Joe Farrell, one of the founders of the Comparative International Development Education Centre at OISE, and the person who was directly responsible for bringing me to OISE in 2002, passed away on Saturday Dec. 8, 2012. My first contact with Joe was from Quetta, Pakistan when I was thinking of applying to CIDE to do a second M.A. I first met him after he’d been assigned to be my advisor in August, 2001. On my way home from our first meeting, I thought to myself, “What I really need is a Ph.D.” So I got home, called him and left a message on his phone saying, “I think I need a Ph.D. instead of a second M.A. What do you think?” Joe agreed and then went to bat for me with a reticent administration. In the meantime, 9/11 happened, and I went to work on emergency contract with UNICEF, telling OISE that when they’ve made a decision on the matter to let me know. Some 10 months after that first meeting, I was back at OISE starting a Ph.D.
Joe was ever present through out my time at OISE. I am one of the last OISE students who can say that Joe Farrell was one of their committee members. I remember more junior students asking how I’d got such a great committee together, and to be hones it wasn’t easy but for Joe. Joe was my advisor and after watching me stumble around for nearly 6 months and failing to find a single person willing to sit on my committee, I walked into his office one day and simply said, “Joe, you have to sit on my committee. Without you, as my advisor, everyone thinks there must be something wrong with me.” So even though he was retiring soon and wasn’t supposed to, he said yes. I will always remember how he made time to attend CIDE student events and meetings, always brought humour to his teaching, and was one of the great supporters of the field of CIDE/CIE. Together he and the late David Wilson made quite the team, inspiring generations of OISE grads. I will also remember my defence where Joe asked me to “speculate” and I started my reply saying, “People tell you that no matter what you do at your Ph.D. defence you shouldn’t speculate, but because it’s you, Joe, I’m going to take a stab at it.” As you can see from the below photo, it worked…
Joe was not afraid to admit that I might have something to share with OISE’s students resulting in many an M.A. student came to me with the news that Joe had said they should get in touch with me because I knew something about education in Afghanistan or how to get a job overseas. This popularity in turn led to two of the sub-pages on this site — one on how to get a job and another on Afghan education. Perhaps both a bit dated now, but back when I wrote them they were cutting edge.
Conceptually he taught me that the amazing success of community-based schooling can be successfully scaled up to the state level in poor countries, you just have to believe. He taught me the importance of collaboration, of planting seeds of new ideas in others, and of spreading the wealth through stealth.
He could barely work a computer, but listened to my ideas about for the use of ICTs in education, especially community-based education in the “global south” and the third time I asked him to sign a form agreeing to let me take a course at KMDI he finally relented saying, “but you know I know nothing about this!” To which I replied, “that’s OK. I do.”
Shortly after I joined CIDA, word got out that OISE was planning a special celebration party for Joe and we were invited to send in our remembrances and greetings if we could not attend in person. At CIDA I had found myself in a world inhabited by 3 different generations of OISE Ph.D.s who had studied under Joe and there at a table in Maputo we crafted a special greeting for him. Joe’s influence, though his many successful students, is wide and will continue on long after this sad day.
Joe and me at my Defence after party with my thesis supervisor Dennis Thiessen and my external examiner Lynn Davies.
Joe was known for being a boy scout, a camper, and a guitar player. So I think he would approve of this song.