Authors Visit to Share Stories of Corinne A. Seeds and Some UCLA Lab School History

Authors Sandra Radoff and Dolores Escobar visit with students and teachers in the Gonda Family Library to present their new book, The Awesome Miss Seeds (photo by Joseph Vaudreuil)

When former UCLA Lab School teachers Dolores Escobar and Sandra Radoff presented a copy of their new book, The Awesome Miss Seeds, to the Gonda Family Library on Friday, April 21, it was a chance for students and teachers to get a first-hand account of an important era in the school’s 135-year history.

Speaking to Upper Level students and teachers, the authors talked about Corinne A. Seeds, principal of UCLA Lab School from 1925-1957 (it was known as the University Elementary School at the time), and her work as a leader in the progressive education movement. Her methods were influenced by the teachings of John Dewey and James Kirkpatrick. She believed that “to keep education dynamic, children must have experiences that they care about.”

Although Seeds often looked severe and imposing, in reality she was gentle and kind, Escobar said. Seeds, who was hearing impaired, “leaned down to work with children so she could really listen to them,” Escobar noted.

Among her achievements, Seeds helped establish the Social Studies Frameworks for Los Angeles County and the California Department of Education in the mid 20th century. And under her leadership, the school gained national recognition for its publication of teachers’ guides, journal articles and units of instruction.

A graduate of the Los Angeles State Normal School (which evolved into the UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies), Seeds was also renowned for her teacher education classes, and Escobar and Radoff studied with her. “I still have boxes in my garage with the units of study I developed,” Radoff said. The boxes, known as “Seeds boxes,” were a hallmark of the required senior-year course that Seeds taught. In them, teacher education students collected lesson plans, artifacts and tools to use in their future classrooms.

Both Escobar and Radoff went on to long careers as educators. They said their inspiration for their book was to share Miss Seeds’ legacy with children and adults.

“These authors are primary sources who know what is was like to be a teacher and student at our school when Miss Seeds was principal,” said Library Media Demonstration Teacher Judith Kantor. “We’re delighted that our students had the opportunity to hear from them.”

Offering insight about their mentor’s early interest in progressive education, Escobar and Radoff related a story about Seeds as a young teacher. She came in to class to find a boy standing on his desk and barking like a dog while the other children watched and laughed. Seeds didn’t send the boy to the principal’s office because the incident made her think about why the children were more interested in the boy than in their learning. A short time later, Radoff said, Seeds decided to study at Columbia University to learn how to engage children in “learning by doing” to make the curriculum come alive.