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"The Union of Intellectual Freedom and Cooperation": Learning From the University of Chicago's Laboratory School Community, 1896-1904


by Anne Durst — 2005

While teaching in a California charter school in the late 1990s, I had the experience of working one year under the dictates of a highly scripted curricular program and the next year in the absence of an effectively crafted instructional plan. In both cases it proved difficult for teachers to provide quality instruction to students. In an effort to analyze such contemporary experiences, I explore here the ideas and practices of an important educational innovation from our past: the Laboratory School of the University of Chicago, under the direction of John Dewey from 1896 to 1904. I argue that the very practices that promoted teachers' intellectual freedom at the school, such as weekly meetings to discuss teachers' reports of classroom practice, also provided needed guidance. By avoiding the mindless following of dictates, the school community simultaneously worked to prevent the fragmentation and muddiness of purpose that can result from too little direction. Thus, I argue, a solution to both of the problems I encountered can be found in practices that result from a strong commitment to the intellectual freedom of teachers to make important decisions about curriculum and instruction.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 107 Number 5, 2005, p. 958-984
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 11846, Date Accessed: 12/11/2017 9:30:07 PM

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About the Author
  • Anne Durst
    University of Wisconsin-Whitewater
    E-mail Author
    ANNE DURST is an assistant professor of educational foundations at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. She taught at the elementary level in a California charter school in the late 1990s. Her research interests include the history of the Laboratory School community and the history of day care in the United States during the Progressive era.
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