My Last Day on Earth as a "Quantoid"
Gene V Glass
I was taught early in my professional career that personal recollections were not proper stuff for academic discourse. The teacher was my graduate adviser Julian Stanley, and the occasion was the 1963 Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association. Walter Cook, of the University of Minnesota, had finished delivering his AERA presidential address. Cook had a few things to say about education, but he had used the opportunity to thank a number of personal friends for their contribution to his life and career, including Nate Gage and Nate's wife; he had spoken of family picnics with the Gages and other professional friends. Afterwards, Julian and Ellis Page and a few of us graduate students were huddled in a cocktail party listening to Julian's post mortem of the presidential remarks. He made it clear that such personal reminiscences on such an occasion were out of place, not to be indulged in. The lesson was clear, but I have been unable to desist from indulging my own predilection for personal memories in professional presentations. But that early lesson has not been forgotten. It remains as a tug on conscience from a hidden teacher, a twinge that says "You should not be doing this," whenever I transgress.
Bob Stake and I and Tom Green and Ralph Tyler (to name only four) come from a tiny quadrilateral no more than 30 miles on any side in Southeastern Nebraska, a fertile crescent (with a strong gradient trailing off to the northeast) that reaches from Adams to Bethany to South Lincoln to Crete, a mesopotamia between the Nemaha and the Blue Rivers that had no more than 100,000 population before WW II. I met Ralph Tyler only once or twice, and both times it was far from Nebraska. Tom Green and I have a relationship conducted entirely by email; we have never met face-to-face. But Bob Stake and I go back a long way.
On a warm autumn afternoon in 1960, I was walking across campus at the University of Nebraska headed for Love Library and, as it turned out, walking by chance into my own future. I bumped into Virgina Hubka, a young woman of 19 at the time, with whom I had grown up since the age of 10 or 11. We seldom saw each other on campus. She was an Education major, and I was studying math and German with prospects of becoming a foreign language teacher in a small town in Nebraska. I had been married for two years at that time and felt a chronic need of money that was being met by janitorial work. Ginny told me of a job for a computer programmer that had just been advertised in the Ed Psych Department where she worked part time as a typist. A new faculty member—just two years out of Princeton with a shiny new PhD in Psychometrics—by the name of Bob Stake had received a government grant to do research.
I looked up Stake and found a young man scarcely ten years my senior with a remarkably athletic looking body for a professor. He was willing to hire a complete stranger as a computer programmer on his project, though the applicant admitted that he had never seen a computer (few had in those days). The project was a monte carlo simulation of sampling distributions of latent roots of the B* matrix in multi-dimensional scaling—which may shock latter-day admirers of Bob's qualitative contributions. Stake was then a confirmed "quantoid" (n., devotee of quantitative methods, statistics geek). I took a workshop and learned to program a Burroughs 205 computer (competitor with the IBM 650); the 205 took up an entire floor of Nebraska Hall, which had to have special air conditioning installed to accommodate the heat generated by the behemoth. My job was to take randomly generated judgmental data matrices and convert them into a matrix of cosines of angles of separation among vectors representing stimulus objects. It took me six months to create and test the program; on today's equipment, it would require a few hours. Bob took over the resulting matrix and extracted latent roots to be compiled into empirical sampling distributions.
The work was in the tradition of metric scaling invented by Thurstone and generalized to the multidimensional case by Richardson and Torgerson and others; it was heady stuff. I was allowed to operate the computer in the middle of the night, bringing it up and shutting it down by myself. Bob found an office for me to share with a couple of graduate students in Ed Psych. I couldn't believe my good luck; from scrubbing floors to programming computers almost overnight. I can recall virtually every detail of those two years I spent working for Bob, first on the MDS project, then on a few other research projects he was conducting (even creating Skinnerian-type programmed instruction for a study of learner activity; my assignment was to program instruction in the Dewey Decimal system).
Stake was an attractive and fascinating figure to a young man who had never in his 20 years on earth traveled farther than 100 miles from his birthplace. He drove a Chevy station wagon, dusty rose and silver. He lived on the south side of Lincoln, a universe away from the lower-middle class neighborhoods of my side of town. He had a beautiful wife and two quiet, intense young boys who hung around his office on Saturdays silently playing games with paper and pencil. In the summer of 1961, I was invited to the Stake's house for a barbecue. Several graduate students were there (Chris Buethe, Jim Beaird, Doug Sjogren). The backyard grass was long and needed mowing; in the middle of the yard was a huge letter "S" carved by a lawn mower. I imagined Bernadine having said once too often, "Bob, would you please mow the backyard?" (Bob's children tell me that he was accustomed to mowing mazes in the yard and inventing games for them that involved playing tag without leaving the paths.)
That summer, Bob invited me to drive with him to New York City to attend the ETS Invitational Testing Conference. Bob's mother would go with us. Mrs. Stake was a pillar of the small community, Adams, 25 miles south of Lincoln where Bob was born and raised. She regularly spoke at auxiliary meetings and other occasions about the United Nations, then only 15 years old. The trip to New York would give her a chance to renew her experiences and pick up more literature for her talks. Taking me along as a spare driver on a 3,500 mile car trip may not have been a completely selfless act on Bob's part, but going out of the way to visit the University of Wisconsin so that I could meet Julian Stanley and learn about graduate school definitely was generous. Bob had been corresponding with Julian since the Spring of 1961. The latter had written his colleagues around the country urging them to test promising young students of their acquaintance and send him any information about high scores. In those pre-GRE days, the Miller Analogies Test and the Doppelt Mathematical Reasoning Test were the instruments of choice. Julian was eager to discover young, high scorers and accelerate them through a doctoral program, thus preventing for them his own misfortune of having wasted four of his best years in an ammunition dump in North Africa during WW II—and presaging his later efforts to identify math prodigies in middle school and accelerate them through college. Bob had created his own mental ability test, named with the clever pun QED, the Quantitative Evaluative Device. Bob asked me to take all three tests; I loved taking them. He sent the scores to Julian, and subsequently the stop in Madison was arranged. Bob had made it clear that I should not attend graduate school in Lincoln.
We drove out of Lincoln—the professor, the bumpkin and Adams's Ambassador to the U.N.—on October 27, 1961. Our first stop was Platteville, Wisconsin, where we spent the night with Bill Jensen, a former student of Bob's from Nebraska. Throughout the trip we were never far from Bob's former students who seemed to feel privileged to host his retinue. On day two, we met Julian in Madison and had lunch at the Union beside Lake Mendota with him and Les McLean and Dave Wiley. The company was intimidating; I was certain that I did not fit in and that Lincoln was the only graduate school I was fit for. We spent the third night sleeping in the attic apartment of Jim Beaird, whose dissertation that spring was a piece of the Stake MDS project; he had just started his first academic job at the University of Toledo. The fourth day took us through the Allegheny Mountains in late October; the oak forests were yellow, orange and crimson, so unlike my native savanna. We shared the driving. Bob drove through rural New Jersey searching for the small community where his brother Don lived; he had arranged to drop off his mother there. The maze was negotiated without the aid of road maps or other prostheses; indeed, none was consulted during the entire ten days. That night was spent in Princeton. Fred Kling, a former ETS Princeton Psychometric Fellow at Princeton with Bob, and his wife entertained us with a spaghetti dinner by candlelight. It was the first time in my life I had seen candles on a dinner table other than during a power outage, as it was also the first time I had tasted spaghetti not out of a can. .
The next day we called on Harold Gulliksen at his home. Gulliksen had been Bob's adviser at Princeton. We were greeted by his wife, who showed us to a small room outside his home office. We waited a few minutes while he disengaged from some strenuous mental occupation. Gulliksen swept into the room wearing white shirt and tie; he shook my hand when introduced; he focused on Bob's MDS research. The audience was over within fifteen minutes. I didn't want to return to Princeton.
We drove out to the ETS campus. Bob may have been gone for three years, but he was obviously not forgotten. Secretaries in particular seemed happy to see him. Bob was looking for Sam Messick. I was overwhelmed to see that these citations—(Abelson and Messick, 1958)—were actual persons, not like anything I had ever seen in Nebraska of course, but actual living, breathing human beings in whose presence one could remain for several minutes without something disastrous happening. Bob reported briefly on our MDS project to Messick. Sam had a manuscript in front of him on his desk. "Well, it may be beside the point," Messick replied to Bob's description of our findings. He held up the manuscript. It was a pre-publication draft of Roger Shepard's "Analysis of Proximities," which was to revolutionize multidimensional scaling and render our monte carlo study obsolete. It was October 30, 1961. It was Bob Stake's last day on earth as a quantoid.
The ETS Invitational Testing Conference was held in the Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan. We bunked with Hans Steffan in East Orange and took the tube to Manhattan. Hans had been another Stake student; he was a native German and I took the opportunity to practice my textbook Deutsch. I will spare the reader a 21-year-old Nebraska boy's impressions of Manhattan, all too shopworn to bear repeating. The Conference was filled with more walking citations: Bob Ebel, Ledyard Tucker, E. F. Lindquist, Ted Cureton, famous name after famous name. (Ten years later, I had the honor of chairing the ETS Conference, which gave me the opportunity to pick the roster of speakers along with ETS staff. I asked Bob to present his ideas on assessment; he gave a talk about National Assessment that featured a short film that he had made. People remarked that they were not certain that he was being "serious." His predictions about NAEP were remarkably prescient.)
We picked up Bob's mother in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, for some reason now forgotten. While we had listened to papers, she had invaded and taken over the U.N. We pointed the station wagon west; we made one stop in Toledo to sleep for a few hours. I did more than my share behind the wheel. I was extremely tired, having not slept well in New York. Bob and I usually slept in the same double bed on this trip and I was too worried about committing some gross act in my sleep to rest comfortably. I had a hard time staying awake during my stints at the wheel, but I would not betray weakness by asking for relief. I nearly fell asleep several times through Ohio, risking snuffing out two promising academic careers and breaking Adams, Nebraska's only diplomatic tie to the United Nations.
To help relieve the boredom of the long return trip, Bob and I played a word game that he had learned or invented. It was called "Ghost." Player one thinks of a five-letter word, say "spice." Player two guesses a five-letter word to start; suppose I guessed "steam." Player one superimposes, in his mind, the target word "spice" and my first guess "steam" and sees that one letter coincides—the "s." Since one letter is an odd number of letters, he replies "odd." If no letters coincide he says "even." If I had been very lucky—actually unlucky—and first guessed "slice," player one would reply "even" because four letters coincide. (This would actually have been an unlucky start since one reasonably assumes that the initial response "even" means that zero letters coincide. I think that games of this heinous intricacy are not unknown to Stake children.) Through a process of guessing words and deducing coincidences from "odd" and "even" responses, player two eventually discovers player one's word. It is a difficult game and it can consume hundreds of miles on the road. Several rounds of the game took us through Ohio, Indiana, Illinois. Somewhere around the Quad Cities, Bob played his trump card. He was thinking of a word that resisted all my most assiduous attempts at deciphering. Finally, outside Omaha I conceded defeat. His word was "ouija," as in the board. Do we take this incident as in some way a measure of this man?
By the time I arrived in Lincoln, a Western Union Telegram from Julian was waiting. I had never before received a telegram—or known anyone who had. I was flattered; I was hooked. Three months later, January 1962, I left Lincoln, Stake and everything I had known my entire life for graduate school. Bob and I corresponded regularly during the ensuing years. He wrote to tell me that he had taken a job at Urbana. I told him I was learning all that was known about statistics. He wrote several times during his summer, 1964, at Stanford in the institute that Lee Cronbach and Richard Atkinson conducted. Clearly it was a transforming experience for him. I was jealous. When I finished my degree in 1965, Bob had engineered a position for me in CIRCE at Univ. of Illinois. I was there when Bob wrote his "Countenance" paper; I pretended to understand it. I learned that there was a world beyond statistics; Bob had undergone enormous changes intellectually since our MDS days. I admired them, even as I recognized my own inability to follow. I spent two years at CIRCE; I think I felt the need to shine my own light away from the long shadows. I picked a place where I thought I might shine: Colorado.
Bob and I saw very little of each other from 1967 on. In the early 1970s, I invited him to teach summer school at Boulder. He gave a seminar on evaluation and converted all my graduate students into Stake-ians. But I saw little of him that summer. We didn't connect again until 1978.
When the year 1978 arrived, I was at the absolute height of my powers as a quantoid. My book on time-series experiment analysis was being reviewed by generous souls who called it a "watershed." Meta- analysis was raging through the social and behavioral sciences. I had nearly completed the class-size meta-analysis. The Hastings Symposium, on the occasion of Tom Hastings's retirement as head of CIRCE, was happening in Urbana in January. I attended. Lee Cronbach delivered a brilliant paper that gradually metamorphosed into his classic Designing Evaluations of Educational and Social Programs. Lee argued that the place of controlled experiments in educational evaluation is much less than we had once imagined. "External validity," if we must call it that, is far more important than "internal validity," which is after all not just an impossibility but a triviality. Experimental validity can not be reduced to a catechism. Well, this cut to the heart of my quantoid ideology, and I remember rising during the discussion of Lee's paper to remind him that controlled, randomized experiments worked perfectly well in clinical drug trials. He thanked me for divulging this remarkable piece of intelligence.
That summer I visited Eva Baker's Center for the Study of Evaluation at UCLA for eight weeks. Bob came for two weeks at Eva's invitation. One day he dropped a sheet of paper on my desk that contained only these words:
I was a quantoid, and "what I do best" was peaking. I gave a colloquium at Eva's center on the class size meta-analysis in mid- June. People were amazed. Jim Popham asked for the paper to inaugurate his new journal Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis. He was welcome to it.
June 30, 1978, dawned inauspiciously; I had no warning that it would be my last day on earth as a quantoid. Bob was to speak at a colloquium at the Center on whatever it was that was on his mind at that moment. Ernie House was visiting from Urbana. I was looking forward to the talk, because Bob never gave a dull lecture in his life. That day he talked about portrayal, complexity, understanding; qualities that are not yet nor may never be quantities; the ineffable (Bob has never been a big fan of the "effable"). I listened with respect and admiration, but I listened as one might listen to stories about strange foreign lands, about something that was interesting but that bore no relationship to one's own life. Near the end when questions were being asked I sought to clarify the boundaries that contained Bob's curious thoughts. I asked, "Just to clarify, Bob, between an experimentalist evaluator and a school person with intimate knowledge of the program in question, who would you trust to produce the most reliable knowledge of the program's efficacy?" I sat back confident that I had shown Bob his proper place in evaluation—that he couldn't really claim to assess impact, efficacy, cause-and-effect with his case-study, qualitative methods—and waited for his response, which came with uncharacteristic alacrity. "The school person," he said. I was stunned. Here was a person I respected without qualification whose intelligence I had long admired who was seeing the world far differently from how I saw it.
Bob and Ernie and I stayed long after the colloquium arguing about Bob's answer, rather Ernie and I argued vociferously while Bob occasionally interjected a word or sentence of clarification. I insisted that causes could only be known (discovered, found, verified) by randomized, controlled experiments with double-blinding and followed up with statistical significance tests. Ernie and Bob argued that even if you could bring off such an improbable event as the experiment I described, you still wouldn't know what caused a desirable outcome in a particular venue. I couldn't believe what they were saying; I heard it, but I thought they were playing Jesuitical games with words. Was this Bob's ghost game again?
Eventually, after at least an hour's heated discussion I started to see Bob and Ernie's point. Knowledge of a "cause" in education is not something that automatically results from one of my ideal experiments. Even if my experiment could produce the "cause" of a wonderful educational program, it would remain for those who would share knowledge of that cause with others to describe it to them, or act it out while they watched , or somehow communicate the actions, conditions and circumstances that constitute the "cause" that produces the desired effect. They—Bob and Ernie—saw the experimenter as not trained, not capable of the most important step in the chain: conveying to others a sense of what works and how to bring it about. "Knowing" what caused the success is easier, they believed, than "portraying" to others a sense for what is known.
I can not tell you, dear reader, why I was at that moment prepared to accept their belief and their arguments, but I was. What they said in that hour after Bob's colloquium suddenly struck me as true. And in the weeks and months after that exchange in Moore Hall at UCLA, I came to believe what they believed about studying education and evaluating schools: many people can know causes; few experiments can clarify causal claims; telling others what we know is the harder part. It was my last day on earth as a quantoid.
In the early 1970s, Bob introduced me to the writings of another son of Lincoln, Loren Eiseley, the anthropologist, academic and author, whom Wystan H. Auden once named as one of the leading poets of his generation. Eiseley wrote often about his experiences in the classroom; he wrote of "hidden teachers," who touch our lives and never leave us, who speak softly at the back of our minds, who say "Do this; don’t do that."
In his book The Invisible Pyramid, Eiseley wrote of "The Last Magician." "Every man in his youth—and who is to say when youth is ended?—meets for the last time a magician, a man who made him what he is finally to be." (p. 137) For Eiseley, that last magician is no secret to those who have read his autobiography, All the Strange Hours; he was Frank Speck, an anthropology professor at the University of Pennsylvania who was Eiseley's adviser, then colleague, and to whose endowed chair Eiseley succeeded upon Speck's retirement. (It is a curious coincidence that all Freudians will love that Eiseley's first published book was a biography of Fancis Bacon entitled The Man Who Saw Through Time; Francis Bacon and Frank Speck are English and German translations of each other.)
Eiseley described his encounter with the ghost of his last magician:
"I was fifty years old when my youth ended, and it was, of all unlikely places, within that great unwieldy structure built to last forever and then hastily to be torn down—the Pennsylvania Station in New York. I had come in through a side doorway and was slowly descending a great staircase ina slanting shaft of afternoon sunlight. Distantly I became aware of a man loitering at the bottom of the steps, as though awaiting me there. As I descended he swung about and began climbing toward me.Eiseley had seen a ghost. His mind fixed on the terror he felt at encountering Speck's ghost. They had been friends. Why had he felt afraid?
"On the slow train running homeward the answer came. I had been away for ten years from the forest. I had had no messages from its depths.... I had been immersed in the postwar administrative life of a growing university. But all the time some accusing spirit, the familiar of the last wood-struck magician, had lingered in my brain. Finally exteriorized, he had stridden up the stair to confront me in the autumn light. Whether he had been imposed in some fashion upon a convenient facsimile or was a genuine illusion was of little importance compared to the message he had brought. I had starved and betrayed myself. It was this that had brought the terror. For the first time in years I left my office in midafternoon and sought the sleeping silence of a nearby cemetery. I was as pale and drained as the Indian pipe plants without chlorophyll that rise after rains on the forest floor. It was time for a change. I wrote a letter and studied timetables. I was returning to the land that bore me." (P. 139)Whenever I am at my worst —- rash, hostile, refusing to listen, unwilling even to try to understand -- something tugs at me from somewhere at the back of consciousness, asking me to be better than that, to be more like this person or that person I admire. Bob Stake and I are opposites on most dimensions that I can imagine. I form judgments prematurely; he is slow to judge. I am impetuous; he is reflective. I talk too much; perhaps he talks not enough. I change my persona every decade; his seemingly never changes. And yet, Bob has always been for me a hidden teacher.
This is the text of remarks delivered in part on the occasion of a symposium honoring the retirement of Robert E. Stake, University of Illinois—UC. May 9, 1998 in Urbana, Illinois.
Eiseley, Loren (1970). The Invisible Pyramid. New York: Scribner.
Thursday, July 21, 2022
Posted by Gene V Glass at 4:03 PM