top of page

Malcolm Price Laboratory School

Malcolm Price Laboratory School, originally created to train teachers, was on what is now the UNI Campus. The K-12th school stressed several educational principles which most students may have thought were typical in the 50's. In looking back, they were unusual for the time. The opportunity for broad academic exploration, the freedom to progress according to one's ability and aptitude, and to “learn by doing” were breaks with tradition. All of our instructors, each with a unique personality, were highly educated and committed to the school's broad philosophy. Being a laboratory school, this meant education majors would participate in teaching, so having “student teachers” was considered normal.

First of all, this was an idyllic time and place. True, social problems were either few or buried, but certainly racial tension, drugs, violence, and extreme poverty were not apparent in the immediate middle class neighborhood from which the school drew its students. It has been argued that MPLS' students themselves were exceptional, and many were, but no admission policy except address was used. With no tuition or demand for open enrollment, a recent issue, we literally walked a block or so to school. No cars except busses for rural students

Early memories from Sabin Hall on campus seemed ordinary, but few of us had any reference for comparison. I remember Dr. Hosier (who said he came from a long line of stockings) allowing his elementary students to set up and decorate wooden crates between their desks. I never forgot owning personal space as he would glance but not snoop at our junky treasures. I also remember being enthralled by Kipling's “Jungle Books” read to us by one of the highly accredited librarians.

By middle school, we were allowed to use the college's facilities for PE. Granted it was too early for female competitive events, but how else would kids that age have daily exercise plus intramural after-school sports? In my father's opinion, along with racquetball, roller skating, archery, dancing, bowling, soccer, badminton, tumbling, canoeing, crab-ball, and trampoline, learning to swim in the college pool (standard issue suits) was his definition of success. By this time, our class of “58” was attending the new school on Campus St. During the noon hour, someone played music to which one couldn't sit, so we jitterbugged...more good exercise...bobby problems.

The vocational arts were “practiced.” Home-Ec, which is becoming more of social science today, meant needles, thread, measuring, cutting, fitting, and real machines. Yes, the courageous teacher also attempted basic cooking. She pre-measured ingredients and explained techniques. However, product control varied from kitchen to kitchen depending on student tampering.

Thanks to more teacher fortitude, industrial arts were not ignored. Does anyone have a lamp made on the school lathe which required sanding, staining, varnishing and of course wiring? Working on car engines is questionable, but small gas engines surely were dismantled and reassembled with skill by those with mechanical talents. A few grainy photographs exist which I believe were amateurishly developed in the Lab School darkroom. Computer Science and electronics were science fiction, but I have no doubt time and devices would have attracted eager students to the future field. It should be mentioned that the “boring” keyboarding we learned has been a critical carry-over skill.

Remarkably, a teacher couple with musical passion, surpassed only by their gritty patience, was to prove teenagers could be molded into an orchestra. A first-of-its-kind precocious kindergarten string quartet proved them correct, but teenagers were a different story. Using college-owned instruments and instruction, we mostly failed to appreciate the din of strings, brass, percussion, woodwind and a baton whack for warm-up, but how else could one get their attention for free mini-private lessons?

The faculty also managed a regular band, Pep Band, Jazz Band, Dance Band, a full-mixed chorus along with musical productions such as Melody Moods, “Brigadoon,” and L'Allegro. Participation was assumed in a class of only 42 students.

Purchasing our own gem stones and pearls for which we created silver bezels and serious jewelry, I have never used a blowtorch since. Firing up the kiln, pots were over-baked and unbalanced, but we learned more than watching a movie and took secret pride in our “works of art.” We sketched, designed, painted, drew, and were amazed by the great paintings, sculpture, and architecture in the college library. Little did we realize what we were seeing.

One teacher stands out as an unsung heroine: Ms. Marguerite Struble who taught Latin; Her gifted language skills paled next to the respect she inspired. Her entire existence seemed to be the classroom: perhaps the same dress, same hair-do, same age for years. Greeting us at the door with,“quomodo estis hodie?” we entered using our best teen-age manners. It has been said she taught English grammar first so she could get to Latin next. She knew her students birthdays. On those days she shared a box of expensive candy in a fancy box, her only personal extravagance. She had to be the inspiration for the movie “Good Morning, Miss Dove.”

Academically speaking, my memory gets foggy since traditional memorization of mathematical tables, geographical lists, even grammar rules were casual. We studied English, math, history, literature, science....lots of discussion, some debate. We grew plants, dissected frogs. One can imagine field trips to Rath Packing Plant in Waterloo, Independence Mental Facility, an 8th grade week at Camp Ingawanis, and a courageous senior trip to Chicago. I don't recall much homework, but I do remember after asking a question, the standard answer was,“ look it up and figure it out for yourself.” So true! To this day few issues seem black and white.

No curriculum was as desired and feared as much as Driver's Education. To practice driving with a trained human until a student could pass the test had to be nerve-racking. Many students still use the same method of parallel parking taught over and over in class. Today students pay at least $500 for the experience, often on-line.

Pure luck sustained us all as no serious injuries occurred; today the threat of lawsuits and safety concerns might force school employees to “pack a pistol” which will surely make schools more dangerous.

Student evaluation or grading seems to be a subject about which there can be confusion in many schools. The lab used H, S, and U in nine categories for each class. Such subjective qualities as respect and motivation were included along with more traditional measurements. How did students know how they ranked? We were told we all scored well on the ITED's, but an emphasis on grades didn't seem critical.

As far as how well the Lab School prepared us for life; we were confident when we graduated. We had fun. We thought we could do anything and we have been successful with every skill and profession represented. Many life-long friendships still thrive. Most are coping in a changing society, some not.

What one cannot imagine today is our junior/senior prom in the elegant college ballroom. At the stroke of midnight, we shed our finery for jeans. Gathering in a circle against bales of hay in a nearby barn, laughed, joked, and shared one can of beer.


bottom of page