and the City
A Centennial View of the
University of Chicago
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The Urban Laboratory
For much of this period, the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools served as an important counterpoint to the educational practices prevailing in the public schools. Though linked most notably with the reputation of John Dewey, the Laboratory Schools were in fact the union of several elementary and secondary educational institutions incorporated within the University at the turn of the century.
In 1896, a University Elementary School was established by Dewey to serve as a workshop for classroom observation and the testing of educational method; known as the Dewey School or the Laboratory School, it soon attracted national attention and supported Dewey's growing reputation among progressive educators. Five years later, William R. Harper negotiated the acquisition and consolidation of three independent Chicago institutions. Two local secondary schools, the Chicago Manual Training School and the South Side Academy, were merged to form the University High School. The Chicago Institute, a private teachers' college founded by Anita McCormick Blaine in 1899, was incorporated as the College of Education. The institute's elementary school was amalgamated with the University Elementary School and the University Kindergarten.
This massive reorganization gave the University a complete educational system extending from kindergarten to the graduate level which was to have an important influence on the development of education both within the city and nationally. It was not without its casualties, however. Colonel Francis W. Parker, the highly respected educational reformer who was head of the Chicago Institute, died a year after the consolidation. Dewey, whose plans for the School of Education could not be reconciled with Harper's, resigned in 1904 and left for Columbia University. Under Charles H. Judd and William S. Gray, the School of Education shifted its emphasis to fields such as educational psychology and testing, but it continued to influence educators at the elementary, secondary, and college levels. Many of the Laboratory Schools' central educational tenets were promoted in the Chicago public school system by Ella Flagg Young, one of Dewey's most gifted students. Young came to the University in 1899 at the age of fifty-four with a substantial record of administrative and teaching experience. Within a year she had completed her PhD in education and joined the University faculty, where she developed sixteen new courses, edited a journal for teachers, and administered the Dewey School. After leaving the University in the wake of Dewey's departure, Young went on to become principal of the Chicago Normal School and from 1909 to 1915 the superintendent of the Chicago public schools, the first woman to head a major school system in the United States.
As superintendent, Young initiated a variety of reforms based on her work with Dewey. Among them were the first programs in vocational training and the reorganization of the mathematics and English curricula to replace rote memorization with exercises more directly tied to everyday experience. She also instituted in practice Dewey's theory of democratic education. In a radical departure for an administrator of her time, she encouraged teachers to help shape curricula and operate schools, as was the pattern at the Laboratory Schools. Teacher councils established at Young's direction eventually grew into the Chicago Teachers' Federation. Many of the recent reform efforts in the Chicago public school system, including the establishment of local school councils, mirror Young's commitment to progressive educational ideals.
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