School & District Management

David Tyack, Education Historian, Remembered

By Sarah D. Sparks — October 27, 2016 1 min read
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David B. Tyack, an influential education historian, died this morning at age 85.

Tyack was the Vida Jack professor of education emeritus and a professor of history emeritus at Stanford University, where he had taught since 1968. A passionate advocate of the civil purposes of schools, he documented shifting political allegiances in education in books including the 1974 The One Best System: A History of American Urban Education, the 1995 Tinkering Toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform (co-authored with Larry Cuban), and the 2007 Seeking Common Ground: Public Schools in a Diverse Society.

He was also a frequent essayist on education and public policy, including for Education Week. In one Commentary, Tyack and his partner, the late Stanford political science lecturer Elisabeth Hansot, argued:

Is education primarily a consumer good or a common good? If Thomas Jefferson, Horace Mann, or John Dewey were now to enter policy discussions on public education, he might well ask if Americans have lost their way. Democracy is about making wise collective choices. Democracy in education and education in democracy are not quaint legacies from a distant and happier time. They have never been more essential to wise self-rule than they are today."

Prior to coming to Stanford, Tyack taught at the University of Illinois from 1967-69 and Reed College from 1959-67. He also previously served as a president of the History Education Society, a vice president of the American Educational Research Association, and was a member of numerous other education and history groups.

In a tribute at the Learning on the Edge blog, Jack Schneider, the director of research for the Massachusetts Consortium for Innovative Education Assessment, described how Tyack informally mentored him as a graduate student at Stanford:

Because we were not in class, there was never an explicit lesson; but because David was a teacher—in the fullest, and truest sense of the word—the lessons accrued over time. As David absorbed me into his orbit, I began to think of myself differently—not as an accomplished novice but as a novice expert. ... This is what a teacher does. It is a kind of alchemy. The student's future self is conjured, as if by magic spell, and given substance through a new set of habits, skills, and dispositions."

Tyack died at his home on the Stanford campus from complications of Parkinson’s disease, according to Daniel Schwartz, the dean of the Stanford Graduate School of Education. He is survived by his sons Daniel Tyack and Peter Tyack.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.