Benjamin Wright's 1958 Personal Approach To Learning: A Joint Epistemic Project Maximizing Occasions for Phenomena to Raise Their Own Questions


In the 1940s and 1950s, at Cornell University and then at the University of Chicago, Benjamin Wright transitioned from studies in physics under two later Nobel laureates to being a certified psychoanalyst. A series of events led to work in educational research, where his experience with computers, his grasp of mathematical modeling, and his demand for psychological meaning blended in uniquely innovative ways. In 1958, two years before he met Rasch, Wright's concerns with the quality of measurement in education led him to ask "What is a measurement? What is a variable?" Much still stands to be learned from the answers to these questions that Wright proposed in his personal approach to learning. Wright's search for scientific methods of psychological and social measurement informed an integration of objective facts with subjective feelings that resonates today with contemporary work in the philosophy of science. This presentation traces the course of events in Wright's life, describes his personal approach to learning, and connects his ideas with ongoing efforts at seeing how objective distance and subjective empathy both need to be subservient to the need to let the phenomena investigated push back against the intentions of the researcher. The ideas, methods, and tools of this joint epistemic project developed by Wright, his students, and colleagues will likely only grow in importance as psychometrics expands from its statistical focus on data analyses to supporting dynamically, coherently, and complexly interconnected assessments in education ecosystems spanning a wide range of in-, out of-, and after-school learners, activities, locations, and educators.

William P. Fisher, Jr. received his doctorate from the University of Chicago, where he was mentored by Benjamin D. Wright and supported by a Spencer Foundation Dissertation Research Fellowship. Dr. Fisher is recognized for contributions to measurement theory and practice that span the full range from the philosophical to the applied in fields as diverse as special education, mindfulness practice, clinical chemistry, and survey research. His articles have appeared in journals spanning a similarly wide range of fields, from education and psychology to nursing and occupational therapy to physics and metrology. Dr. Fisher’s entry on metrology and measurement in the 2011 World Standards Day paper competition won third prize, which is notable given the focus on engineering and natural science topics usually emphasized by the competition sponsors, SES, the Society for Standards Professionals, and the US National Institute for Standards and Technology. In efforts toward this same end of fostering more informed dialogue between the natural and social sciences, Fisher began contributing in 2008 to an ongoing conference hosted by the International Measurement Confederation (IMEKO) on the human and social value of measurement. Work in this area ultimately led to an IMEKO Joint Symposium co-hosted by Fisher and Mark Wilson at UC Berkeley in August 2016.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019 - 2:00pm
2121 Berkeley Way West
PDF icon Fisher2019WrightBEARSeminar.pdf1.04 MB