I want to tell you about one of my closest friends—Dr. Joe Abruscato—and how he influenced me in my journey through life.
Joe and I met in graduate school at The Ohio State University (OSU) in 1967. We were part of a group of high school science teachers who had come from various school districts around the United States to study science & science education under the auspices of a National Science Foundation Academic Year Program directed by Dr John Richardson, professor & head of the Department of Science & Mathematics Education. A number of us were invited to stay on after the academic year program to pursue a Ph.D. in science education.
I came from Massachusetts, and Joe came from New Jersey. We quickly became friends, and indeed we did our doctoral research for our Ph.D. as a team, investigating student and teacher classroom actions and behavior in 9th grade science classes using video tape technology. We actually set up two VCR systems in each classroom, one focused on the teacher, and the other on the students in an attempt to find relationships among their behaviors. we analysed the video tapes using observational instruments we had developed inductively in an earlier pilot study. This work started us on a pathway of collaboration in writing, teaching, seminar and workshop presentations, and research over the next thirty years.
During this early phase in our carees, Joe and I focused our beliefs about teaching and learning on a humanistic framework as articulated by humanistic psychologists including Carl Rogers And Abraham Maslow. I became very involved with two humanistic organizations which profoundly influenced our work.
The first book that Joe and I wrote together was entitled Loving and Beyond: Science Teaching for the Humanistic Classroom, which we published with Goodyear Publishing Company, in 1976. The humanistic philosophy we were studying emerged as the paradigm for this groundbreaking science education book.
There is a quote in the book that describes beautifully the view that Joe had of teaching and learning, and that he carried into all phases of his professional life. It is one of my favorite quotes, and is by H. Poincare.
Here it is:
The Scientist Does Not Study Nature Because It Is Useful;
He Studies It Because He Delights In IT, And He Delights In It
Because It Is Beautiful
Although we were professors at different universities, Joe at The University of Vermont, and me at Georgia State University, we spent a lot of time together writing, teaching, and doing research.
Over the years we created opportunities for us to teach with each other through sabbatical leaves at our respective universities. Joe came to Georgia State University in 1975 and 1982, and I joined him at the University of Vermont in 1984. Here is what we looked like in 1975 which we were together at Florida State University working on science writing projects. We had just finished the first draft of Loving & Beyond, and were sharing a moment when this picture was taken. The picture shown here is found on the last page of Loving and Beyond.
In the early days, the telephone was the technology of choice if you wanted to communicate with each other, and we did a very good job in tracking each other down to discuss our work. One day Joe called and said he saw an advertisement in the New York Times from an unnamed publisher seeking writers for a new elementary science program. By that time we published Loving and Beyond, and had just published the Whole Cosmos Catalog of Science Activities. We agreed to submit our names, and we sent copies of our books along to the address on the advertisement. A few weeks later, we received a phone call from Holt, Rinehart and Winston Publishers in New York indicating they wanted to meet with us at the upcoming National Science Teachers Association meeting being held in Cincinnati. The meeting apparently was successful as we were invited to New York a month later, and signed a contract to design, and write a K – 6 elementary science program, which became known as Holt Science. Don Peck, a science coordinator from New Jersey and Joan Fossaceca, an elementary teacher from Ohio joined to comprise the writing team.
The Holt Science experience enabled Joe and I to work with teachers from all around the United States, and it afforded the opportunity to have our work reach lots of elementary-age students. We wrote the Holt Science program from scratch, resulting in 7 textbooks, teacher guides, and ancillary materials for Kindergarten through grade 6. Joe was an important force in the development of the texts and teacher guides. We went on to publish several editions of the books over the next 15 years. But more importantly to me, I met my wife, Mary-Alice, through the Holt Science Program and we were married in December 1984.
One of the most important projects for Joe and I was the development and writing of the Whole Cosmos Catalog of Science Activities. It was an over-sized book of science learning that we published in 1977, and went through enumerable printings. We published a second edition in 1992, and as of this day, it is still in print. The Whole Cosmos embodied Joe’s enthusiasm for children and for teaching, as is evident in the cover of the book.
For years Joe and I presented workshops on science teaching at the annual meeting of the National Science Teachers Association. These were annual workshops on some aspect of science teaching that related to our work in humanistic science teaching.
Joe was a leader in the use of computers in science education, and later the technology related to the internet. In fact, in 1986, Joe published his book, Children, Computers, and Science Teaching: Butterflies and Bytes.
One of the most wonderful experiences that Joe and I had was teaching in paradise. Dr. Marlene Hapai invited us to teach in a summer science teacher preparation program for elementary and secondary teachers in Hawaii. For five summers in the 1990s, Joe and I, and Mary-Alice flew to Hawaii, and taught in Hilo at the University of Hawaii in Marlene’s science education program. Although Joe and I taught separately, here we were together in an unbelievable world.
At the core of Joe Abruscato was intelligence and humor brought together delightfully as a teacher in a classroom, or as the presenter to the large group of teachers in the ballroom of a hotel. He was effusive in our conversations, and full of energy and exuberance in all things.
In the words of H. Poincare,
Joe studied science teaching because he delighted in it, and he delighted in it because he knew that science teaching was beautiful.
He was a gentle man, and he did smell the flowers.
Joe, I know you are with us, and I know that we shall meet again–my dear friend.