Theses Doctoral

A "Laboratory of Learning": A Case Study of Alabama State College Laboratory High School in Historical Context, 1920-1960

Pierson, Sharon Gay

In the first half of the twentieth century in the segregated South, Black laboratory schools began as "model," "practice," or "demonstration" schools that were at the heart of teacher training institutions at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Central to the core program, they were originally designed to develop college-ready students, demonstrate effective teaching practices, and provide practical application for student teachers. As part of a higher educational institution and under the supervision of a college or university president, a number of these schools evolved to "laboratory" high schools, playing a role in the development of African American education beyond their own local communities. As laboratories for learning, experimentation, and research, they participated in major cooperative studies and hosted workshops. They not only educated the pupils of the lab school and the student teachers from the institution, but also welcomed visitors from other high schools and colleges with a charge to influence Black education
A case study of Alabama State College Laboratory School, 1920-1960, demonstrates the evolution of a lab high school as part of the core program at an HBCU and its distinctive characteristics of high graduation and college enrollment rates, well-educated teaching staff, and a comprehensive liberal arts curriculum. The collected oral histories from former graduates testify to the perception that a laboratory high school education was considered a privilege. The history of Alabama State College Laboratory High School provides evidence that Lab High offered a "Class A" education to Black youth in Alabama despite the oppressive White social policies and practices in the South and contrary to the plentiful historical accounts of inferior secondary education during legalized segregation. As a progressive laboratory for learning, Alabama State College Lab High played a role in the development of education for African Americans in Alabama and throughout the South.

Geographic Areas


  • thumnail for Pierson_columbia_0054D_10694.pdf Pierson_columbia_0054D_10694.pdf application/pdf 2.35 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
History and Education
Thesis Advisors
James, Thomas
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
March 20, 2014