David Tyack (1930-2016)

My close friend and colleague David Tyack died October 27. A brief summary of his career can be found here.

A few months ago a group of us gathered together to honor David with a luncheon and present him with nearly 30 letters written by former students and colleagues. David was touched deeply by those letters. Here is the one that I wrote.

February 8, 2016

Dear David,

How to sum up over forty years of knowing and loving you as a dear friend? I cannot do so easily. But I will try.

We began as adviser and advisee although only four years separated us in age when we first met in 1972. You made it possible for me to come to Stanford with Barbara, Sondra, and Janice to study with you for two years and get the Ph.D. that I needed to fulfill my dream of becoming a district superintendent. As we stayed in touch and visited one another while I served in Arlington for seven years, that relationship slowly matured into a friendship.

 I returned to Stanford in 1981 to teach and write. Ever since then, we have biked up and down Bay Area mountains and taken long rides to Monterey, Big Sur, and even to San Luis Obispo. From you, I have learned so much about the Bay area in our walks and bike trips. Your love of the outdoors rubbed off on me as you introduced me to places I had never known. Walking up Mt. Tamalpais seeking a lemonade stand so I could take a break; biking over to Gazos Creek, a beach and dunes that you adored. Also, I noted over the years that sweet, humble Dave could be fiercely competitive; I remember you racing up the last 200 yards of Mt. Diablo on your bike to beat those hikers who challenged us as we slowly chugged up the mountain. From all of these outdoor experiences, I came to see, as you did, what a special place we live in.

 Our friendship flourished in-doors as well. We have team-taught a course on the history of school reform. We learned a great deal about teaching and history from one another in teaching twice a week for ten years. And we collaborated in writing Tinkering toward Utopia, a most satisfying experience that I will never forget. Both teaching and writing drew us closer together intellectually and made those weekly bike rides a combination of stretching one’s mind and body.

 Moreover, as colleagues I came to see up close how gentle and firm you could be with students. I admired and respected how you shepherded them through their dissertations and orals. Most of all, I treasured the humaneness you expressed and displayed in small and big ways with students, friends, and colleagues year after year.

 You are a rare kind of academic, Dave, one whose research, teaching, and advising were wrapped up in smarts, humility and a sensitive thoughtfulness that was (and is) uncommon among those who work in universities. You set a high standard for all of us in how you lived your life, nurtured ideas, and practiced your craft. I am so grateful for having worked closely with you for these many years.

 You gave me a gift when you invited me to come to Stanford over four decades ago of not only a second career in academia but also a friendship that I treasure now and will continue to do so for the rest of my life.



Dave & Larry 6:1:11.jpg



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25 responses to “David Tyack (1930-2016)

  1. JMK

    I’m so very sorry for your loss. What a lovely letter and tribute to your friend.

  2. Beautiful letter, Larry! I’ve been sad about David since I heard the news. Your team course on reform was one of my all time favorites. Both of you modeled excellence in scholarship, teaching, and advising. I’ve been thinking of you most especially.

  3. Sheri Wernsing

    You described a wonderful friendship. Thank you for sharing your story during this time of grief. David Tyack was a respected teacher and part of my brief Stanford experience. God’s blessings to you and to his family.

  4. sallyo57

    I am sorry to hear of David’s passing though I did not know him personally. Tinkering Toward Utopia was one of the most significant influences on the framing of what became my dissertation.

    Thank you to both of you for that.

  5. John Brackett

    Wonderful tribute Larry. David (and his friend)had the knack to tell great stories about the history of schools and schooling in a way that even this student was hooked.

  6. What a lovely tribute to your teacher, mentor and friend. Dave was a wonderful person and touched many lives.

  7. Heather Kirkpatrick

    You are, as ever, a fine writer and beautiful friend. Your letter to David could not have been more perfect. Thank you for sharing it.

  8. lenandlar

    What a lovely gracious letter. Now I must make time to read Tinkering Toward Utopia in honour of two great and gentle men

  9. A wonderful and fitting tribute, Larry. We shall all miss him a great deal.

  10. Jay Featherstone

    David Tyack, who just died, was a great historian of education and a wonderful presence, whose books and thoughts enriched several generations, and will continue enlighten more in the future. He wrote by himself and with others such as Larry Cuban and Elizabeth Hansott, Tinkering Toward Utopia (school reform), The One Best Sytesm (urban schools) , Managers of Virtue (“leadership”) , and Learning Together (coeducation). All were sensible and informed, but with a deep undercurrent of affection for classroom teaching and doubt about received wisdom and the role of educational elites. The One Best System may in its quiet way be the best argument so far that in teaching we need to let many flowers bloom, and that the effort to produce the one best way especially for poor city kids is in itself a problem. As a young guy he visited New York city and camped at night with his sleeping bag in the boxes reserving sand for ice problems on the Brooklyn Bridge. A lovely man.

  11. Ann Staley

    Your letter about David, as a friend and colleague and mentor, is so lovely. Just like you to say it so well. I remember David, too, though I don’t think I had a class with him. Perhaps because of my chosen degree. But I do remember Dwight Roper talking about David as well. Sounds like a wonderful celebration, and, as always, the students who remember us are very dear to our hearts.


    Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen. —Robert Bresson

  12. He made a comment about a paper that I wrote for his class that inspires me to this day. I’ll never forget him. So many of my students benefitted from his thinking too in the school reform class that I taught at UT-Austin.

  13. Karen Eshoo

    One of my favorite experiences at SUSE was being in David’s class (that he team-taught with Mike Kirst) and watching him don a bonnet and hearing him take on a brogue as he described an Irish immigrant woman’s perspective on public education. His sharp insights were always punctuated by graciousness and humility – truly a gentleman and a scholar. Beautiful tribute, Larry.

  14. Pingback: Welcome | In loving memory of David Tyack

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