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Prof. David Tyack [history 1959–69]

A prolific and insightful author and exemplary teacher, Professor Tyack was renowned for his interpretations of the histories of American education and school reform. He grew up in the small town of Hamilton, Massachusetts, and impressed a neighbor whose lawn he mowed. The neighbor arranged a scholarship for Tyack at Phillips Academy. Tyack won further scholarships to Harvard, and completed his bachelor’s degree in 1952, followed by a PhD in 1958. At Harvard, he married Dorothy (Dee) Lloyd, and after nearly three decades they divorced.

Beginning in his undergraduate years, Tyack focused his attention upon the role public education played in forming American society. His undergraduate honors thesis was on the Cape Verdean community in New England, a subject to which he returned at the end of his life. He maintained a commitment to public schools and their need for improvement—particularly for children of low-income and nonwhite families.

He taught at Reed from 1959 to 1967, then moved to the University of Illinois and Stanford. In the course of his career he published 13 books and more than 100 articles. The One Best System, published in 1974, examined both the achievements and the failures of the system, everything from the successful assimilation of immigrants to racism and class bias, the opportunities offered to some, and the injustices perpetuated for others. Several of Tyack’s books were coauthored with graduate students, and following his 1980 marriage to political scientist Elisabeth Hansot, with his wife.

He served as president of the History of Education Society, and in the course of his career received multiple grants, fellowships,and awards. He collaborated with colleagues, studying everything from urban schools and school boards to the effects of the feminization of elementary school teaching. Stanford honored him in 1996 with the Walter J. Gores Award for “his creative and dramatic ability to make the past come alive, and for his innovative efforts to involve students with the subject matter, transforming history from monologue into a conversation.”

Two sons, Daniel and Peter, survive him. Elisabeth Hansot preceded him in death.

Appeared in Reed magazine: March 2017

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