Social Education 55(5) pp. 297
©1991 National Council for the Social Studies
Michael S. Henry
I once read a description of Clarence Darrow that said he had "size" as a man. I really did not know what that meant until I worked with Dana Kurfman. Then, I saw how intelligence, caring, and sensitivity towards others could be combined in a man to raise levels of understanding and performance regardless of abilities or inclinations. Now, when I think of Dana Kurfman, I think of Clarence Darrow and of "size." Dana was the genuine article.For more than forty years, Dana taught, wrote, and thought about social studies education. His rich and varied career included teaching high school in Wisconsin and Illinois, and teaching college in Michigan. In the early 1960s he was social studies department chair at Educational Testing Service in Princeton, New Jersey, where he worked with the Advanced Placement program. Later in the decade he joined the High School Geography Project as an evaluation specialist and later directed the project in Boulder, Colorado. For the past twenty years he served as Supervisor of Social Studies in Prince George's County, Maryland, which is where I met him.Through these many experiences Dana became an expert in evaluation and came to be recognized as a leading authority in social studies testing and measurement. He was sought after as a consultant throughout the United States and served as an advisor to the governments of Nigeria and Ghana. In Prince George's County, he developed a criterion-referenced testing program and a series of tests that allowed students to earn credit for summer school courses through examination.As an active member in social studies organizations at the national, state, and local level, he made countless presentations at NCSS annual meetings and was a frequent contributor at regional and state social studies meetings. Through his influence and interest, the Prince George's County Council for the Social Studies has become one of the most dynamic local councils on the East Coast.He reviewed manuscripts for Social Education and The Journal of Geography. He was a member of the board of directors for ERIC Clearinghouse for Social Studies Education and NCSS. In Maryland, in the early 1980s, Dana chaired a committee of social studies supervisors that developed a framework for social studies in the state that became a model for the nation.His extremely active professional schedule included prolific writing. He published fourteen articles on a variety of topics and contributed to a half-dozen textbooks and yearbooks including: Experiences in Inquiry, The Eighth Mental Measurements Yearbook, The Geography Learning of High School Seniors, Evaluation in Geographic Education, for the National Council for Geographic Education in 1971, and Developing Decision-Making Skills, the NCSS yearbook in 1977. His writing addressed major issues in social studies education with clarity and cogency and gave us a wealth of understanding about social studies testing and evaluation.Although Dana's career demonstrated his significance and dedication as a social studies educator, cataloging his achievements inadequately describes Dana's importance. The way he approached people and his work made him unique and important. Along with his leadership and writing, he leaves a legacy of affection and goodwill with everyone who knew him.To work with Dana was to see the embodiment of all the best principles upon which our profession is built. He was a true democrat who conducted every meeting as a "marketplace of ideas." He invited each participant to exchange and offer his or her thoughts-giving him or her equal opportunity to influence the decision of the group. Dana would probe with questions but rarely interjected his own opinion. Through his questions we clarified and focused our thinking until a consensus emerged. As I think back now, I realize that a meeting with Dana was a seminar in reflective thinking.These meetings made clear that he truly valued other people and their ideas. He insisted that everyone be heard because he believed everyone counted. Sometimes it was frustrating, but for Dana it was the way he thought people should be treated and the way he thought people should reach decisions in a democratic society. He would rather sacrifice his time schedule than limit debate.Dana's intelligence showed in his remarkable ability to take the fragments of a group's thinking on an issue and draw them together in a coherent fashion. He not only pulled thoughts together, he also improved them. In doing so he made the product greater than the sum of the parts. In our business we call this synthesis, and Dana embodied this ability.Along with his strong, vigorous intelligence, Dana possessed a generous spirit. He would take ideas, polish them, improve them, and then give others recognition for them. He insisted that teachers' names go on the document produced or on the presentation being made. He was never too busy to write letters of recommendation, proofread an article, or give advice on a prospective job. He promoted many people's careers, often in spite of themselves.One of the most hurtful aspects of Dana's passing was that many of the people he helped never got a chance to thank him for his generosity. Yet, he was a modest man who probably never expected any thanks. Whenever people tried to express their appreciation, Dana would change the subject, make a joke, or give them his hearty laugh. Dana did not deal in despair or discouragement. He had an inexhaustible supply of optimism and goodwill in his approach to people and his work. I cannot recall a time, in all our years together, when he uttered a cross or critical word toward anyone. His cheerfulness gave humor to the job no matter how late the hour, or inane the comment. He never complained about the task or about the physical strains and demands of his job. He was pure affirmation.Dana is gone, and we miss him. His leadership and expertise in evaluation and testing will be difficult to replace. For those who worked with him, we lost a teacher, a mentor, and a friend. Teachers and educators are living memorials to him because he shaped so many teachers and educators through his work and his humanity. Every time we write a curriculum, develop a test, make a presentation, or teach a class, we put into use some principle or piece of his advice. Each time we conduct a meeting and promote the free exchange of ideas, we borrow from Dana's example. As we live our lives in a positive, caring manner, and accept the limitations of the human condition with humor and conviction, we honor his memory. Dana was a man of the heart with the imperishable jewel of a gentle and caring spirit. That is how we will always remember him.
Michael S. Henry is a history teacher at Bowie High School in Bowie, Maryland 20715.