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Peter H. Schonemann, (15 July 1929-7 April 2010): Professor Emeritus of Quantitative Psychology at Purdue University

Peter Schonemann

Peter Schonemann was born in Perthau, Germany, the son of Hertha Anna Kahle and Max Paul Schonemann. He was raised in a middle class home in Dresden. He was four years old when Hitler came to power. In February 1945, U.S. and British bombers dropped nearly four thousand tons of high-explosive bombs and incendiary devices on the city, creating a firestorm that destroyed fifteen square miles of the city center, killing tens of thousands of civilians, including two of Peter's best friends. He was fifteen. The bombing taught him "the role pure chance plays in our lives." His street happened to be covered with cobble stones instead of asphalt; it faced an open school yard, which helped to protect him from the firestorm raging around him.

He graduated high school in 1948 in Communist controlled East Germany. By that time, he had already learned about Auschwitz, which left him with the conviction that "the root of all evil is racism (in its various disguises)." Seeing no future for himself under communism, he fled from East to West Germany by swimming the Elbe River. Eventually he was able to gain admittance to college, majored in psychology, fell in love with factor analysis and ended up at the University of Illinois in 1960, as a student of Raymond B. Cattell, receiving his Ph.D. in 1965. Long after completing his Ph.D., he learned that Cattell had been an enthusiastic promoter of eugenics. In his memoir of those years he wrote, "I dread the thought of what might have happened to my academic career had I been more perceptive at that time."

He held positions as a post-doctoral fellow at the University of North Carolina, a visiting scholar at the Educational Testing Service in Princeton, and as an assistant and associate professor at Ohio State University, before joining the Purdue faculty in 1969. He retired in 2001.

By the end of his career, he was internationally recognized as a leading scholar in the field of quantitative psychology, publishing over 90 journal articles over the course of his career in the areas of multivariate methods, multidimensional scaling and measurement, quantitative behavioral genetics, test theory, and mathematical tools for social scientists. He was especially well known as a critic of standardized tests, such as IQ and college-admission tests, which he concluded were biased against low-income and minority students and were poor predictors of scholastic achievement.


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