Bettelheim's Test

"...a self, if it is not to wither away, must forever be testing itself against the nonself in a process of active assertion.... Testing implies both respect and consideration for what we test ourselves against. Otherwise it becomes not a test of self, but of something entirely different, perhaps of brute force.

"As a matter of fact, what a person selects as a testing ground is most indicative of the nature and quality of the self. A passive yielding to certain experiences can be a much more subtle testing of the self against the nonself than meeting it aggressively. Success is then not a question of how unchanged the self emerges from the test nor how much it has bent the nonself to its will, but how enriched it became in the process" (Bettelheim 1967, quoted in Zaner 1981).

Zaner remarks that the "enrichment of self must be understood not as a mere playful metaphor, but a rigorously descriptive concept. Such enrichment is a continuous, simultaneous process in which one enhances the other philosophically. We note that what is at stake is a continually ongoing, internally rhythmed and always precarious mutuality."

This passage from Bettelheim provokes a question concerning Ben Wright's transitions from physics to psychology to measurement, namely: What was there in his psychology training, as opposed to his physics training, that prepared him to recognize the value of what Rasch said in 1960? Was there something that helped him not only to recognize but also to grasp and tenaciously pursue the implications of what Rasch said? Bettelheim's text suggests such a "something" - the factor of mutuality that is as crucial to the success of educational measurement as it is to the development and maturation of the human self.

I came across the Bettelheim quote by chance. I read books like Zaner's for clues as to how measurement can be better understood. Explicit use of measurement or testing concepts in such books are rare. Gadamer's metaphor - conversation is a test involving the art of questioning - is the only other explicit use of the testing concept in this context of which I'm aware (Fisher 1990). Given the reactions of publishers and non-Rasch reviewers to my proposals concerning links between conjoint measurement and Husserlian phenomenology, one would hardly expect anything in the published literature to insinuate such a link. Thus it is rare and satisfying to read Bettelheim describe the relation of self and other in terms of testing, especially when testing is defined as "a continually ongoing, internally rhythmed, and always precarious mutuality." This sounds to me like an apt description of what measurement is all about.

In 1955, Bettelheim and Wright co-authored a paper called "Staff Development in a Treatment Institution" and in 1957 one titled "Professional Identity and Personal Rewards in Teaching". These articles indicate that Bettelheim had been overtly using the notion of teaching as a continuous, simultaneous process of mutual self- enhancement through testing of the self against the other in the training of his graduate students. They support the hypothesis that Wright placed great importance on the issues raised in Zaner's quote from Bettelheim, and that Wright had focused on these issues under Bettelheim's tutelage before the quote from "The Empty Fortress" was written.

Recent controversies regarding Bettelheim's capacity to live up to these subtle standards notwithstanding, we can learn from the psychometrically relevant aspects of his use of the testing concept. One can read Zaner's quote on more than one level. The self that must be constantly testing itself against others, if it is not to wither away, can be seen as Western, scientific culture. Colonialism, imperialism, scientific manipulations, and technological control are processes of active assertion, but they seldom connote much in the way of respect or consideration for the others against whom the Western self has tested itself. As such, Western culture is perhaps testing itself less and its capacity for brute force more.

Western culture has begun to recognize that the testing grounds it has selected have said far more about its nature and quality than about the nature and quality of those it has dominated. The vulgar sense of scientific objectivity takes facts as given in a one-sided relation with a "nature" invented to be dominated. Non-Western cultures that place themselves in a more balanced relation with their "nature" have been overrun by the West's success in conquering its "nature." Now the West is starting to see that it can and must learn about other "natures" from other cultures, and that the totalitarian conquest of "nature" means ultimately not only the withering of the Western self, but of any other sense of self.

We can address the daunting task of transforming our culture of self- testing by transforming our conceptualizations of science, technology, and what we are willing to call measures and measurement. The importance of additive conjoint measurement, especially in Rasch's stochastic formulation, is its transformation of science's one-sided, aggressive process of active assertion and self-testing into a multi- faceted yielding to interactions with others. Where the former forces teachers into information dispensers and students into information recipients, the latter turns this one-way flow back on itself, giving voice to the students and allowing and fostering learning among teachers. Where the former accepts data as given, legitimate, and untouchable, no matter what shape it arrives in, the latter responds to the basic principles of cognitive psychology and cultural anthropology in recognizing that data are processed, shaped, and construed before they are understood to be anything.

These principles are so primordial that Rasch measurement must eventually bloom into the root paradigm of social, educational, and psychological measurement. As this happens, we must live up to Bettelheim's testing standards. We cannot define success as the extent to which we emerge from current tests unchanged, having bent others to our will. Our measure of success must follow from the extent to which we have allowed ourselves to be enriched in the process.

Bettelheim B 1967. The Empty Fortress: Infantile Autism and the Birth of the Self. New York: The Free Press, p. 81

Bettelheim B & Wright BD 1955. Staff Development in a Treatment Institution. The American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, Vol. XXV, No. 4, October p. 705-719.

Fisher W P Jr 1990. Conversing, Testing, Questioning. AERA Paper. ERIC document TM016413

Wright BD & Bettelheim B 1957. Professional Identity and Personal Rewards in Teaching. The Elementary School Journal. March p. 297-307

Zaner R 1981. The Context of Self: A Phenomenological Inquiry Using Medicine as a Clue. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press. p. 188



Bettelheim's Test, W Fisher Jr. … Rasch Measurement Transactions, 1991, 5:3 p. 164-5


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Rasch Publications
Rasch Measurement Transactions (free, online) Rasch Measurement research papers (free, online) Probabilistic Models for Some Intelligence and Attainment Tests, Georg Rasch Applying the Rasch Model 3rd. Ed., Bond & Fox Best Test Design, Wright & Stone
Rating Scale Analysis, Wright & Masters Introduction to Rasch Measurement, E. Smith & R. Smith Introduction to Many-Facet Rasch Measurement, Thomas Eckes Invariant Measurement: Using Rasch Models in the Social, Behavioral, and Health Sciences, George Engelhard, Jr. Statistical Analyses for Language Testers, Rita Green
Rasch Models: Foundations, Recent Developments, and Applications, Fischer & Molenaar Journal of Applied Measurement Rasch models for measurement, David Andrich Constructing Measures, Mark Wilson Rasch Analysis in the Human Sciences, Boone, Stave, Yale
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May 25 - June 22, 2018, Fri.-Fri. On-line workshop: Practical Rasch Measurement - Core Topics (E. Smith, Winsteps), www.statistics.com
June 29 - July 27, 2018, Fri.-Fri. On-line workshop: Practical Rasch Measurement - Further Topics (E. Smith, Winsteps), www.statistics.com
Aug. 10 - Sept. 7, 2018, Fri.-Fri. On-line workshop: Many-Facet Rasch Measurement (E. Smith, Facets), www.statistics.com
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