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Laboratory of Learning

HBCU Laboratory Schools and Alabama State College Lab High in the Era of Jim Crow

Series:

Sharon Gay Pierson

During the progressive education movement, laboratory high schools evolved from model schools that were part of the core teacher training curriculum at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). These laboratory schools were at the vanguard of the accreditation battle, participated in national curriculum studies, and boasted high graduation and college entrance rates. Led by well-educated, reform-minded African Americans who molded their own approaches to teaching and curriculum and were grounded in sound progressive educational theory, these HBCU lab high schools represented privileged educational experiences. Yet, this collective effort of high-achieving Black lab schools has been overlooked by historians. Through an examination of Alabama State Teachers College Laboratory High School (1920–1960), Laboratory of Learning illuminates the strategies, challenges, and successes of providing secondary education to Southern Black citizens during the Jim Crow era and provides evidence that HBCU laboratory schools and Lab High should be added to our histories as an example of distinctive, progressive schooling.

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CONCLUSION “Students Were Encouraged to Excel and Be Change Agents” Sitting in the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, Alabama, in 2008, Quiester Craig and Georgette Norman engaged in an animated conversation with the author about the Montgomery bus boycott and its effects on Mont- gomery schools—the author’s original purpose of her exploratory research trip to the birthplace of the modern civil rights movement. In Norman’s re- counting of the bus boycott, she referenced “Lab High.” The mention of the high school got Craig’s attention, who turned with interest toward Norman and queried, “You went to Lab High?” adding, “So did I.” Smiles broadened, and the two successful scholars came alive with conversation about their al- ma mater, Alabama State College Laboratory High School. As the conversa- tion developed, it was evident that they were talking about a distinctive education that provided them with a sure foundation on which they built their professional lives. Having an interest in the history of African American education during de jure segregation, the author was aware of the hundreds of historical narra- tives that had captured the plight of African Americans educated under the regime of legal segregation and the consequent disadvantage of underfunded schooling and oppressively proscribed and unequal curriculum, characterized by ill-trained teachers, narrow curricular offerings, insufficient materials, limited facilities, and impoverished school buildings. What also came to mind was the more recent work of Vanessa Siddle Walker, Vivian Morris and Curtis Morris, and others who brought to light, through case studies,...

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