Intro to Next Book (Part 1)

I have been writing posts for this blog over a decade. One of the purposes for it is to take drafts of a forthcoming book that I am working on and use them as posts to try out new ideas (or renovated old ones) and see how readers respond. I am now working on a book about the three major reform movements over the past century that have swept over schools and what I experienced in each of those movements beginning in 1939 as a student, then a teacher between the mid-1950s and early 1970s, an administrator in the 1970s and early 1980s and since then as a researcher. The next few posts will become the Introduction to the book. Comments welcomed.


Just see wherever we peer into the first tiny springs of the national life, how this true panacea for all of the ills of the body politic bubbles forth—education, education, education.

                        Andrew Carnegie, 1886

School houses do not teach themselves – piles of brick and mortar and machinery do not send out men. It is the trained, living human soul, cultivated and strengthened by long study and thought, that breathes the real breath of life into boys and girls and makes them human, whether they be black or white, Greek, Russian or American.

W.E.B. Dubois, 1903 


At the desk where I sit in Washington, I have learned one great truth: The answer for all our national problems comes down to one single word: education

                        President Lyndon B. Johnson, 1964

[E]ducation is the silver bullet. Education is everything. We don’t need little changes, we need gigantic, monumental changes. Schools should be palaces. The competition for the best teachers should be fierce. They should be making six-figure salaries. Schools should be incredibly expensive for government and absolutely free of charge to its citizens, just like national defense. That’s my position. I just haven’t figured out how to do it yet.

                                    Sam Seaborn, West Wing, 2000, season 1, episode 18

According to industrialist Andrew Carnegie, scholar and activist W.E.B. DuBois, President Lyndon Johnson, and a character in the award-winning television drama, West Wing, education ends poverty, leads to wealth, makes a person a full human being, and should be cherished.  

They were not the only ones to urge fellow citizens to grab the brass ring of education on the American carousel. Mexican immigrant Celia who lives in a central Texas city tells an interviewer what she does for Daniel her 10 year-old son:

Up to now, that Daniel is in fourth grade, I’ll say all his teachers have been excellent teachers and I get along with them very well, I communicate. The first day of classes, and even before sometimes, I introduce myself, I ask them for their home phone number in case of an emergency, or in case the boy wants to lie and I have [to] doubt him, I ask them, I tell them, but it is not that I am bothering them. And teachers like to communicate, they ask for parents to go. For me, up to now, I don’t know if I will have a problem later, but up to now not, they ask for parents to go. When I can I am there for an hour, and I am there to read in Spanish. Or if they have something to do I help them, but . . . I like to work with them, but if I see that they are not good I tell them….

My mother, Fanny Cuban, immigrated in 1910 to New York City from Kiev, then Czarist Russia. My father, Morris Cuban, also from Kiev, arrived in New York in 1912. They met through family connections and got married in 1919. They had three sons of whom I was the youngest.

Neither my father nor mother completed elementary school in Russia. My father was a waiter, worked in delicatessens, and he and my mother had a grocery store before he ended up as a jobber in Pittsburgh selling deli products from a truck. He earned enough to house, feed, and clothe the family for decades. Because my brothers were born in the 1920s, the Great Depression and World War II limited their schooling to getting a high school diploma. They eventually went into business after World War II ended.

I was born in 1934 and since being a toddler, my mother drummed into me that since my brothers did not go beyond high school, I had to go to college to be a doctor or lawyer. I became neither. I did go to college working at different part-time jobs to save money for tuition and getting through school. I graduated and became a teacher. My mother’s message about getting an education was clear, consistent, and constant.

As important as getting an education is to Presidents, corporate leaders, scholars, Celia, and my mother, the screen writer who put these words into Sam Seaborn’s  mouth: “I just haven’t figured out how to do it yet” captured the complexity of figuring out what direction schools should move and getting schools to move in that path.

Generation after generation of American reformers over the past century believed in the power of tax-supported schools to enrich individuals and remedy national problems.  Some writers have characterized this faith in education as a secular religion that Americans worship. Because of this devotion to schooling as all-purpose solvent for parents, communities, and the nation, reformers again and again have tried to figure out, in Seaborn’s words:  “how to do it….” It would be an intellectual error, however, to think that American reformers only had schools on their agenda of social change.

Time and again, social, political, and economic reformers in America fought slavery, restrained industrial corporations from setting prices and gouging consumers, and expanded rights of minorities and women. These reform movements went beyond schools. 

Moreover, reforming individual Americans to be better persons has been in the American blood stream since the Mayflower arrived. Ditto for reforming community institutions to be better places within which to live and work. Perfecting individuals and community institutions while solving problems of urban slums, corrupt city governments, rural poverty, racial segregation, and anemic economic growth has been steady work for reformers.

As predictable as climbing up a ladder to clean leaves from roof gutters every season, reforms have regularly swept across the nation. Since the early 1900s, three overlapping social and political movements have churned across the U.S. and left marks on government, business, and community institutions, including public schools: The Progressive movement (1900s-1950s), the Civil Rights Struggle (1950s-1970s), and  Binding Schools to the Economy (1980s-present).

Subsequent posts take up these reform movements.


*I have citations for the epigraphs and other points I make. Anyone wanting the cites, contact me.



Filed under Reforming schools, school reform policies

7 responses to “Intro to Next Book (Part 1)

  1. Thank you for letting us into your book’s prestage …
    Looking forward to putting links to these three on my website of Ed-links. Summaries and a helicopter perspectives are valuable now more than ever before, as the present is such a mess of policy initiatives and reforms, many times contradicting each other, national but still global as we are linked in one huge tapestry, constantly moving and changing …

  2. wjshan

    Dear Prof. Cuban,
    I am glad to learn that you are writing a new book. People in your age, most lead a carefree life, but you still keeping writing (as a form of learning and teaching, you mentioned in your 2018 book, “Butterfly or bullet”). Best wishes for the project write-up. I am particularly interested in the part of the story about the Progressive Movement (1900s-1950s) because I will be working on a project related with that period. (I will do this right after I finish the write-up of the preliminary proposal for the translation and annotation of your book “How teachers taught”1993, 2nd ed.) to be submitted to Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) of our government.
    It is “An analysis of the strands of progressive education movement in the USA during the first half of twentieth century and J. Dewey’s position,” which is sponsored by MOST. I am herewith attached the abstract of the proposal for your comments, hopefully, for your references.

    An analysis of the strands of progressive education movement in the USA during the first half of twentieth century and J. Dewey’s position
    Based on a period of exploratory review of related literature, it is confirmed that, in Chinese community, there is little discussion, let alone any research, on the planned topic. In English community, although plenty of results have been accumulated, some room are left for the investigation from an alternative viewpoint.
    A preliminary literature review showed that Cremin (1961) construed progressive education as a whole, and has not separated it into strands on purpose. Tyack (1974) who was the first scholar to do this and equalized all progressives as administrative progressives. On the contrary, Zilversmit (1993) considered all progressives as pedagogical progressives. Besides, they differed in Dewey’s position on this topic as well. That all of these opposites and differences to be dealt with formulates the problem consciousness of this project.
    A secondary review of literature showed more that there are a few confusions, such as, did post-Tyack scholars mostly hold the dual strands view, i.e. separating progressives into administrative and pedagogical progressives? Should the division of the strands of progressive education movement be considered as dualism, pluralism, continuum, or stream theory? Will the range of progressive education be broadened if Ravitch’s alternative viewpoint is taken? Are there any more alternative viewpoints taken by other scholars? How should Dewey’s position be categorized? All of these questions strengthened the problem consciousness of this project.
    Based on the above discussions, research motives and goals of this project were formed. The research motives are twofold: firstly, that the strands of progressive education movement in the USA during the first part of twentieth century is to be clarified, and secondly, Dewey’s position on the topic is to be identified. Research goals are fourfold: Firstly, exploring the nature of progressive education movement in the USA during the first part of twentieth century, and why some scholars took strands view. Secondly, explaining some scholars’ strands view and their thoughts. Thirdly, investigating the alternative viewpoints of the strands view, and describing the reasons. Fourthly, analyzing some scholars’ ideas about Dewey’s positions, and delineating an alternative viewpoint.
    In one year, a final report with no less than 30,000-word will be written, and at least one paper will be adapted and submitted to TSSCI scholarly journal in due course.
    Key words: strands of progressive education movement in the USA, dualism theory of the strands of progressive education movement, pluralism theory of the strands of progressive education movement, continuum theory of the strands of progressive education movement, Dewey’s position on the strands of progressive education movement
    Wen-jing SHAN, Chinese Culture University, Taipei, Taiwan

  3. Briel Schmitz

    Hello! I am very much looking forward to your new book. I want to share something that I have been thinking about since reading this first installment. I kept thinking about it, and after reading part 4, I decided to come back here and share my thoughts. I am struck by how all four quotes are from men. Aren’t there any women that you could find to quote? I appreciate that you have included Dubois, so that they are not all white men, and yet…I feel that now is the time to elevating many different voices, not just those that we already know and have come to expect.

    • larrycuban

      Thanks for the comment and suggestion, Briel. It is a fair question you ask. I will do some research. If you have any suggested quotes from women that fit the point I make in the Introduction, please let me know.

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