Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Still, Done Too Soon

Michael John Scriven (28 March 1928 – 28 August 2023)

Bob Stake hired me at Urbana in 1965. Bob was editing the AERA monograph series on Curriculum Evaluation. He shared a copy of a manuscript he was considering. It was “The Methodology of Evaluation.” Up to that point, evaluation for educators was about nothing much more than behavioral objectives and paper-&-pencil tests. Finally though, someone was talking sense about something I could get excited about. At that point I only heard rumors, some true, some not, about the author: he was a philosopher; he was Australian; his parents were wealthy sheep ranchers; he was moving from Indiana to San Francisco; he told a realtor that he wanted an expensive house with only one bedroom.

I didn’t meet Michael in person until about 1968. I had moved to Boulder, and he was attending a board meeting of the Social Sciences Education Consortium. He had helped start SSEC back in Indiana in 1963, and it had moved to Colorado in the meantime. I had nothing to do with SSEC but somehow was invited to the dinner at the Red Lion Inn. I knew Michael would be there, and I was eager to see this person in the flesh. He arrived and a dinner of a dozen or so commenced. As people were seated, Michael began to sing in Latin a portion of some Catholic mass. I had no idea what it was about, but it was clear that he was amused by the reaction of his companions. At one point in the table talk, someone congratulated an economist in attendance on the birth of his 7th child. “A true test of masculinity,” someone loudly remarked. “Hardly, in an age of contraceptives,” said Michael soto voce. It was 1968 after all.

We next met in 1969. I had the contract from the US Office of Education – it was not a Department yet – to analyze and report the data from the first survey of ESEA Title I, money for the disadvantaged. The contract was large as was my “staff.” I was scared to death. I called in consultants: Bob Stake, Dick Jaeger; but Michael was first. He calmed me down and gave me a plan. I was grateful.

We met again in 1972. It was at AERA in New York. He invited me up to the room to meet someone. It was Mary Anne. She was young; she was extraordinarily beautiful. I was speechless. Those who knew Michael only recently – say, post 1990 – may not have known how handsome and charming he was.

I saw Michael rarely post-1980. His interest in evaluation became his principal focus and my interests wandered elsewhere. One day when I found myself analyzing the results of other people’s analyses, I thought of Michael and “meta-evaluation” (literally the evaluation of evaluations) and decided to call what I was doing, meta-analysis. Very recently, I wrote him and told him that he was responsible for the term “meta-analysis.” I was feeling sorry for him; it was the only thing I could think to say that might make him feel a bit better. I probably overestimated.

In the late 1990s, Sandy and I were in San Francisco and Michael invited us to Inverness for lunch. Imbedded in memory are a half dozen hummingbird feeders, shellfish salad, and the library – or should I say, both libraries. When the house burned down and virtually everything was lost, I remembered the library. When Michael’s Primary Philosophy was first published in 1966, I bought what turned out to be a first printing. Unknown to Michael and many others, apparently, there was an interesting typo. Each chapter’s first page was its number and its title, e.g., III ART. However, on page 87, there was only the chapter number IV. The chapter name was missing: GOD. After the house burned down and the libraries were lost, I sent him my copy of Primary Philosophy; "Keep it." He was amused and grateful.

There was a meeting of Stufflebeam’s people in Kalamazoo around 2000 perhaps. Michael was in charge. I was asked to speak. I can barely remember what I said; maybe something about personally and privately held values versus values that are publicly negotiated. I could tell that Michael was not impressed. It hardly mattered. He invited Sandy and me to see his house by a lake. There were traces that his health was not good.

I can’t let go of the notion that there are some things inside each of us that drive us and give us a sense of right-and-wrong and good-better-best that one might as well call personal values. They are almost like Freud’s super-ego, and they are acquired in the same way, by identification with an object (person) loved or feared. I know I have a very personal sense of when I am doing something right or well. A part of that sense is Michael.