Celebrating science education from people for people: a tribute to Wolff-Michael Roth
Lee, Y-J and Ardenghi, DM and Emad, G-R and Hsu, P-L and de Oliviera Jayme, B and Kim, M and van Eijck, M and Maheax, JF and Pozzer-Ardenghi, L and Reis, G, Celebrating science education from people for people: a tribute to Wolff-Michael Roth, Cultural Studies of Science Education, 5, (4) pp. 787-805. ISSN 1871-1502 (2010) [Letter or Note in Journal]
I (Giuliano) remember being in a room full of scientists and educators who were collaborating together in a million-dollar interdisciplinary project. Michael—as he repeatedly told us to call him (Roth et al. 2007)—had invited a few of his graduate students to attend the meeting because we were involved with the data collection and dissemination of the results. At one point during the conversation, a climatologist asked Michael to explain the meaning of a word (i.e., ethnography) he kept using to describe his research. While those of us doing educational research are not foreigners to the term, especially after having had a chance to know Michael’s work (Roth 2005), it was an unlikely lexicon in the professional jargon of other disciplines let alone climatology! For a split second, I felt as if the question had been directed to me and immediately I started thinking about possible ways to explain what ethnography was without using a language too technical or too flowery. Either way, I think I would have failed in all of my attempts. Michael, however, simply looked at the scientist across the room and said: "It means to hang out with people." To this day, I still use that description (and this anecdote that comes with it) to explain what ethnography is to graduate students in my classes on research in education. This might not be the most scientifically correct definition ever—at least I do not see it being used in peer reviewed papers nor do I encourage my students to use it in their own assignments. Nonetheless, I can hardly think of a more effective way to describe ethnography in everyday terms. That is Michael Roth: A science educator "from people for people" [to borrow the expression from one of his books (Roth 2009)]. Michael has the ability to translate complex ideas into more palpable terms during our Friday meetings in "Lab A420" (actually just a large office) or in the individual interactions that he would engage with us throughout the laborious process of writing papers together (e.g., Lee and Roth 2003). That partly explains the impact he has had on his students and the science education community at large: People, from elementary teachers to university professors, can relate to his research and his claims for a better science education in and outside our schools. Michael was also a former school teacher, so he had "walked the talk" and now articulates his ideas with the authority of someone who knows his craft. "I am a single-minded person and my ideas do not come from an unknown force," he would say, "I have to work hard to get things done." More so, the impression that he has left on all of us speaks not only to the research aspect of our profession but also to being in the academic community. Michael offered us something unique, which is firsthand experience of life as a researcher, and that is just priceless. Some may say that this special article is a small tribute to Michael’s lifetime of academic achievements and awards. Others, like those here who have had the opportunity to know him a little closer, might actually think this is a way to say "thank you" for his contribution to our lives.