The Lifelong Handout

Despite its title, the present Blog is not a story about welfare, freeloading or charity. Nor is it a screed on social injustice or oppression.

It’s not a rant about the shameless or the shiftless.

Instead, it is a story that begins nearly 40 years ago when a teacher distributed a flyer to students in his class.

The class, populated by a group of smart-alecky Ph.D. students painfully proud of their know-it-allness-but-without-the-degree-they-aspired-to, was a course about scientific research methods.

That is, the procedures for conducting experiments, surveys and content analyses whose purpose it was to answer empirical questions. All stuff that typically results in various quantitative measures.

In addition to scientific procedures (the “methods”), the instructor also thought it necessary that students have at least an awareness of data analysis. Which is the nice way of referring to statistics.

The instructor prepared a hand-drawn “chart” that allowed the statistically challenged a way to figure out which statistic one should employ under which conditions. Despite odd-looking symbols (for the stat tests) on the chart, it was a pretty intuitive and relatively easy-to-follow diagram.

At least one chart recipient found it useful for his own data analysis purposes, and later, for teaching his own students.

Over the course of nearly three decades, the former Ph.D. student distributed and explained the “handout” in today’s title to his own college undergraduates enrolled in the mouth-wateringly enticing named class “Quantitative Research Methods.”

Typically, students entered class biased against research involving numeric data. Anxious, the Methods students shudder simply at the course’s title. And, like Brussels sprouts or peas, are pretty much convinced a priori they’re not going to like it.

They are, as frequently and loudly announced, “Qualitative” or “Critical” investigators. Maybe self-described ethnographers, participant observers, close readers or cultural observers and commentators.

All of which is ill-disguised code for: I don’t have a clue about statistics.

Nonetheless, and as with the smarty-pants Ph.D. students, at least some undergrads mastered the handout, using it to analyze data collected for their own theses.

Only one thing changed about the handout over 40 years time: its appearance. Eventually, the document was formatted and designed to remove handwritten elements.

Cleaner. Nicer. And no less anxiety-producing. At least at first.

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