David Tyack, professor emeritus of education and history, died on Oct. 27 from complications due to Parkinson’s disease. He was 85 years old.
Since 1969, Tyack has worked at Stanford as a historian of education, and is remembered as an educator, mentor and researcher of education and history. He served as the Vida Jacks Professor of education and channeled his intellect into numerous papers and more than 10 books. Most notably, his 1974 work, “The One Best System,” gained acclaim as a leading text in scholarship on urban education.
Tyack received several awards and fellowships during his time at Stanford, including the 1996 Walter J. Gores Award for excellence in teaching. Explained Tyack’s dedication to mentorship of students, professor of education David Labaree said that Tyack would frequently hike with students and friends, just “chatting people up,” in Stanford’s surrounding foothills.
Tyack was a longtime advocate for gender equality. He co-wrote two articles on the subject with fellow Stanford professor emeritus Myra Strober: “Jobs and Gender: A History of the Structuring of Educational Employment by Sex” and “Why Women Teach while Men Manage.”
“David was the ideal interdisciplinary scholar, thoroughly versed in his own discipline but always open to new ideas and methodologies,” Strober said.
Tyack dedicated much of his scholarship to the American public school system; his experiences teaching first grade in Palo Alto and high school American history in Portland, Oregon engaged him. In 1995 with fellow professor emeritus Larry Cuban, Tyack wrote “Tinkering toward Utopia,” which examined changes in education policy throughout the 20th century, as well as Americans’ understanding of the system itself.
Cuban, who co-taught courses with Tyack, described him as “a rare kind of academic, one whose research, teaching and advising were wrapped up in smarts, humility and a sensitive thoughtfulness.”
“David Tyack was one of the most influential historians who ever wrote about public schools in America,” said William J. Reese, a professor at University of Wisconsin Madison. “David always asked the right questions: How can history illuminate our understanding of today’s pressing concerns? How can urban schools better serve a diverse nation? How can they help address deeply rooted inequalities?”
Tyack went to Harvard for his undergraduate education and Ph.D. before teaching at Reed College (1959-1966), the University of Illinois (1967-1969) and ultimately Stanford.
Tyack’s partner, Stanford political science lecturer Elisabeth Hansot, died in 2010. Tyack is survived by his two sons, Daniel and Peter.
Contact Courtney Douglas at ccd4 ‘at’ stanford.edu