A Brief History of the Little Red Schoolhouse

The Little Red Schoolhouse began at the University of Chicago in 1980, as a lecture series offered to the university community at large by Joe Williams, Greg Colomb, Frank Kinahan, and Peter Blaney. In 1981, Colomb, Kinahan, Williams, and fifteen graduate student "lectors" offered the first formal class based on the Little Red Schoolhouse. Through the '80s, the class continued to be the centerpiece of Chicago's Writing Programs, joined at times by Pete Wetherbee and Wayne Booth and by a growing number of graduate students. The University of Chicago now fields several variants of the Schoolhouse, and most of the writing instruction at the university is informed by Schoolhouse principles and conducted by Schoolhouse lectors.

In 1986, the Schoolhouse was brought to Duke University by George Gopen, and it now informs much of that university's writing instruction. In 1987, Greg Colomb brought the Schoolhouse to the Georgia Institute of Technology, adding technically-focused variants of the program. The Schoolhouse is now the basis of a variety of WAC programs located in specific departments, an effort headed by Jeff Donnell and Amanda Gable. In 1988, the Schoolhouse became the writing program for the Law Center of the University of Southern California under the guidance of Don Freeman. In 1991 Greg Colomb brought the Schoolhouse to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where it reshaped the academic and professional writing program. Most recently, Greg Colomb and Jon D'Errico have begun a similar transformation in the writing program at the University of Virginia. Throughout this period, the Schoolhouse has been brought to new institutions and adapted to local circumstances by graduates in all disciplines from the University of Chicago, Duke University, the University of Illinois, and the University of Virginia, as well as Brittain Fellows from the Georgia Institute of Technology. Since 1989, the Schoolhouse has been freely distributed as word processing files to be adopted and adapted at other institutions. We look forward to the variants and revisions that emerge from that distribution.
The original Little Red Schoolhouse syllabus was created in 1981 by Joe Williams and Greg Colomb. Over the next five years, it went through significant revision and development by Williams and Colomb, with contributions primarily by Frank Kinahan and Larry McEnerney but also by Wayne Booth, Rosemary Camilleri, Jon D'Errico, Leigh Gordon, and a host of graduate students from the University of Chicago and the University of Illinois. Since the mid-eighties, the number of Schoolhouse variants has grown substantially, with versions adapted to different institutions and focused on business, the law, general technical writing, mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, and others.