Department of Education

In Memoriam: Carl Kaestle, University Professor Emeritus, Brown University

Carl F. Kaestle, University Professor and Professor of Education, History, and Public Policy emeritus, passed away on January 5, 2023, in Bloomington, IN. Carl was a towering figure in the history of American education whose scholarship, service, and leadership helped to build and shape the field.

Carl was born in Schenectady, New York, on March 27, 1940, and was the second of three sons of Francis Llewelyn Kaestle and Regina Perrault Kaestle. While still in high school, he played piano professionally in Lake George.  He went on to Yale where he majored in English and graduated in 1962, and was especially active in musical organizations, serving as Pitchpipe and arranger for the Whiffenpoofs. 

Carl received an MAT at Harvard in 1964, then worked as a high school teacher and principal for three years before returning to graduate school and receiving his Ph.D. at Harvard in 1971. Before coming to Brown in 1997, Carl taught in the Departments of History and Educational Policy Studies at the University of Wisconsin and in the University of Chicago’s Department of Education. After his retirement from Brown in 2007,  Carl remained active in research, teaching, and university service, serving on the Steering Committee for Brown’s 250th Anniversary, teaching courses, and writing a book on the history of federal education policy.

Carl published a wide array of books, articles, and reports on the history of education that reshaped how we understand the historical origins of public schooling, federal role in education, educational testing, and literacy. Pillars of the Republic, his book on the 19th-century common school movement that formed the basis of American public education, is still widely taught in college classrooms, 40 years after its publication. The wide variety of honors Carl received over his career speak to this influence and esteem: visiting fellowships at Princeton, Harvard, Stanford, the Hoover Institution, and Spencer Foundation; grants from the National Institute of Education, Spencer Foundation, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, National Endowment for the Humanities, and Guggenheim Foundation; and election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, American Antiquarian Society, and National Academy of Education. 

Carl was deeply committed to mentoring young scholars and building new knowledge that demonstrated the value of historical perspective and understanding to contemporary education policy. He advised 16 dissertations and mentored emerging scholars, including as director of the Advanced Studies Fellowship Program at Brown from 2001-2005. He served as president of the History of Education Society and of the National Academy of Education. He was part of several national task forces and committees to study problems in education for groups including the American Educational Research Association, College Board, Educational Testing Service, National Research Council, Social Science Research Council, Southern Education Foundation, National Academy of Education, Gordon Commission on the Future of Assessment in Education, and U.S. Department of Education. 

Music was a constant source of joy for him. Even after retirement, Carl continued as a member of the Yale Alumni Chorus and enjoyed playing classical and jazz piano.  A passage in his Yale alumni obituary refers to his role in musical groups:  “a remarkable leader…calm and organized, with a great wit and sense of humor always employed to lighten the mood.”  That aptly describes his collegial relationships at the University of Wisconsin, the University of Chicago, and Brown, where he was an engaging, supportive, down-to-earth presence. Carl also provided active service and support to Community Music Works, a Providence nonprofit supporting low-income students’ musical education and performance. 

Carl will be greatly missed by his colleagues in the Education and History Departments for his kindness, warmth, and generosity. His first wife, Elizabeth McKenzie, and his second, Elizabeth Hollander, both predeceased him, as did his daughter Christine Kaestle.  He is survived by his daughter Fredericka (“Rika”) Kaestle and her husband Lee Krushcke. His ashes will be interred with Liz Hollander’s in North Egremont, MA. A memorial is being planned for this summer.