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Stanford Oral History Collections

Cuban, Larry.
Cuban, Larry.
Cuban, Larry and McPhaul, Nancy
Corporate Author:
Stanford Historical Society
In an oral history done in 2016, Larry Cuban, Professor Emeritus of the Graduate School of Education, discusses his family background and early life, his time as a doctoral student and professor at Stanford University, his work in urban public schools from the mid-1950s through the 1970s, and his experience as the superintendent of the public schools in Arlington, Virginia. Beginning the narrative with his childhood in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, during the Depression and World War II, Cuban recalls the various jobs that he and his family members held to make ends meet and instances of harassment they experienced because they were Jewish. He discusses his schooling, including the fact that he was among the few whites attending all-black schools, an important experience for his future career. Cuban describes his struggle with polio and how his participation at a neighborhood Jewish boys club, where he made lifelong friendships, had a profound influence on his life. Because his friends from the boys club were going to college, Cuban explains, he decided to attend the University of Pittsburgh where his career trajectory was set by a growing love of history and his positive experience as a student teacher. Cuban recalls his growing dissatisfaction with the history curricula and textbooks in the mostly black high schools where he taught in Pittsburgh and Cleveland. He describes how he developed a primary source-based curriculum for African-American history and how that became the basis of his first book, The Negro in America, which was published amid rising attention to black history. As a result, Cuban recalls, he was recruited to teach at and direct the Cardozo Project in Washington, DC, which trained former Peace Corps volunteers to become teachers in inner-city schools. After this War on Poverty project ended, Cuban worked for a brief period of time in district administration, a politically-charged experience that convinced him he had the skills to become a district superintendent and led him to Stanford as a doctoral student in 1972. He comments on the key role Professor David Tyack played in bringing him to Stanford and shepherding him toward his PhD. Cuban then turns to his superintendency of the Arlington, Virginia, Public Schools from 1974 to 1981, explaining how his focus on instruction, achievement, and accountability generated both reforms and controversy. Cuban discusses the racial politics generated by demographic changes in the district and describes the factors that motivated him to seek a grant from the National Institute of Education and to return to Stanford to teach, research, and write about the results of school reform movements. Cuban recounts how he eventually gave up his plans to return to public school administration and instead remained at Stanford as a tenured faculty member. Unconventionally, Cuban asked for a formal review several years into his tenure. He had to recruit his own reviewers and navigate around concerns that this might create an unfavorable precedent, but Cuban truly desired feedback and felt there was no other mechanism for obtaining it. Cuban describes the recurrent tensions within the GSE over education research versus practical application, particularly its impact on the Stanford Teacher Education Program, and he also remembers his friend and colleague David Tyack. Seven-time winner of the GSE teacher of the year award, Cuban concludes by sharing his delight in the continuing friendships he enjoys with several doctoral candidates he advised.
Larry Cuban, Stanford Historical Society, oral histories, interviews, higher education, professors, and Stanford University--Graduate School of Eduation
November 1, 2016 - November 10, 2016
Stanford Historical Society Oral History Program interviews, 1999-2012