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   THE LAB SCHOOL STORY

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LOCAL AND GLOBAL CRISES: 1917-1919



The rapid growth of the work of ISTC in the mid and late teens did not occur without sometimes significant growing pains. One of the most serious was a controversy that had both immediate and long-term consequences for the college in general and the Department of Teaching in particular. Earlier expansion meant that the Teachers College had already begun to need additional sites beyond the campus Training School for the hands-on preparation of future teachers. As a result, informal agreements had been reached to send “assistant teachers” under the supervision of ISTC faculty into several schools near Cedar Falls for a month at a time to provide them with classroom instructional experience. This collaboration would cost the school districts nothing and local participating teachers would receive a five-to-ten-dollar increase in their monthly salary. 


By 1912 about a third of the schools in Black Hawk County were included in this arrangement. When in 1914 the Cedar Falls School system wished to establish a kindergarten, an agreement was reached in which the college would assign student teachers to assist with the kindergarten work, thereby enabling them to gain valuable classroom experience. In return, the college would pay part of the salary of the kindergarten teachers and provide a supervisor from the Training School. In 1915 when domestic science became a required part of public instruction the cooperative agreement was expanded to include this addition to the city school curriculum, and in the fall of that year student teachers also began working and training in designated primary grade classes. 


The Cedar Falls superintendent of schools oversaw all the collaborative work in his district and was assigned the faculty rank of “Assistant Director of Teaching” for which the college contributed a small portion of his salary. In return for the city’s participation in ISTC’s teacher training efforts, the college agreed to admit tuition free any Cedar Falls district student wishing to attend the Training School during the summer semester. 


Initially, this collaboration appeared to work well. However, in 1917 when President Seerley, hoping to place still more student teachers in Cedar Falls schools, wrote a letter to the school board proposing an expansion of the existing collaboration and pointing out its benefits to both the college and the city a surprisingly negative reaction erupted among some residents who feared that the college was attempting to take over their schools. 


What followed was a protracted and progressively more acrimonious dispute between those who considered college involvement in local education beneficial and those who believed it detrimental. The opposition may have been exacerbated by the unhappiness of some local entrepreneurs who had invested in rooming and boarding houses for students on College Hill and who now felt betrayed by the opening in the fall of 1915 of ISTC’s first dormitory and cafeteria and its expansion two years later, which threatened their economic interests. 


Over the next two years the dispute between the disaffected element within the local citizenry and the pro-ISTC faction unfolded in the courts and newspapers and at the ballot box during school board elections. The controversy included opponents’ allegations challenging the preparedness of student teachers and the legality of their placement in public schools; concerns about potential loss of control over city schools; and charges that the superintendent of schools had a vested interest in the relationship with ISTC because it supplemented his salary. Proponents of educational collaboration dismissed the opposition’s complaints as unwarranted, pointed out both the educational and economic benefits of ISTC’s location in Cedar Falls, and lamented the potentially detrimental consequences of the very public controversy for the entire community.

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