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Seeking Common Ground: Public Schools in a Diverse Society / Edition 1

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Overview

The American republic will survive only if its citizens are educated -- this was an article of faith of its founders. But seeking common civic ground in public schools has never been easy in a society where school-children followed different religions, adhered to different cultural traditions, spoke many languages, and were identified as members of different "races."

In this wise and enlightening book, filled with vivid characters and memorable incidents that make history but don't always make history books, David Tyack describes how each American generation grappled with the knotty task of creating political unity and social diversity. Seeking Common Ground illuminates puzzles about democracy in education and chronic conflicts that continue to make news. Americans mistrusted government, yet they entrusted the civic education of their children to public schools. American history textbooks were notoriously dull, but they were also highly controversial. Although the people liked local control of schools, educational experts called it "democracy gone to seed" and campaigned to "take the schools out of politics." Reformers argued about whether it was more democratic to teach all students the same subjects or to tailor curriculum to individuals. And what was the best way to "Americanize" immigrants, asked educators: by force-feeding assimilation or by honoring their ethnic heritages? With a broad perspective and an eye for telling detail, Tyack lets us see that debates about the civic purposes of schools are an essential part of a democratic culture, and integral to its future.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Over the past 30 years, Tyack (Vida Jacks Professor of Education & history, emeritus, Stanford Univ.) has authored or coauthored some of the most important books in educational history, including The One Best System and Managers of Virtue. Following in the pattern of his recent study of educational reform, Tinkering Toward Utopia, Tyack condenses a wealth of research in this volume to examine three core themes in the history of American education: unity, diversity, and democracy. Arguing that "public schools represent a special kind of civic space" in American society, Tyack takes readers through a cogent analysis of the arguments in favor of public education and the challenges the institution has faced in its attempts to address diversity of student body and disagreements over the purpose that public schools serve in America. While relatively little in Tyack's analysis is new (even his list of references is historical in nature, with few works that are less than a decade old), this work provides a cogent and accessible introduction to the historical context of contemporary issues in American education. Recommended for all libraries.-Scott Walter, Washington State Univ., Pullman Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Journal of American History

Seeking Common Ground is rich in historical detail, nuanced in its argument, and clearly the work of a historian who knows his craft.
— Barry M. Franklin

Childhood Education

Seeking Common Ground eloquently examines how leaders sought to educate citizens, deal with social diversity, and govern schools...Amid the current pleas for school reform, it is difficult to pause and reflect on the outcomes of past efforts. Tyack's book serves as a reminder of the need to do so in hopes of avoiding history's mistakes.
— Torria Bond

American Historical Review

This is a little book with enormous importance for policy makers, educators, parents, and anyone who is interested in American public education. Drawing on historical insight of the changes in public education, David Tyack cautions that we should balance "the claims of innovation and conservation" in school reforms, for we may lose "what works in schools" in the rush to make drastic changes in order to meet new demands...Tyack's critical examination of school reforms offers timely advice for caution in reform and commends realistic policies with committed funding for education.
— Liping Bu

American Journal of Education

David Tyack makes an important argument in this book. Let's hope that readers don't miss it because of the ease with which it goes down. The book is a historical look at issues of unity and diversity in public education in the United States...Tyack takes us back to the origins of the public system and to the miscellany of church and pay schools that existed at the time...Seeking Common Ground is not a polemical book. Tyack identifies no bad guys, avoids hyperbole, and grounds his points in solid scholarship. One senses that the book has a strategic aim, but that aim does not weigh with a rhetorically heavy hand...Tyack has performed a great service. Those who already know Tyack's work will find most of what he says unsurprising, but if they persist through familiar territory, a stroke of brilliance awaits. This stroke comes near the end of the book, but it gives force and reason to all that precedes it. Moreover, it is a clean move, so compelling that one wonders why one hasn't seen it before. Educators and policy makers would do well to add it to their repertoires.
— Nancy Beadie

Educational Theory

Organized around the themes of unity, diversity, and democracy, the book ranges across the landscape of educational history. Among other things, it describes the quest for a common denominator of political and moral truths that informed the creation of the common schools; discusses the various ways in which educators have dealt with questions of social and educational diversity, focusing in particular on issues of race, immigration and ethnicity, gender and academic failure; and examines questions of educational governance, including an analysis of the struggle between democratic localism and bureaucratic centralism, as well as the history of private alternatives to public education with specific reference to current debates over vouchers and school choice. He looks at these in terms of two competing educational ideals: securing common values and respecting cultural differences, with an emphasis on how political leaders and school officials since the late eighteenth century have sought to use public education to create civic cohesion while recognizing the ethnic and religious differences of the various groups that have made up American society.
— Harvey Kantor & Robert Lowe

David Hollinger
What most distinguishes this work is the relentless good sense and compassion with which Tyack explores the various tensions that attend upon the very project of a "common" school in a society like ours. It is designed to enlighten and persuade, rather than to denigrate the other side.
Michael B. Katz
With characteristic grace, David Tyack reminds us how much America's diverse and contentious democracy has depended on education, and warns of the danger of transforming public education into a giant marketplace that ignores civic purposes. SEEKING COMMON GROUND should be read by everyone who believes that public education is, ultimately, about the making of citizens.
Deborah Meier
In this small but in many ways, startling book, David Tyack reminds us what many of us didn't know, or had forgotten: that today's most pressing issues in schools have old and tenacious roots, and that Americans in the past faced many of the fears and hopes we have now. I finished the book feeling considerably more able to take on the unending struggle to create a democratic system of schooling. It's a struggle fraught with peril, confusion, hypocrisy--and triumphs as well--and as Tyack reminds us, it always has been.
Theodore Sizer
A wise and timely book that asks Americans to ponder the meanings of unity, diversity, and democracy as these values have played out and should play out in the nation's schools. Tyack brings badly needed perspective to the currently super-heated debates over public education.
Mike Rose
A life's work informs this little book, and the book is vintage Tyack: impeccably researched, thoughtful, gracefully written. In these times of such narrow national vision, we very much need Tyack's long view of the conflicting but generative forces that have driven the grand and flawed American experiment in mass education.
Journal of American History - Barry M. Franklin
Seeking Common Ground is rich in historical detail, nuanced in its argument, and clearly the work of a historian who knows his craft.
Childhood Education - Torria Bond
Seeking Common Ground eloquently examines how leaders sought to educate citizens, deal with social diversity, and govern schools...Amid the current pleas for school reform, it is difficult to pause and reflect on the outcomes of past efforts. Tyack's book serves as a reminder of the need to do so in hopes of avoiding history's mistakes.
American Historical Review - Liping Bu
This is a little book with enormous importance for policy makers, educators, parents, and anyone who is interested in American public education. Drawing on historical insight of the changes in public education, David Tyack cautions that we should balance "the claims of innovation and conservation" in school reforms, for we may lose "what works in schools" in the rush to make drastic changes in order to meet new demands...Tyack's critical examination of school reforms offers timely advice for caution in reform and commends realistic policies with committed funding for education.
American Journal of Education - Nancy Beadie
David Tyack makes an important argument in this book. Let's hope that readers don't miss it because of the ease with which it goes down. The book is a historical look at issues of unity and diversity in public education in the United States...Tyack takes us back to the origins of the public system and to the miscellany of church and pay schools that existed at the time...Seeking Common Ground is not a polemical book. Tyack identifies no bad guys, avoids hyperbole, and grounds his points in solid scholarship. One senses that the book has a strategic aim, but that aim does not weigh with a rhetorically heavy hand...Tyack has performed a great service. Those who already know Tyack's work will find most of what he says unsurprising, but if they persist through familiar territory, a stroke of brilliance awaits. This stroke comes near the end of the book, but it gives force and reason to all that precedes it. Moreover, it is a clean move, so compelling that one wonders why one hasn't seen it before. Educators and policy makers would do well to add it to their repertoires.
Educational Theory - Harvey Kantor & Robert Lowe
Organized around the themes of unity, diversity, and democracy, the book ranges across the landscape of educational history. Among other things, it describes the quest for a common denominator of political and moral truths that informed the creation of the common schools; discusses the various ways in which educators have dealt with questions of social and educational diversity, focusing in particular on issues of race, immigration and ethnicity, gender and academic failure; and examines questions of educational governance, including an analysis of the struggle between democratic localism and bureaucratic centralism, as well as the history of private alternatives to public education with specific reference to current debates over vouchers and school choice. He looks at these in terms of two competing educational ideals: securing common values and respecting cultural differences, with an emphasis on how political leaders and school officials since the late eighteenth century have sought to use public education to create civic cohesion while recognizing the ethnic and religious differences of the various groups that have made up American society.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674011984
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 11/15/2003
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.84 (w) x 8.46 (h) x 0.97 (d)

Meet the Author

David Tyack is Vida Jacks Professor of Education and Professor of History Emeritus, Stanford University.
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Table of Contents

Windows on the Past 1
I Unity
1 Schools for Citizens: Preserving the Republic 9
2 Patriotic Literacy: History Textbooks 38
II Diversity
3 Same or Different? School Policies and Social Diversity 67
4 Thoroughly Trained in Failure: Mismatch of Pupil and School 98
III Democracy
5 Democracy in Education: Who Needs It? 129
6 Choices about Choice: No Simple Solution 158
Reflections 181
Notes 187
Acknowledgments 227
Index 229
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