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Archive for Tuesday, September 7, 1999

TRIBUTE FROM VIETNAM

September 7, 1999

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To the editor:

Thanks to the Internet, the mistakes of Lawrence school administrators can be broadcast around the world. And that is where you will find many of Stan Roth's former students -- like me, a 1988 LHS grad currently doing dissertation research into ethnobotanical tropical forest use in the mountains of Vietnam.

When I received news via the Web in my remote two-buffalo Vietnamese town that the administrators of Free State High School and the Lawrence school district had forced Stan Roth into early retirement, I was shocked. There is no better teacher in the Lawrence school district than Stan, and district officials should be ashamed of the shoddy and insulting treatment they have given to this 40-year veteran teacher. To force him into retirement on the basis of a few complaints -- without giving Stan's former students and friends a chance to defend him -- is cowardly. I hope many of my fellow former students will be as incensed as I am, and raise our voices in protest.

Stan is one of the only high school teachers I know who has produced legions of students who don't just fondly remember him as a good teacher and friend, but who have actually based their careers on the things they learned from him. An unusually high number of his former students, myself included, became academics. That is because Stan Roth taught his students not just how to learn, but to think -- how to tackle a problem, how to work out a methodology for reaching the solution.

The fact that students were exposed to this kind of graduate-level teaching in their high school years has undoubtedly contributed to the development of many a young scientist. I know it did for me; his classes and field trips to Florida and Hawaii are a big reason I am sitting in a jungle collecting plants today. Stan may have challenged, angered, cajoled, and frustrated his students, but these actions were all part his love for the fundamental act of teaching. As bad as I feel for Stan Roth, I feel even worse for the future students who will never have an opportunity to experience his classes. That is the real tragedy here.

Stan Roth himself would be the first to admit, I am sure, that his style of teaching might be a little on the curmudgeonly side. But that is all part of his approach to learning. I don't think I was called a twit or a hooligan by Stan, but I'm pretty sure I may have been called a brat, especially when I was being bratty. If I dared to try to catch a wink of sleep in his class, or to answer a question when I hadn't carefully read the assigned material, then I got what was coming to me. And when I was called a brat, it was with that Roth gleam-in-the-eye that said, "I know you can do better and I'm going to make sure you do it." You'd better believe I came to the next class, and every one after that, prepared. Nobody got a free ride with Stan Roth, and I thank him to this day for it.

The lessons I have learned in his classroom have propelled me through a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford University and my current Ph.D. program at Yale University. Whenever I catch myself wondering if this LHS and KU grad can hack it up against the Ivy Leaguers and prep schoolers, I would hear a nagging voice in my head sounding suspiciously like Stan Roth's that would say, "You bet you can, as long as you think, work hard, and don't act like an idiot!" It's a life lesson some people in Lawrence apparently haven't learned.

Pamela McElwee,

Vietnam.

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