In January, 1896, a new elementary school opened its doors in a house on 57th Street and embarked on one of the most important educational experiments of the new century to come. In three rooms with a large backyard, 16 students gathered under the guidance of John Dewey, a professor of philosophy, psychology, and pedagogy at the University of Chicago. Dewey’s intention was to challenge conventional attitudes about childhood education and to discover “how a school could become a cooperative community.” In such a community, each member had roles, performed tasks, and learned what it meant to be productive citizens. Learning, in other words, was not too different from life. Dewey and his successors at the Laboratory Schools enjoyed rapid, and eventually world-renowned, success in changing the way teachers went about their jobs in the classroom. The children, not the lesson, became the center of the teacher’s attention; each student with individual strengths that would be cultivated and grown—and each classroom a thriving community engaged in activities that involved creative problem-solving and responsibilities to fellow students and the world in which they lived.
Since their beginning, the Laboratory Schools have become home to the youngest members of the University of Chicago’s academic community, igniting and nurturing an enduring spirit of scholarship, curiosity, creativity, and confidence that values learning experientially, exhibiting kindness, and honoring diversity. While much has changed since John Dewey founded the Schools in 1896, Lab remains a steadfast proponent of progressive education, creating an environment where students can develop the critical skills necessary to tackle the challenges of the twenty-first century.