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Pauline Sears, child development studies pioneer, dies
STANFORD -- Pauline Sears, a nationally known pioneer in child development studies, died Sunday night, March 14, in her Palo Alto, Calif., home of a cerebral hemorrhage. She was 84.
"Pat" Sears was best known for her groundbreaking work with self- esteem and motivation among children. She was also widely recognized for her study of the "Terman girls," the 671 "gifted" women who were part of a 50-year longitudinal study initiated by the late psychology Professor Lewis M. Terman in 1922. In that study, Sears made a number of controversial findings about the way intelligent women combine career, marriage and children to achieve lifelong success. Sears's husband and colleague, the late Stanford psychology Professor Robert Sears, studied the boys involved in the Terman project, which included 1,500 high-IQ children. "Her great strength was her analytic ability, especially her capacity for cutting through to the real essence of a theoretical argument or the meaning of empirical evidence," said Sears's son, David O. Sears, professor of psychology and political science at UCLA. David Sears is currently a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences on the Stanford campus.
Robert D. Hess, the Lee L. Jacks Professor Emeritus of Education, said, "Two things stand out when I remember Pat Sears. One is her commitment to strict standards of research and scholarship - she tolerated no sloppiness in either. "The other is her devotion to students," Hess said. "She thought of them as junior colleagues on their way to significant scholarly careers, and watched over their professional development with a guiding enthusiasm." "Her early book on self-esteem was meaningful, influential, and widely cited," recalled her friend and colleague, psychology Professor Emeritus Eleanor Maccoby. "She was a serious intellect. I will miss her."
Maccoby added that "she also had a wonderful record in turning out excellent students," pointing to a number of prominent national educators and psychologists trained by Sears. "She was extremely loyal - not only to those in her personal circle, but to colleagues and students." Among those students was Carolyn Compton, now associate director of the Children's Health Council, a Palo Alto diagnostic and treatment facility for children with developmental and emotional difficulties. "As a student of hers, I found her to be very supportive, warm, and willing to respond to students' interests - and able to foster them even when they weren't her own," said Compton, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the Stanford Medical Center. "She continued to support me after I graduated - she supported my clinical interests."
Toward the end of her long life, Sears remained physically and intellectually active. Sociology Professor Sanford Dornbusch, former head of the Stanford Center for the Study of Families, Children and Youth, remembers her as a regular visitor to the Thursday morning seminars. "Even as her health got worse and she really had difficulty getting around, she came every week," he said. "She listened, was quite opinionated. She kept up her interests."
'A thinker and fighter' Sears was among the first women to hold a faculty appointment as professor at the same university as her husband - a practice that had been barred by "anti-nepotism" rules at many other universities. She held this distinction with Eleanor Maccoby, wife of the late communications Professor Nathan Maccoby.
"It was rare in those days," said Maccoby.
Sears came from an academic family: her father was Stanford education Professor David Snedden, later of Columbia University. Her father- in-law was Stanford education Professor Jesse B. Sears. Pauline Kirkpatrick Snedden Sears was born on July 5, 1908, in a cabin in Fairlee, Vermont. After graduating from Lincoln High School, a laboratory school attached to Teachers College, Columbia University, she attended Stanford, where she received her bachelor's degree in 1930. While an undergraduate, she met Robert Sears, then concentrating in literature and drama. Professors Paul Farnsworth and Lewis Terman inspired an interest in psychology for both.
"She was a thinker and a fighter. She and my father had a lifelong working and idea-sharing relationship that they both really relished," said her daughter, Nancy Sears Barker, now a schoolteacher in Toronto.
Pat Sears received her master's degree in clinical child psychology from Teachers College in 1931 and married Robert Sears a year later. Before their marriage, the Sears did a joint study of reading disabilities in a brain damaged patient - the first in a lifelong series of professional collaborations. Both went to Yale to get their doctorates in psychology - she received hers in 1939; he received his in 1932.
Her dissertation involved a classic study of the effects of success and failure on levels of aspiration. Her second child, Nancy, was born the day after she finished her doctoral dissertation research. Although Sears took time off research and teaching to rear her children, she told the Stanford Observer in 1966 that, since her specialty was child psychology and development, she was never out of touch with her "research laboratory." "A happy woman is not too competitive with her husband's success," she said. "After all, he is taking the main load of responsibility. When things begin to get too complicated and strenuous, when the children are small or at any other time, he may say to her, 'Why don't you quit - at least for a little while?' But she never says that to him."
When Bob Sears became director of the Iowa Child Welfare Research Station in 1942, the two jointly embarked on a research program in which Pat Sears's clinical skills, combined with the learning and performance concepts she developed at Yale, were brought to bear on issues of child development and socialization.
The couple moved to Harvard in 1949, where she was appointed to a joint teaching and research position in the Graduate School of Education. The couple returned to Stanford in 1953, where Robert Sears was named chairman of the psychology department and Pat Sears joined the faculty of the School of Education. She began a series of studies of self-esteem and achievement motivation, focusing on how these affected school performance. She published a book of case studies, In Pursuit of Self-Esteem, with Vivian Sherman in 1964. She was elected president of the Division of Developmental Psychology of the American Psychological Association (APA) in 1959.
When the Stanford Center in Research and Development in Teaching, funded by the U.S. Office of Education, began in 1965, she served as a research associate in the Program for Teaching Effectiveness.
For several years, Sears also acted as administrator of the Elementary Teaching Training Program at Stanford. She then organized the program in child development in the School of Education. She was named a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in 1968.
In 1971, she co-authored Intellectual Development, a book of readings sponsored by the American Educational Research Association, with David Feldman, Susan Crockenberg, and Stanford human biology Professor Shirley Feldman. In addition, she authored or co-authored more than 30 monographs and articles.
Study of gifted women When Terman died in 1956, he named Robert Sears as his scientific executor. The Sears undertook to continue the Terman survey of 1,500 gifted children, whose minimum IQ was 135, and who were then in their late 50s and early 60s.
"Folklore had it that 'early ripe, early rot,' - that precocious children were prone to insanity, physically weak, one- sided in their abilities and socially inferior," Sears had said. Terman had attempted to challenge the stereotype.
An extraordinary 67 percent of the 430 women who responded to the survey had attained bachelor's degrees, compared to 8 percent that another study suggested would be more typical for the age group. Moreover, Sears said in a San Francisco Chronicle interview, "Our gifted women made it even if they only had a high school education. I lay this to their intelligence. They worked their way up to good jobs." "When these women answered the latest questionnaire, in 1972, they were approaching retirement age. I identified with them since I was about to retire from Stanford University," Sears told People magazine in 1976. "They were asked to look back and see what they had done with their lives, and that interested me. Because of my background, for example, I hoped we would find that professional careers were associated with satisfaction - and we did."
"These women were ahead of their time. They had fewer children. With their intelligence they had the capacity to solve any problems that presented themselves. And it should be noted that, while many of those listed as homemakers now say they wished they had worked, none of the workers said the same about being homemakers."
The study showed a "very significant difference" between those who had chosen to be "income earners" and those who had chosen to be homemakers. Of the former, 79 percent expressed high satisfaction with their lives, compared to 62 percent of the latter.
Sears said in a 1975 New York Times article, "Those [women] without children were considerably more satisfied with their work pattern than those with children." In 1980, Pauline and Robert Sears received an APA Gold Medal award from their professional colleagues for their "distinguished and long continued record of scientific and scholarly accomplishments." The award cited them as "psychologists who for decades have inspired both students and colleagues in the study of human development ... and whose efforts have furthered the applications of knowledge to the educational and social betterment of children." In addition to her two children, Sears is survived by six grandchildren. The family requests that donations be made to the Planned Parenthood Association, 1691 The Alameda, San Jose, CA 95126.
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