"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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