Book Review

Dewey’s Laboratory School: Lessons for Today

Reviewed by Linda Fernandez,
Associate Professor, College of Education,
University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, Iowa


As I read Dewey’s Laboratory School: Lessons for Today, the song lyrics "Everything old is new again" kept playing through my head. Using primary sources for her research, Laurel N. Tanner examines the theories and practices of the first laboratory school established by the University of Chicago in the 1890s and draws comparisons with the efforts of today’s schools.

Going beyond surface comparisons, Tanner makes insightful observations into the human factors affecting the success and failure of Dewey’s efforts and, by implication, the efforts of today’s educators. School governance, curriculum and instruction, communication and preparation of students for the real world are some of the issues Dewey shares with us. His efforts, as documented by his contemporaries and notes from the laboratory school, are not revelations but familiar notions to every teacher and administrator in schools today.

At times humorous, as we laugh at the unchanging nature of humans, and at times inspirational, this book is a surprisingly good read. It does not provide the secret ingredient for creating learning communities, but it does motivate us to do the right thing for students when faced with day-to-day conflict that often is more focused on narrow politics than on improving teaching and learning.

(Dewey’s Laboratory School: Lessons for Today, by Laurel N. Tanner, Teachers College Press, 1234 Amsterdam Ave., New York, N.Y. 10027, 1997, 199 pp., $21.95 softcover)