Vice President, Institute Fellow, American Institutes for Research
By David Zierler, Director of the Caltech Heritage Project
June 9, 2022
DAVID ZIERLER: This is David Zierler, Director of the Caltech Heritage Project. It is Thursday, June 9th, 2022. I am delighted to be here with Dr. Michael S. Garet. Mike, it's great to be with you. Thank you so much for joining me today.
MICHAEL GARET: You're very welcome. I'm looking forward to this.
ZIERLER: To start, would you please tell me your title and institutional affiliation?
GARET: Yes. I'm Vice President at the American Institutes for Research.
ZIERLER: What is the AIR?
GARET: It is an applied research organization. We do work in education and other applied social sciences—in health and social policy. We have offices around the country. Our main office is in Crystal City, just outside D.C. We have an office in California and other places.
ZIERLER: Who are some of the main clients of AIR?
GARET: The U.S. Department of Education is the main client. The Gates Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation, state departments of education, other federal agencies—the National Science Foundation—and school districts.
ZIERLER: What are some of the main private benefactors that are important for your work?
GARET: Definitely the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, if that's what you mean by a private benefactor, and the Hewlett Foundation, especially, and then some other smaller foundations.
ZIERLER: What are some of the policy achievements that you're most proud of with the AIR?
GARET: You mean of the organization as a whole?
GARET: We have been part of I'd say a movement in education research to improve the rigor of studies of the impact of education interventions, to try to figure out what works and for whom. We have tried to carry out randomized trials, for example studies where we can randomly assign some schools or some teachers or some students to participate in new approaches and others to continue with conventional approaches, and then see how well the new approaches do.
ZIERLER: Is your focus both on public and private education, or is it one or the other?
GARET: It's mainly public. We do focus a bit on private schools from time to time, but mainly on public, and mainly on preschool and K through 12, although we also focus on higher education to some extent.
ZIERLER: Who are some of the key allies in the congressional world that help you enact the policies that are most important for the AIR?
GARET: Ah! That's a good question that I think I can't answer. We are a non-political organization, and so we do objective research which then congressmen or committees take up and use in fashioning legislation. We work with the agencies to help them monitor and implement programs or evaluate programs, but we don't engage in advocacy.
ZIERLER: From graduate school at MIT, what was your academic focus there? Was it always in educational policy? Was that what you were always interested in?
GARET: Yes. I had been interested in educational—I'm not sure if I would have said policy, but in education—from some point at Caltech. When we start talking about undergraduate life at Caltech, I could talk more about that. I went to graduate school at MIT in management, and I was interested in organizational behavior and systems analysis, and that's because I thought that those two disciplines would be helpful in understanding educational change. I still think so, but probably to a somewhat lesser extent [laughs] than I did when I applied to graduate school.
ZIERLER: Your subsequent career in academia, were you more interested in fundamental research at that point? Were you less concerned with policy and applications?
GARET: Well, it's funny. When I applied to graduate school, I had no interest in being an academic. I wanted to change education; that was my mission. I chose my graduate program with that in mind. In fact, there were fellowships that you could indicate an interest in if you wanted to go into being a college professor, but I explicitly said no, I wasn't interested in that. But then when I got into graduate school, something about the social climate of graduate school made me think of applying to become a professor, contrary to my original goals.
ZIERLER: What were some of your main areas of academic research in academia?
GARET: When I was in graduate school, I was particularly interested in the implementation of educational reform, on the theory that good ideas were not well implemented in practice. I'm still interested in that. That was one area that I focused on when I was a professor. I also spent a fair amount of time focusing on high school reform. When I was at Stanford, there was a large project called The Study of Stanford and the Schools, which the dean of the School of Education and the president of the university at that time developed. The idea was to try to increase the connections between research going on at Stanford and the schools in the surrounding area. I was involved with that.
ZIERLER: What were the issues that prompted your decision to leave academia?
GARET: It was a decision, but it wasn't mine [laughs], exactly. I was at Stanford, and I put a lot of time into teaching and not enough time into publishing, and so I didn't get tenure. I went from being an assistant professor at Stanford to being an associate professor at Northwestern. The same thing pretty much happened at Northwestern.
ZIERLER: That was an associate line without tenure?
GARET: Without tenure, yes. I had many graduate students, doctoral students, and advised their dissertations, and focused on some of the same issues. I got particularly interested in the reform of math education, which I had been interested in as an undergraduate, and a graduate student as well, but at Northwestern I focused more on that and have ever since. On leaving Northwestern, I sort of fell into the position I now have. A graduate student showed me an ad, and it was for a smaller research organization, the Pelavin Associates, in Washington D.C. They were looking for someone who had expertise in quantitative research methods and their application to issues of educational policy. My graduate student said, "That sounds like you!" I applied. I didn't know anything about them when I applied.
ZIERLER: Was the AIR new at that point? Were they already well established?
GARET: No, and actually, the Pelavin Associates was newer. At the time that I applied, I think they might have been about ten years old. They were small, and had about maybe 60 employees here in Washington D.C. It turned out, though I didn't know it when I initially applied, that several professors I knew, one from Stanford and one at the University of Wisconsin at the time, both of them had worked with the Pelavin Associates. When I asked for their advice on whether this was a good thing to pursue, they were both very positive. It was a very lucky match. Sol Pelavin, who was the president of Pelavin Associates at the time, and Diane Pelavin, his wife, who was the second lead, happened to have family in Chicago. Of course, I was in Chicago at Northwestern, so they said they were coming and let's have an interview. We met at a hotel where they were staying and had brunch and an interview. We had a very long conversation.
ZIERLER: What was your initial work? What did you work on when you first got to the AIR?
GARET: Well, it's interesting. I was a jack-of-all-trades methodologist. I should have said—and I didn't—that when I was offered the position at Stanford, they also were advertising for a position that sounded precisely like me. It was very odd. They had a new program in administration and policy analysis, and one part of that program was a yearlong required course sequence in decision sciences in education. It was based on just the premise that led me to graduate school. It was about applying systems analysis to education. They needed someone to teach that course sequence. That's what they were looking for. That was one of my big responsibilities when I was at Stanford, and advising people on quantitative research generally speaking. That has been a major part of my work apart from the specific substantive focus. I think now if somebody at AIR or outside AIR were to refer to me, they would mention my quantitative methods expertise—and some substantive things, but that's probably what they would say. I came to be a kind of quantitative generalist. I wanted to continue my work in math education, and we did. We had—ironically, given a question you asked earlier—happened to have a project at the time on the finance of private schools, and I worked on that. In very short order after coming, I was assigned to help write a proposal on education in prisons. I knew nothing about education in prisons, but the person who was the lead for the proposal said, well, I knew how to study education, so that's what counted. We wrote the proposal and we won, so she was right!
The other thing is that we merged with AIR, which I knew was going to happen. Sol had explained that. AIR was a bigger organization that had started in Pittsburgh and then moved to Palo Alto and was a very widely-known research organization. Its particular claim to fame was a study called Project Talent, where they surveyed students while they were in high school and then followed them for many years after. In fact, we're still following that sample now. They're now all retired. It is looking at relationships between early experiences and what's happening to them now in retirement. That merger happened at the end of my first year at Pelavin Associates. I went from being in a small organization to being in a much bigger organization.
ZIERLER: For you, at that time, also for AIR, how important an organizing principle was the concept of inequality, in terms of serving as a guidepost for all the things you were focused on?
GARET: Extremely important. I'm going to jump around; you'll just have to make order out of chaos, if you can. AIR had an assessment program that created tests for state accountability systems. It was created out of nothing. Going way back, the reason Pelavin was looking for me was they had another quantitative person, and they were looking for someone to work with him because he was the only quantitative person. Not the only—other people were quantitative—but he was sort of at cutting the edge, and he was needing someone to talk to. He created this testing program out of nothing. It became the most successful testing program in the country. A few years ago, AIR sold it, and it gave us a large endowment which we now have. We call it a quasi-endowment; I don't know why. I bring this up because the focus of the endowment is what we call the AIR Equity Initiative. We're using it to fund our own work and others' work focused explicitly on equity in education and social policy more generally.
When I was in graduate school, I was in the management school, as I mentioned, but in addition, I worked on education and social policy as a minor at Harvard. I did a self-created minor. My advisor there, David Cohen, was one of the coauthors of Inequality, a book with Christopher Jencks that was written at the time. My advisor, soon after I met him—the book hadn't come out yet, but he said I had to read the draft. He gave it to me. What's interesting is it was the typescript, and it must have been about six inches thick. I took it on a long bus ride to go to a friend's wedding and read Inequality on the bus. It was very discouraging. But everything that I have worked on is in one way or another connected trying to understand the sources of inequality and programs to ameliorate inequality. The interventions that we've tested have almost all entirely taken place in low-performing schools or schools that serve disadvantaged students, in an effort to improve outcomes. That's AIR's mission, which I should have mentioned.
ZIERLER: The sources of inequality are macroscopic and much more complex than your specific area of expertise. Institutionally, what are some of the key partners of AIR to address those deeper problems?
GARET: This is a hard question. Over my lifetime—well, and before, but really the part I'm familiar with is mostly over my lifetime—education reformers and researchers have had the dream that there could be some approach to instruction or the organization of schooling that could compensate for societal inequality, and that well-organized schools could make up for what students and their families didn't have available. In fact, when I was in graduate school, I guess we called it compensatory education. I had forgotten about that phrase. That phrase seems to have gone, but not the idea—the idea in the sense, or the hope that— but I think that it may be impossible. That is, schools couldn't make up for all of the other institutional inequality. We're increasingly partnering with other organizations, and also parts of our own organization, building work on family support, and also intervening earlier, preschool and before preschool.
My own work has been almost entirely inside schools. That is, focusing on schools as if schools could—not solve the problem, which is obviously preposterous; I don't believe that. I do think some schools, though, are much more effective than others, and really are able to close the gap. There have been times when there has been some gap closing. I think during the period of school desegregation, some parts of the Great Society, the dismantling of entirely separate schools, you can see, a closing, if you look at national test score trends, for example. In some ways, it has been a depressing career, because my optimism when I left Caltech was unbounded. [laughs] It really was. My advisor who gave me the book Inequality and had me read it on the bus—I think part of his goal was to make me more of a skeptic. He was more of a skeptic, for sure.
ZIERLER: I fear the answer, but when Jonathan Kozol's Savage Inequalities came out, what has changed, and what has remained the same, since then?
GARET: We still have the inequalities. They're not as extreme, I would say, as they were. There's still funding inequality. The organization of our school system is just very poor, because there's too much local funding, and the local funding is very unequal. State funding helps, but states have unequal resources as well. The federal funding is very modest, and even the funding for disadvantaged schools, which provides too small a portion to make a big dent. Some things, I think, are better. Funding for individuals with disabilities, there's much more support than there was. There's funding and support for English language learners. Still, poverty is related to characteristics of schools. Kids who grew up in poverty are more likely to get teachers who are new, just out of school and less well-prepared. So, they're still unequal, but not as unequal as they were.
ZIERLER: Just a snapshot in time, what are you currently working on?
GARET: I'm working on a number of things. One is a major initiative that the Gates Foundation is directing called Networks for School Improvement. Their goal is to build networks of schools that serve predominantly Black, Hispanic, and low-income populations and improve outcomes for those students, not through a particular prescribed solution but by helping those schools engage in continuous improvement, to identify problems and generate solutions, test those solutions in rapid-cycle tests. It's a major initiative. I think there's about 500 schools around the country in about 30 networks. We're engaged in evaluating the continuous improvement processes going on in these schools. That's one particularly exciting initiative.
We're also engaged in an evaluation of what's called multi-tiered systems of support, in reading, where children in the early grades are assessed in reading frequently, and then children who are struggling with particular areas of reading are given extra support to focus on the areas of need. That's a randomized trial, where we randomly assign some schools to have extra supports for children in need, and others to continue with business as usual. That study is going on for a very long time, following students from the time they enter first grade until at least the end of third grade, but we plan to follow them somewhat longer. Those are two big studies that I'm currently working on.
ZIERLER: Let's go back and establish the context for undergraduate at Caltech. Where did you go to high school?
GARET: I went to Glendale High in Glendale, California.
ZIERLER: A local boy!
GARET: I was a local boy, yes.
ZIERLER: Was Caltech the be-all and end-all? Is that where you wanted to go?
GARET: Yes. It seems odd in retrospect, but I was very interested in math from forever. I knew I wanted to focus on math for as long as I can remember. My dad had a work colleague, and their eldest son was interested in science, and he went to Caltech. He was older than I, maybe by four years or something like that. He said I should go to Caltech. I thought, "Oh, in that case, I should go to Caltech!" Also, when I was in high school in Glendale, it wasn't that far from Pasadena, and I went to Caltech and did a bit of research in the Caltech library. I was very interested in Fermat's Last Theorem when I was in high school, and so I went to Caltech to try to read some about that. I applied to Stanford, Harvey Mudd, Caltech, and Berkeley, I think. You'd think I would have visited them or something, but I didn't. When I got into Caltech, I never considered—it wasn't a decision. I mean, it was a decision, but [laughs] it wasn't a rational decision. I didn't really weigh the alternatives. It turned out it was a brilliant decision, but [laughs] it's funny, in retrospect, how certain I was with no real basis. I had seen it. I could have gone, as a prospective student, to learn more about Caltech, but I didn't.
ZIERLER: What year did you arrive at Caltech?
GARET: I arrived in the Fall of 1965.
ZIERLER: Did you live at home or you stayed on campus?
GARET: I was assigned to Blacker House. The way it worked then—I imagine it's the same now, but I don't know—is that we were assigned to a house for the first few weeks. During those first few weeks, we visited each of the other houses for dinner and learned a little about them. Then at the end of that period, we rank-ordered the houses, and we picked our top four out of the seven at the time. Then the houses ranked us, and we were matched, and you had to get one of your top four. I ranked Blacker as my number one. I'm sure it had to do with already being there, in part. My roommate, Dan Nemzer, also ranked Blacker House as his number one. We both ended up in Blacker House. He drew the number one freshman room, and so we decided to become roommates. That was my start at Caltech.
ZIERLER: Obviously Caltech is a very different campus in the 1960s than places like Berkeley and Columbia. Was there anything political going on? Were you politically minded as an undergraduate?
GARET: Yes. Not especially when I entered as a freshman. My parents were both Democrats. I was a liberal, if you were to rank me. But I was not active at all. In my freshman year, I got involved in some student activities at Caltech, but otherwise I pretty much was a student, with one other exception I wanted to tell you about. The entire curriculum was determined, when I was a freshman. All the freshman courses were required. There were no choices. My freshman English class, one of the quarters was taught by John Crawford, who was an instructor. I don't think I made the distinction at the time between a professor, an instructor, and whatever, but I think I knew that, eventually, that he was not a regular professor.
In addition to whatever the focus was of the class he taught—Medieval English, I think, was the class we were taking from him—but he was very interested in contemporary literature. He organized a seminar that a group of us—we just volunteered, and we just took an extra class, basically. We didn't get credit for it, I don't think. But he created a set of readings, and we read Allen Ginsberg and other poets that none of us had ever encountered before. It was a radicalizing English class. That I think was maybe the only thing that I did as a freshman that would have been sort of radical —I was not a student radical. I mean, if reading poetry is a radical activity, then this was. But then, I started to get more radical, as did others on campus, with the Vietnam War escalating, and I grew more antiwar. I also became close friends with another student in Blacker House, Joe Rhodes. Has Joe Rhodes come up?
ZIERLER: Absolutely. I'm very sad he's not here for me to talk to.
GARET: Yes, it's very sad. He was in my class, in the same cohort of students, and he was—I can't remember the year—he was elected student body president for two years, as I recall, but before that, he was elected activities chairman or something like that. I worked with him from the time he first had an ASCIT office. We began thinking about a couple of things. Bringing women to Caltech was one of them, and changing Caltech education was a second. We all loved Caltech education, except that we thought it needed to be more socially relevant. The question was how to connect what we were doing with the problems that the country was facing. Then there was working on the problems itself.
We began work on what became the ASCIT research project, the air pollution project that happened in the summer of 1968. I was the director of that project in the Summer of 1968, but in the year before worked with Joe to raise money for the project and worked with faculty and administration at Caltech who were amazingly supportive of the whole thing. The president, who was DuBridge at the time, offered people in the development office. TRW was an organization that was a supporter of Caltech, and they helped—it's sort of funny in retrospect—cast the project in cost-benefit analysis terms because they thought that would be helpful in selling the proposal. We went around to different government agencies, flew to Washington, and just knocked on doors. It seems sort of preposterous [laughs] in retrospect, but the National Air Pollution Control Administration, which eventually became the EPA, put money into the project. But it wasn't until the last minute.
The other thing we did was we went around the country sort of like pied pipers or something, from university to university and said, "We're going to have this project, and we're going to have 100 students come to Caltech in the summer and solve the air pollution problem. You should do this." We didn't have any money, but we knew we would. But we didn't until very late in the day, so people just held on. Many, but not all of the people who came to Caltech in that summer were women, but that was one of the subtexts. It had three subtexts: one about bringing women to Caltech and one about changing education at Caltech, which involved students and faculty working together in different ways, not only as faculty being tutors, really, but more as research partners. Then the third was actually making progress on the substantive issue of air pollution.
ZIERLER: Do you have a specific memory of how and when the topic came up of whether Caltech should admit women to the undergraduate program?
GARET: That's a very good question. I don't. Clearly, it was a decision that was made by the time I was a senior, however women were not admitted. There was a funny discussion about how the dorms had to be refitted and you couldn't have urinals in the women's bathrooms. But we had women, because some of the women who were part of the ASCIT research project stayed at Caltech during the year, so when I was a senior, there were several women at Caltech. They took classes. They obviously weren't Caltech students, but they were there. I cannot remember—there were at least three, and so they were the inaugural women at Caltech. I'm thinking it was not under discussion when I was a freshman, and it had been decided by the time I was a senior.
The research project was initially designed to help push Caltech in that direction, but that was only one of its goals. I think we thought it did, but that was already—I'm pretty sure that by then—maybe the decision was made when I was a junior, because I think we thought there could be women students when I was a senior, but there were not. I'm thinking that maybe the decision was made in 1967, 1968, because that's when I would have been a junior, and that would have been before the actual summer when the women appeared, or maybe it happened just thereafter. I don't know.
ZIERLER: Was your sense that this was more agitating from the bottom up, in other words, this was students lobbying faculty and the administration? Or was this happening from professors, from administrators at Caltech?
GARET: We viewed it as happening from the bottom up but we clearly had allies among the professors, so it wasn't just—we viewed it as agitating from the bottom up, but I don't know. It's a good question.
ZIERLER: Were you a member of any student committees or official bodies that deliberated on this question?
GARET: I think so, but I don't remember exactly. The thing I remember best was the research projects and the idea of bringing women to Caltech—subterraneanly? [laughs]—without a formal decision ever to admit women.
ZIERLER: What were the committees? What were their names? What were the kinds of things that were deliberated?
GARET: It's a good question. You mean committees related to admitting women, in particular?
GARET: I don't know. It's interesting what the resistance was, and why. Was there a view that women couldn't do the work? I know that was one thing that the research project was designed to make clear was not the case. But I just don't know. I know this is your focus. Somewhere in a box, I probably have notes [laughs] about this.
ZIERLER: It's oral history, so I'm just exploring your memory. What about the idea that Caltech was behind the times on this issue? In other words, were students focused on peer institutions, places like Stanford or MIT, where this transition was already underway or at least in process?
GARET: Yeah, but Caltech was an institution in itself. It has no peers, or something. I know there was discussion about the handful of women faculty, Olga Todd in particular, the mathematician. I don't know when she was made a professor as opposed to a research adjunct professor or whatever it was she was at the time that I was there. I think it was behind the time in hiring. There were a couple of women on the faculty. There was an English professor? I've forgotten her name. Very, very few, who were just hired. But in that way, Caltech was all men students, but it needn't be all men faculty, but it virtually was.
ZIERLER: When you said that there were allies on the faculty or administrators, any names in particular come up?
GARET: No. There were various people who worked with us in one way or another. In the research project, one person, Fred Thompson, for example, who was a computer science professor, worked with us to help organize information, and there were others. This is another good question that I don't know the answer to.
ZIERLER: You graduated before the inaugural class, or you got to interact with those first women?
GARET: No. Like I say, we had women because they were the research project women who stayed my senior year. The first year of the research project was the Summer of 1968. One of the motivations in addition to the three that I gave—bringing women to Caltech and changing education and actually making progress in air pollution—another motivation was finding a productive way for Caltech to be socially active in the sense of protesting the war. We were so small. It was not like Berkeley. This was happening with the undercurrent of the antiwar protests at the same time. Another batch of students came to Caltech in the Summer of 1969. That was after I graduated. I wasn't there any longer. Two batches, actually, because that year, we were going to solve two problems, since we made so much progress on air pollution [laughs]. We were going to solve the education problem, too, so we had a research project focused on smog and a research project focused on education. That brought more women to Caltech, but still they weren't enrolled.
ZIERLER: After you graduated, to what extent did you remain connected with Caltech, where you can take pleasure in the fact that you had something to do with this important development, getting women to join the undergraduate student body?
GARET: In our senior year, Joe and I started thinking about what to do after graduating from Caltech. We ultimately got a grant to reform college education, and so that was called the Contemporary University Program. We continued to work together, and in that way, it was like Caltech just expanded geographically in the sense that we were doing some of the same kinds of activities, but at the University of South Carolina, which is where I ended up, and the University of Massachusetts and what was then called Federal City College of Washington. David Perasso, he was another Caltech student who was involved in the research projects and was involved in the CU project. Those institutions were coed already, so the focus there was on changing the nature of education. Though bringing women to Caltech was a subtext, a key subtext, I think I really was from the start more focused on it as a way of thinking about education, and about reforming institutions. That's what ultimately led me to the direction I took in graduate school, which I know isn't your focus, but once you're done with this, you'll have to have a second focus on that.
ZIERLER: [laughs] Did you ever get to interact with any of those pioneer undergraduate women?
GARET: No. Well, yes. Actually, what I was going to suggest, if you haven't already done this—because I would call the women in the research projects pioneer women because they were, and I don't know whether you've been able to talk to any of them. By the time the actual first class was admitted, there had been vanguards. They were somewhat in a different situation. So no, I did not. One thing—it's funny, when I came back to the 50th reunion—I guess that's what it was—just three years ago; the pandemic hadn't hit yet—and I noticed a sign that listed the ASCIT officers, they were virtually all women. It probably happened in much less than 50 years. [laughs] But no, I didn't.
ZIERLER: At the end of the day, what do you credit, if not an individual, just the zeitgeist, the institutional inertia that got moved, that ultimately led to the decision to admit women to Caltech?
GARET: My sense was that by the time the decision was made, it was a fait accompli. That is, there were women—it was a change in the zeitgeist, as you said. It's interesting—this is the challenge of memory—but it just went from something that wasn't on the table at all when I was a freshman to being what seemed like a foregone conclusion by the time I was a senior.
ZIERLER: That's the narrative that I'm trying to capture, how something that was simply not on the radar becomes a foregone conclusion over the course of your undergraduate. It's really a sea change.
GARET: It was. It was a sea change. But there were various sea changes. The country was undergoing a sea change. It was the Baby Boomers. The Caltech class of 1969 was in the vanguard of the Baby Boomers and the antiwar movement. I think this was something happening at Caltech, but it was also part of a wider cultural transition.
ZIERLER: One last question to see if I can intellectually connect your subsequent interests to what you were involved with as an undergraduate: In what way might you have drawn connections between this burgeoning interest to admit women in Caltech and your subsequent desire to study, academically, educational issues?
GARET: Yeah. First of all, what I worked on at Caltech, the research projects were reform efforts in education, and so my interest shifted. I was the purest of pure math. I was interested in logic and set theory, really, when I started at Caltech. I still am, really, but that's not what I did my graduate work in. Then I became interested in changing society, so that was the shift that happened while I was at Caltech. It was through Joe and through a supportive climate and through faculty like Fred Thompson and John Crawford I mentioned and others, who in one way or another were supportive of thinking analytically about the kinds of issues that I was interested in. Then another absurd opportunity—the Ford Foundation gave us money to go do the Contemporary University and change higher education. A group of undergraduates. Well, it was Caltech, obviously. If we had been from almost anywhere else, I don't think they would have given us the money.
ZIERLER: Meaning that there was serious quantitative approaches to support?
GARET: Well, no. Actually, it's just that they could say, "Oh, these are [laughs] Caltech students. They must be smart." [laughs]
ZIERLER: That's a more blunt way of putting what I said, but yes, exactly.
GARET: Yeah. Because it seems ludicrous, really, and the three universities agreed to participate. Their presidents did. All of this very explicitly grew out of what we were doing. It doesn't help your story about admitting women, but it's a related story.
ZIERLER: It paints a broader picture that's quite useful, actually.
GARET: It's a story of social—of changing the focus. Also, another current at the same time, there was an interest among faculty including Richard Dean—I think Richard was his first name—an algebraist in the Math Department at Caltech, in how to improve the teaching of math in public schools. There was a view, which is unfortunately just as true now almost, that math was horribly taught, and kids learned to hate math. We went out into schools and would try to teach math differently. I know I went into some elementary schools and tried to teach set theory. I don't know why I thought that was a good idea. But he had a whole idea about how this would be done. This was all going on, too, and it's part of what—it was not the same as the education and air pollution reform projects, but it was faculty interested in improving the teaching of science in the schools. That was going on at the same time, too. It was more social connections. Somehow, through all of this, even though I remain very mathematical in my thinking, I guess, the focus of my work shifted. In that part, it just mimicked the shift, but not so far that I didn't end up going to MIT and didn't end up remaining very quantitative, and I still am.
One other thing—this may be totally irrelevant, but another way I still connect with Caltech. We had Feynman physics as freshmen. Feynman was no longer teaching it except he came and taught a couple of classes. But it was the archetype of the course in which we were supposed to do all the thinking. We weren't presented procedures and taught how to master them and apply them. It was very conceptual, and we had to figure out the procedures. Fred Thompson taught a logic class that I took that was like that, too. We sat in an experimental classroom. It was carpeted on the floor and it had pillows, and didn't have desks, and we sat around and talked. There were no lectures. Then he would summarize the conversation in notes that he would write out and then ditto, because there were no Xeroxes at that time, either. He would give us the ditto masters so we would know what we had talked about—not the masters, but the ditto prints. Things were very conceptual. We were obviously supposed to learn how to solve problems at some point, but the conceptual understanding was the focus. There was the motto about "teach basics first" or "learn basics first" or something like that? What is the motto, actually? There's something like that.
ZIERLER: It is, yeah.
GARET: I think I've driven many generations of students and younger colleagues nuts because I always want to derive everything and not look it up. I mean, if forced, we can look it up. [laughs] I just mention that because I think even though my career has taken a turn which isn't the focus of—I mean, Caltech isn't renowned for its work in organizational behavior or something like that. But I think in that way, apart from the substantive focus, which is just right out of what I did at Caltech, even though it was not what Caltech taught, that approach to teaching and learning which was the essence of Caltech has persisted.
ZIERLER: On that note, I'm so glad we were able to do this. It's really quite interesting perspective that you were able to share, and it paints a bigger picture than I otherwise appreciated, so I'm very happy for this. Thank you so much.