Last November, the teacher training college of Colima, Mexico, also known as ISENCO, organised its first International Conference on Educational Research and Evaluation. It was such an achievement considering that these normal schools[i] in Mexico were not involved in these academic environments until very recently. We both graduated from ISENCO and therefore, presenting and leading a workshop about qualitative data analysis meant for us giving back a little to the institution that forged a foundational stage in our lives.
Many valuable experiences could be drawn from the conference. The energy emerged from the first space to exchange research and practice between pre-service teachers, young and established academics, generated a unique environment with high potential to build bridges of collaboration. At another level, deepening our understanding of the contributions of Mexican Scholars in the field of Education was hugely gratifying. It was particularly remarkable to learn about Juan Manuel Gutiérrez Vázquez’s work in the Mexican Polytechnic and at the University of Bristol.
Dr Juan Manuel Gutiérrez Vazquez (‘JM’)
During the conference we talked to Dr Mario Chavez Campos, Head of the Directorate for Higher Education for Educational Studies in Mexico. He was highly intrigued that we did not know his old friend, Dr Juan Manuel Gutiérrez Vazquez (also known as JM by his friends and colleagues). According to him, ‘JM’ was a renowned Mexican scholar that worked at the Graduate School of Education after his retirement. He also mentioned that Pablo Latapí, a distinguished academic in Educational Studies in Mexico (particularly famous among normal schools) admired JM. This fantastic introduction made us very keen to explore further JM’s life and contribution to the School of Education (SoE, previously known as the Graduate School of Education, GSoE).
On our return to Bristol, we kept thinking about him, and luckily, we found several papers of JM, including an obituary written by his wife, Ruth Watson, published in The Guardian in December 2008[ii]. JM was a microbiologist who pioneered in the search for a vaccine for tuberculosis and author of free Science textbooks for Mexican primary school students in the 1970’s. His widow mentions in the obituary that he worked at the University of Bristol for ten years since 1987. Also, we gladly found an extract of the preface written by Pablo Latapí for the last book ever published by Juan Manuel Gutiérrez, Education and Ordinary Life, in 2008. We hope to make justice to the translation of such an emotive display of friendship between these two grand scholars:
Those who know him in person, or who have the privilege of considering him a friend, know that he is an extraordinary person. In himself, there conflate in admirable synergy, as rarely seen in a single individual: the scientific, the teacher inside and outside the classroom (in all levels and modalities of the education system), the leaders’ advisor, the producer of educational mediums, the critical writer, the excellent communicator and the sincere artist, sentient and erudite. Those of us who have interacted with him have gained. He has transmitted to us his joy for living and his kindness, his tenacity, and generous friendship, fine in spirit, open to the world, adept to the unconventional and of human closeness[iii].
Our search for more insight about this notable scholar led us to ask among the current academics at the SoE. We were not successful, but we were still to ask Prof Michael Crossley, Emeritus Professor of Comparative and International Education and Founding Director of CIRE. He was returning from a trip to Papua New Guinea and Australia and was glad that we found out about his very good friend JM. Professor Crossley let us know of his closeness to him and his family in the 1990s, and the various research projects they worked on together in Belize, Central America and in Northern Pakistan. He sent us pictures of them in Islamabad and Northern Pakistan where they were collaborating with the Ministry of Education to help in the improvement of the quality of teaching and learning, and in providing workshops on textbook provision, writing and use. Michael permitted us to share such pictures with the CIRE community through this blog entry, and we sincerely appreciate the time he took in looking for them in his library.
From left to right: Juan Manuel Gutiérrez Vázquez, Bob Smith, and Michael Crossley. All academics from the GSoE, University of Bristol. Circa 1991/92 in Northern Pakistan.
From left to right, Michael Crossley, Bob Smith, Myra Murby (textbook consultant) and JM.
A group photo in Islamabad, Pakistan. Circa 1991/92.
Besides being the scholar and the friend, Juan Manuel takes on great significance for the times we live. Ruth Watson, his widow, couldn’t summarise it better:
He is remembered in Mexico not only for his achievements in improving science education but also for defending the Polytechnic against government troops in 1968. His refusal to allow them on campus to quell student riots resulted in the temporary confiscation of his passport. A disillusioned member of the Communist Party, he held to strong socialist convictions which translated into a life dedicated to public service and the upholding of freedom of political expression.
JM’s legacy provides testimony of the diverse community that has forged the past and present ethos of our SoE. In particular, the image of JM with Professor Crossley and other scholars from different contexts should remind us all about the rich history of our SoE, and the potential for fruitful partnership between scholars from the global south and north. We wish many more JMs emerge and keep inspiring, educating, and giving hope to the future generations of students at the SoE.
We want to express our gratitude to Professor Michael Crossley for his invaluable insight into the academic work of JM while in Bristol, and for sharing these photos from his collection. Furthermore, we want to thank Betzabé Torres for commenting on the preliminary version of this text.
Most of JM’s work was published in print. Few of his contributions were digitalised after his death for academic journals in Latin America. In 2008, the journal Revista Mexicana de Investigación Educativagathered some of his latest works for a Special issue that can be found here.
[i] These are Higher Education institutions concerned with the initial teacher education of most pre-service educators in Mexico.