Ghosts and Reminiscences:
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 memberjust two years out of Princeton with a shiny new PhD in Psychometricsby 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 scalingwhich 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.)
We drove out of Lincolnthe 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 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
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.
We were back to ghost, I could tell. I worked all day and half the night on it. I was stuck. Then I remembered that he was staying by himself in a bare apartment just off campus. When I visited it several days before, there had only been a couch, a phone and a phonebook in the living room. I grabbed a phonebook and started perusing it. There near the front was a list of city names and area codes: Chicago 312, New York 212, Lincoln 402; 3+1+2=6, 2+1+2=5, 4+0+2=6, etc. Bingo! He didn't get me this time.
......... 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 evaluationthat he couldn't really claim to assess impact, efficacy, cause-and-effect with his case-study, qualitative methodsand 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. TheyBob and Erniesaw 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; donít do that."
"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 downthe 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?
......... Whenever I am at my worstrash, hostile, refusing to listen, unwilling even to try to understandsomething 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.
Note......... This is the text of remarks delivered in part on the occasion of a symposium honoring the retirement of Robert E. Stake, University of IllinoisUC. May 9, 1998 in Urbana, Illinois.
Eiseley, Loren (1970). The Invisible Pyramid. New York: Scribner.
Eiseley, Loren (1975). All the Strange Hours. New York: Scribner
June 30, 1998