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L. Cuban: Can historians help school reformers?

Article Response~Jennifer Crosson

Contextual Understanding:

Cuban’s article attempts to answer the question whether historians can help those
who seek reform in education through accepted problem solving approaches in history.
His aim is to inform the reader of historical “schools of thought” and how each can
present different information (Cuban, 2001). Thereby, illuminating the reader to the
problems of historical interpretation and the value of the outcomes in helping them
address contemporary issues. He admits that his knowledge as a historian and his
background experience might prevent him from adequately solving the problem, so he
endeavours to work through the task using the perspectives he has constructed through
previous experiences (Cuban, 2001).
Cuban attempts to help the reader understand the three competing perspectives by
clarifying the questions each seek to answer through historical research. He outlines
each approach to impart the knowledge that will be needed to guide the process.

1) Presentist Historians: those who seek to address public problems and recommend

2) Policy-Sensitive Historians: those who attempt to address contemporary questions

through study of similar situations in history that highlight questions of current

3) Non-Policy Historians: those who seek to answer questions of past or present with
no concern for contemporary issues.

He then takes the reader through a very thorough examination of three educational
policies in history and highlights the deficiencies, inadequacies and positive attributes
and challenges the reader to consider the outcomes of each. After carefully assessing
each case and summarizing the outcomes of each, he concludes that each may have
aspects that might help the reformer but they fell short in their outcomes and did not
solve the issues at hand.

1) The Policy-Sensitive Historian: analysis had no affect as it didn’t offer interpretations

of the questions that arose and policy didn’t seek to interpret them.

2) The Non-Policy Historian: analysis presented a factual account but had no relevance
to the current situation.

3) The Presentists Historian: analysis sought to answer questions of current issues but
offered narrow, incorrect interpretations of evidence from the past that also alerted of
other problems but didn’t address them.
After providing ample practise to examine each case, the varying approaches and
reaching conclusions, Cuban (2001), debriefs with the reader to “unpack” all the
information presented.

Implications to Innovation in Teaching and Learning:

Cuban (2001), reaches the conclusion of his article by reflecting back to the
beginning. He acknowledges that his past roles as a historian, educator and
policymaker are seemingly at odds with the objectivity needed to solve the task of
answering the prevailing question. As a result of these struggles and allegiances to the
“varying lenses”, he creatively innovates a lesson in which to guide learners. His
knowledge of historical research perspectives allows him to create and innovative an
“engaging adventure” by which to guide the learner through the complexities of the
inquiry. His scaffolded instruction, challenges the learner to critically evaluate each step
of the process thereby, building on prior knowledge to construct new meaning or
inferences. After guiding the learner through all the processes, he hopes the ideas and
contemplative dialogue that he imparted along the journey will be actualized by the
conclusions they reach.

Significance to my practise:
A valuable lesson in history, historical perspectives, problems of contemporary
issues, critical evaluation, creative problem solving approaches, seeing new
perspectives to problems, innovation, and learning through and with an author

“Aha Moments”, Reflections & Questions:

Question for author:

1) How many years did it take you to develop and actualize all your experiences and
knowledge to create one of the most creative, challenging, memorable and
rewarding lessons that I have ever experienced?

This was an amazing journey working through this article and coming to all the
realizations! What an inspiring lesson, learner, teaching and educator Larry Cuban is!
The following is a link to his Blog:

Cuban, L. (2001). Can historians help school reformers? [Review of the books The
Failed Promise of the American High School 1890-1995 by D.L. Angus &J. E. Mirel,
Moral Education in America: Schools and the Shaping of Character from Colonial Times
to the Present by B.E. McClellan, & Schooled to Work: Vocationalism and the American
Curriculum, 1876-1946 by H.M. Kliebard]. Curriculum Inquiry, 31 (4), 453-467. doi: