Gage, Nathaniel Lees 1917-
Nathaniel Lees Gage is one of the most highly regarded educational psychologists of his time, the editor of the first Handbook of Research on Teaching (1963a), the champion of the scientifically based assertion in the field of education (Gage, 1978; 1985), and the “proud papa” of some of the most productive educational psychologists working since the late twentieth century in the United States and Canada.
N. L. Gage was born in New Jersey in 1917, one of two sons of Polish emigrants determined to raise their children as intellectuals. After departing the east coast as a junior in college, Gage completed his bachelors degree at the University of Minnesota, where he majored in psychology and worked in the lab of B. F. Skinner (1904– 1990). Upon graduating college in 1938, Gage enrolled in a then new educational psychology doctoral program at Purdue University to work with a professor named H. H. Remmers. Gage and Remmers collaborated for many years until Gage completed his doctorate in 1947.
The career of Gage since that time spans his tenure as assistant and then associate professor at the University of Illinois beginning in 1948, through his presidency of the educational psychology division (Division 15) of the American Psychological Association (APA) in 1960, and his presidency of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) in 1962, to his long and acclaimed university teaching as the Margaret Jacks Professor of Education at Stanford University, where he retired Emeritus in 1987 at age 70. Throughout his career Gage was known to his students as a warm, engaging man, always present with a smile and a twinkle in his eye. Many of those students simply called their esteemed professor “Nate.”
Three contributions for which Gage is perhaps most widely known are his highly commended editing of the first Handbook of Research on Teaching, his ability to produce some of the most prominent professors in immediately succeeding generations of educational psychologists, and his strong writing on the scientific basis of research on teaching. Each of these achievements deserves some elaboration.
The Handbook, as it came to be called by students who dog-eared its pages between its publication date of 1963 and the appearance of the second Handbook a decade later, is a masterful collection of chapters written by established scholars in education that reshaped the landscape of educational research. The Handbook organized a heretofore scattered field both substantively and methodologically, with Gage's (1963b) own chapter on “Paradigms for Research on Teaching” as a guide. The Handbook provided cogent criticism of extant research methods in the field of education and models for addressing key issues in sampling, design, measurement, and data analysis; some chapters of the volume, such as that of Campbell and Stanley on experimental design, were developed into books. It was Gage who secured funding for the Handbook, selected its topics and authors, and meticulously edited each and every page. Widespread attention to the Handbook gave new promise to diligent empirical work in education, inspiring a generation of scholars to take up the gauntlet in their own careers.
Gage's own chapter in the Handbook, which was translated into German, encouraged him to focus his own research efforts into the 1970s on classroom research on teaching. Working at the Stanford Center for Research and Development in Teaching, which he helped to found in 1965, Gage was able to secure federal funding to build and sustain a research team that labored over the next two decades to move from correlational to experimental methods in assessing the validity of process-product models connecting teacher behavior to student learning outcomes in a variety of field-based samples (e.g., Gage, 1967). Gage had a knack for finding promising graduate students to direct and form his teams. Directors were Christopher Clark and John Crawford, who with their teams and Gage produced papers published in archived journals demonstrating the important influence of particular combinations and sequences of instructional behavior in influencing student classroom learning. Some of the students on those teams who have gone on to become APA Division 15 and AERA presidents in their own right, deans of schools of education, and endowed chairs at major research universities in the United States and Canada, include Ronald Marx, Penelope Peterson, Dale Schunk, and Philip Winne.
Other projects Gage completed with prominent educational psychologists include a textbook, co-authored with David Berliner, for teaching educational psychology that ran to six editions (Gage & Berliner, 1998), and book chapters and reports with Theodore Coladarci, Torsten Husen, Barak Rosenshine, and Albert Yee. Gage's closest professional colleague at Stanford was Richard Snow. All of the students mentioned had early successes stemming, in part, from Gage's steady influence Gage, and many have contributed chapters to one or more of the subsequent three handbooks of research on teaching.
The books that Gage wrote arguing cogently for evidence-based assertions in the field of education are often cited as background for a resurgence of this view since 2002. The first book (Gage, 1978), written as a series of sponsored lectures at Teachers College, Columbia University, has been on the basic reading list of doctoral courses in research on teaching since its publication.
Following his retirement, Gage continued to be active in conceptualizing and writing, working on a theoretical extension of his ideas on the “hard gains” still to be made in the field of educational psychology. Gage sought a theory of research on teaching that had solid empirical evidence as a basis, a theory that explained in technical terms how teachers can make a real difference in the lives of their students. In 1985 Gage wrote Hard Gains in the Soft Sciences, and since then he has penned articles in several other refereed journals confronting important issues that continue for research on teaching, always championing the warranted assertion, always defending the usefulness of research to the practicing field of education. This is one teacher who did make a difference in the lives of his students; perhaps that explains Gage's lasting commitment to a theory of teacher effectiveness.
Gage, N. L. (Ed.) (1963a). The handbook of research on teaching. Chicago: Rand McNally.
Gage, N. L. (1963b). Paradigms for research on teaching. In N. L. Gage (Ed.), The handbook of research on teaching (pp. 94–141). Chicago: Rand McNally.
Gage, N. L. (1967). A factorially designed experiment on teacher structuring, soliciting, and reacting. Journal of Teacher Education, 27, 35–38.
Gage, N. L. (1978). The scientific basis of the art of teaching. New York: Teachers College Press.
Gage, N. L. (1985). Hard gains in the soft sciences. Bloomington, IN: Phi Delta Kappa.
Gage, N. L., & Berliner, D. C. (1998). Educational psychology (6th ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
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