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Popular Educational Classics

A Reader

Edited By Joseph L. DeVitis

The last half century has created deep tensions in how we analyze educational and social change. Educators, policymakers, and concerned citizens have had to cope with competing belief systems in evaluating and acting upon school policies and practices. This illuminating book untangles many of the roots of those persistent debates that have divided the nation for so long. It offers readers a critical opportunity to reflect on our continuing ideological struggles by examining popular books that have made a difference in educational discourse.
The editor has specifically selected key books on social and educational controversies that speak to wide audiences. They frame contextual issues that so-called «school reformers» have often neglected – much to the detriment of any real educational progress. Ultimately, this text is meant to stir our consciences, to disorder our certainties, and to compel us to treat education and culture with both reason and passion. It is highly relevant for courses in social foundations of education, school reform, educational policy studies, philosophy of education, history of education, politics of education, curriculum studies, and teacher education.
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Chapter Twenty-Eight: David Tyack and Larry Cuban, Tinkering Toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform (1995)


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David Tyack and Larry Cuban, Tinkering Toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform (1995)

John L. Rury

Historians typically deal with change, or at least with changing circumstances, from one moment or period to another. For educational historians interested in schooling, these interests often find expression in the study of school reform—efforts to alter or modify institutions for the better. And it has a lengthy history. As long as schools have been linked to the peculiar American ideology of improvement through education, it seems someone has been trying to invent a better school. As students of history know, major periods in the development of American education are identified in terms of such change: common school reform, progressive reform, and equal rights reform are perhaps the most prominent examples. In each of these instances, along with innumerable others, schools responded to new ideas and changing social, economic, and political conditions. Whether they did so successfully, of course, is another question.

In this now-classic historical account, David Tyack and Larry Cuban examined the course of educational reform over the previous century, with a view toward informing current and future reform efforts.1 Few history books have been as influential, at least judging from the number of citations it has accumulated in two decades. According to Google Scholar, Tinkering has been cited more than 3,500 times, easily eclipsing such older classic historical works as Lawrence Cremin’s...

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