said that “to be a teacher, a fine teacher, for any particular student, is to be the person that student has waited for to meet all his or her life.” I have been fortunate. I have experienced some very fine teachers. But my most influential teacher was Ted Aoki. He was, and still is my true mentor.


Everyone who has been fortunate to “encounter” Ted Aoki has experienced his powerful pedagogical presence. His scholarship continues to inspire. It has been said that to truly meet someone one should not aim to describe the person in his or her taken-for-grantedness. One has to encounter the person in his or her difference and singular otherness. In this sense Dr. Ted Aoki, in memoriam, is indeed unforgettably singularly different and other.

                                                Max Van Manen, University of Alberta



I had the good fortune to work closely with Ted and had the opportunity to co-teach with him on several occasions.  He was the embodiment of a true pedagogue!  He inspired his students and always treated them with the utmost respect.  Not only was he an outstanding scholar and academic, he had the ability to help his Department develop a real sense of community - he had a deep love for his Faculty and Department.  Ted was an honorable man and a great friend.  He will be sorely missed.


                                              Ken Jacknicke, University of Alberta



Letter of Condolence

            We have received the very sad and stunning news that Dr. Aoki has gone. It is so difficult to express our sorrow and regret on hearing of his death. He was our real mentor, academically and spiritually. His noble and high-souled mentorship will be remembered in our minds and hearts forever. And also his academic work continues to be an important turning point in Korean society for curriculum studies.  We are so sorry that we cannot be present at the funeral service.

            We respectfully express our deepest regret and sorrow over his death. Please convey our sincere condolences to June and to Dr. & Mrs. Douglas Aoki.

            We will try to have a special meeting in Korea to celebrate the cherished memory of our beloved teacher, Dr. Ted T. Aoki.


                        With sorrow and regret,


Sook Hur, Senior Advisor to the Korean Ministry of
Education, President of the Korean Association for 
Curriculum Studies, Professor and Past President Gyeong-In 
National University of Education (GINUE), Incheon, 
Republic of Korea
Ki-Hyung Hong

Social Studies/Citizenship educator at GINUE



Like all of my former professors and colleagues past and present, I share the deep sense of loss of Dr. Aoki. 

While he was retired by the time I began my graduate work in Secondary Education at the University of Alberta in the early 1990’s, his presence was nonetheless palpable in terms of the tradition of curriculum studies he had been so influential in nurturing during his time at the University of Alberta, and which was carried on richly by his students who became professors in the Department of Secondary Education and faculties of education elsewhere.  Thinking about and practicing curriculum studies in terms of the reconceptualist turn and the influence of European thinkers in the interpretive and critical traditions owe much to Dr. Aoki’s inspirational teaching and writing, and indeed the example of his courage to think against the grain.


As others in their tributes have noted, Dr. Aoki’s influence was uncanny: the ability to throw light on the everyday experiences of education and to question the meaning of those experiences.  Eschewing the taken-for-granted and easy answers to questions of human experience, he often left us wondering about things with ineffable effect. 


I recall two experiences in my own encounters with Dr. Aoki, which demonstrate this deep pedagogical impact he had on us.  The first was a talk to social studies teachers I organized in the early 1990’s for social studies teachers in Edmonton.  Many of those who attended were former students of Dr. Aoki when he taught secondary social studies curriculum at U of A earlier in his career.  There was obvious affection and respect for Dr. Aoki among this group of social studies teachers, many of who attested to the impact of his teaching on their own careers.  And even though several of my colleagues that evening said they were somewhat puzzled by Dr. Aoki’s talk, they nonetheless attested to a sense of something that had occurred for them in terms of thinking about social studies and curriculum, that some direction of questioning and thinking had been opened up.


A few years later I was fortunate to take a graduate curriculum theorizing course with Dr. Aoki during one of his summer sojourns back to Edmonton.  Similar to the experiences of the teachers I mention above, I remember this course not so much for its content, which introduced us to several European thinkers, but the experience of beginning to think differently about curriculum, the lives of teaching, and indeed my own understandings of those things.   I still often think about that course and wonder what I actually understood about the difficult texts we read that summer.  But it is the example of how we read experience with those texts as guides to interpretive possibilities that sticks in my mind.  And not least, the profound pedagogic presence and care that Dr. Aoki fostered made each of us feel that we could be honoured for our contributions however modest.  This was a powerful lesson in itself and an indelible influence on our own lives and careers.


Over the ensuing years, when I taught my own social studies and graduate curriculum courses, Dr. Aoki’s influence remained as a salient and living presence, his writings ever renewed in the experiences of my students, inviting them into the kinds of questioning and inquiry that he encouraged in his life of teaching.   It is this example of the imperative to think, with courage, conviction and commitment to the good in education and life that will endure for me as Ted Aoki’s legacy.


With deep sympathy and condolences to his family and friends,

Hans Smits University of Calgary



With deepest gratitude to Dr. Ted Aoki

Every Fall since 1985 and my first Social Studies Methods class in the Ed faculty at Mount A, my students take part in an opening course challenge called My Tree of Life’s Special People. For me, it has become a way of introducing the question ‘what is learning?’ which I write on the board as they arrive. Over the past 27 years that question and challenge have sparked a rich beginning discussion about the learning cycle, and what can happen when a teacher makes personal connecting with students the heart of his or her teaching, before conveying content, coaching their tinkering with it, and celebrating their creative integration of it. In each Methods course opening, after all students have shared what one person on their tree has meant to them on their life journey, and the talking stick comes in full circle back to my hand, this is what I share with my class:

On the main root of my tree of life’s special people, is my mentor, Dr. Ted Tetsuko Aoki. He is the one who, from the moment we first met in his office in Secondary Ed at the U of A, began to guide me on my Master`s journey, which for me followed many years of classroom silence and trying to cope with heart pounding fear every time I was asked a question in primary, elementary, junior and senior high school. My school report cards all said ``Basil is an excellent student in every way` but I knew the difference, as I recorded what every teacher said, without ever uttering a word in response. My BEd Summa Cum Laude degree from St. F.X in 1968 gave no hint of four more years of no outward classroom contributions. My most haunting memory of my BEd year at X throughout those opening years as a teacher, was the feeling of guilt on being chosen to represent the class on the University Senate and for a year not saying a word on their behalf.

In my first high school History and Latin classroom in 1969, I become over time a more outgoing and animated teacher, but still speaking in front of my peers in any academic context remained very difficult for me. In July 1973, I left for the U of A for an MEd degree under a man whom I had only heard about from a prof at X. It was this man, Dr. Ted Aoki, then in his early 50`s, who became the first teacher to help me to believe in myself, and to encourage me, in ways that words cannot describe, to speak out in our seminar class.`You are very important to me` he communicated in his own unique way, and `your contributions are important for all of us to hear`. That message over that MEd year slowly sank in and over time has transformed my life

Such was the initial impact of Dr. Ted Aoki, so profound that I returned in 1979 to work for two more years under his wing for my PhD. I treasure many memories of those years with Ted and I am forever grateful that he came into my life when he did``.

Tomorrow afternoon my newest group of first year BEd students in Intermediate/Senior Social Studies and Indigenous Education will arrive to a circle in Memorial Hall on our UPEI campus. On Tuesday morning 25 graduating students in Early Years Social Studies will do the same. And by the end of those classes they will all know who Ted Aoki is, like the thousands of beginning teachers who have gone before them at Mount A and UPEI.

Along with the memories, my wife Cathy and I cherish many cards that Ted and June wrote us, most often at Christmas time since 1973, but the one I hold closest to my heart Ted wrote on the passing of my Dad, 28 years to the hour that Ted passed away last week. (Among our most treasured photographs are of Ted embracing my fisherman Dad in Edmonton in 1981 and reuniting in Cape Breton in 1983) And in that card Ted wrote about a miniature lobster trap my parents had brought to him on their visit to us in Michener Park. The last line on that card reads, ‘As June and I look each day at the gift from your parents in our home, we are reminded especially of your Dad, who now in his absence glows his presence’.

IN HIS ABSENCE GLOWS HIS PRESENCE - that same thought now wraps and comforts me today, that Ted Aoki lives in so many of us who were graced and blessed by his presence in our lives, as real today for me on this day of his funeral, as it was on our first meeting 39 years ago.

Sincerely and respectfully,

Basil Favaro, University of Prince Edward Island



How very sad for those of us who knew Ted to hear of his passing and yet how wonderful to know he lived such a full life and could speak out so eloquently on issues that touched he and his family so deeply. I loved him and appreciated him as I know many others did.  Although the ideas I use in my own teaching have been with me so long they have become my own, when I read Ted's Collected Works I recognized his considerable influence on who I am as a teacher. I have many precious memories of our time together, always another article to suggest or another book to share. Knowing Ted as a committee member throughout my doctoral studies and for many years beyond provided rich opportunities to experience first hand his brilliance as a pedagogue, his impeccable timing and enormous creativity. Perhaps most influential for many has been his conceptualization of the curriculum as lived, arising from, but necessarily other than the curriculum as planned. 

Warm regards

Dr. Marjorie McIntyre, University of Victoria