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Lincoln School

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The Lincoln School (1917–1940) of Teachers College, Columbia University, was a university laboratory school set up to test and develop and ultimately to promulgate nationwide curriculum materials reflecting the most progressive teaching methods and ideas of the time. Originally located at 646 Park Avenue in New York, one of the most expensive pieces of real estate in the city, the Lincoln School was also a training ground for New York City's elite, including the sons of John D. Rockefeller, Jr., who provided the funding for the school. Among the school's chief architects were Charles W. Eliot, a former president of Harvard University and an influential member of the New England Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools; his protégé Abraham Flexner, a member of the controversial Rockefeller philanthropy, the General Education Board; Otis W. Caldwell, a professor of science education at Teachers College and the school's first director; and the dean of Teachers College, James E. Russell.

In the 1920s and 1930s the Lincoln School was the most closely watched experimental school in the educational world, making solid contributions in the work of laboratory schools. It provided a select number of Teachers College students with clinical teaching experience, engaged in curriculum design and development, and provided an observation and demonstration site for teachers from around the United States and abroad. Its own experimental research institute promoted staff development and student teaching, and it distributed its printed materials in national journals and in mass mailings to schools throughout the United States.

Caldwell and his staff constructed an interactive or "experience" curriculum designed to relate classroom materials to the realities of everyday urban-industrial as well as agricultural life. Science and mathematics courses emphasized the practical application of these subjects to life in the contemporary world. Students learned through nonacademic community resources–the fire department, markets, churches, transportation and communication facilities–that were used as models for the reorganization of school life, and through music, language, art, and social studies where students imbibed principles that, in the language of the school's literature, were "foundational to effective and upright living."

Experiences were rarely spontaneous, however, in classrooms where carefully planned experiments guided every phase of the work and where teachers used modern laboratory methods of collection, organization, and interpretation of data. In keeping with the dual purpose of the school–experimental curriculum development and character training in new forms of social responsibility–children were led through a sequence of avowedly "modern" courses. "Modern" meant practical and useful, with a direct bearing upon the everyday work of the world in finance, industry, agriculture, government and the arts. It also meant a great deal more science and mathematics instruction than one found in the traditional curriculum. Science teaching, according to Caldwell, a biologist, and Harold Rugg, his colleague in mathematics, was valuable because it taught good citizenship defined as "the increased respect which the citizen should have for the expert." This was in an age which had become "amazingly complicated [and] incalculably difficult to understand" and in which the salient feature was "the political and economic ignorance and indifference of the common man."

The classical defenders of liberal culture found much to hate in the program of the Lincoln School, which they regarded as devoid of emotion, imagination, poetry, beauty, and art. Critics also worried about the involvement of the General Education Board and the powerful industrial statesmen who headed it, pointing to the ambiguous position of the charitable trust in a democratic society.

What kind of a school was it, historians still want to know, that could combine cultural epoch theory, the doctrine of interest, and parvenu notions of social efficiency with the relatively remote, patrician sensibilities of founders and supporters like Eliot and the Rockefellers? What kind of a school was it that would teach vocational math and science to its upper and upper-middle class students, but not Greek and Latin, the traditional foundations of elite culture? The School itself could never quite decide what it was: An experiment in progressive practices? A hedge against those practices when they shifted dangerously toward bureaucratic centralism? Or the harbinger of something entirely new and novel and distinctly modern? This last possibility was allowed to die early, a sacrifice to child-centeredness, to subject-matter fetishism, and to an experimental tradition that controlled for these factors but otherwise ignored them for larger, correlative and integrative purposes. In 1940 the Lincoln School collapsed under the weight of its own contradictions. A Special Committee of the Board of Trustees of Teachers College in the interest of both intellectual and practical economy recommended its amalgamation with the larger and less research-intensive Horace Mann School.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

CALDWELL, OTIS W. 1921. "Contributions of Biological Sciences to Universal Secondary Education." School Science and Mathematics 21:103–115.

ELIOT, CHARLES W. 1918. "The Modern School." Education 38:662–663.

FLEXNER, ABRAHAM. 1917. The Modern School. New York: General Education Board.

HEFFRON, JOHN M. 1999. "The Lincoln School of Teachers College: Elitism and Educational Democracy." In Schools of Tomorrow, Schools of Today: What Happened to Progressive Education? ed. Susan F. Semel and Alan R. Sadovnik New York: Peter Lang.

HOPKINS, L. THOMAS. 1937. Integration: Its Meaning and Application. New York: D. Appleton-Century.

KRUG, EDWARD A. 1961. Charles W. Eliot and Popular Education. New York: Teachers College Bureau of Publications.

RUGG, HAROLD. 1925. "Curriculum Making: The Lincoln School Experiment in the Social Sciences." Lincoln School of Teachers College Publications 1:1–24.

RUSSELL, JAMES E. 1925. "To the General Education Board." James E. Russell Papers. Teachers College, Columbia University.

SHOREY, PAUL. 1917. The Assault on Humanism. Boston: Atlantic Monthly.

JOHN M. HEFFRON

E. F. Lindquist (1901–1978) - Test Development, Test-Scoring Technology, Measurement Theory, Research Methodology [next] [back] Lifelong Learning - Evolution of the Lifelong Learning Movement, Implementation of Lifelong Learning, Ongoing Issues in Lifelong Learning, Conclusion

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over 3 years ago

The date for the closing of the Lincoln School is inaccurate. Since I graduated from there in 1942, I speak from experience. It closed and moved downtown under the direction of parents of the school. It was closed for Teacher's College to use the endowment for their own use, not because the school had problems. It was an excellent education and prepared me for life in the real world, graduate school and beyond. Many of your comments are just plain false and the entire piece quite negative.

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almost 4 years ago

The writer asks, "What kind of school was it that would teach vocational math and science but not Greek and Latin, the traditional foundation of elite culture?"

This is all nonsense. I attended Lincoln from grades 6-12, graduating in 1942. I NEVER took a course in vocational math or science. In math we studied: traditional Euclidian plane geometry (including the 12 problems of Apollonius); elementary, intermediate and advanced algebra; trigonometry; statistics; and calculus. In science: conventional biology (Mendelian genetics and anatomy; chemistry (inorganic and organic); and physics. Even in 8th grade we learned how the Delta Cepheid variables were used to calculate interstellar distances. This is vocational math and science?

Yes, no Greek or Latin, but six years of French so that we could comfortably read Jean Christophe and give oral book reports in French.

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about 7 years ago

IS there anyone out there who went to Lincoln school or who knew teachers there or taught there that is still around? I am working on a research project for graduate school and I would love to be able to include real testimony, memories, interviews, stories, curriculum, student work etc., from the Lincoln School. I have not found much information and what I do find seems to be in a bit of a negative light. I want to highlight the positive memories and actual experiences from the Lincoln School. Please feel free to contact me through email: Vwood7300@aol.com Thank you! Kathleen Boisvert

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over 7 years ago

The discussion of Lincoln School, especially Lois's comment about funding, jogged my memory.
Mother taught at Lincoln School until 1934. While discreet about kids from prominent families, she shared her memories of cooperative, project-oriented learning. Her curriculum study, "Millions of Years in a Winter," (Bureau of Publications, Teachers College, Columbia, 1935) became collectible: teachers in New England borrowed her copies and kept them! Later she encouraged arts, crafts, and music at home. She taught a wonderful class on Biblical history at Sunday school. While suffering traditional elementary classes, I envied her former students at Lincoln.
The educational philosophy was pragmatic. You could follow John Dewey or not. Enforcing doctrinal uniformity would have hindered innovation.
In Mother's opinion, an administrator sacrificed Lincoln School to capture its endowment.

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about 8 years ago

"devoid of emotion, imagination, poetry, beauty, and art" ??? Not the marvelous elementary school I remember when it was on 123rd St b Columbus & A'dam Aves. I went there for kindergarten through 5th grade (We were moved to 120th St in 4th grade after the merger with Horace Mann). The problems with the school began with that merger. Horace Mann was experimenting with a totally different philosophy. conservative, and it needed Lincoln's money (Rockefeller funded Lincoln, not Horace Mann.) I am 73 years old and can tell you the names of every teacher I had. Also the classes in painting (class murals in social studies class -- I recall one we did on the gold rush!), clay/pottery, cooking, sewing, woodwork always learning the value of collabortive effort as well as the importance of developing individual talent. Actually I don't recall much about science and math in those days. Small classes, desks that were not soldered to the floor. Upper Middle and Upper Class? Not entirely - I was neither. Our class was the most ecumenical and color blind class I ever attended. We celebrated all holidays and I had no idea there was anything different about people whose skin color differed from mine. I remember in 3rd grade leading a protest march shouting "Yay Lincoln, boo Horace Mann." Not long ago four of us who went to the Lincoln School discovered we all remembered the music to a wonderful high school musical (High and Wide - 1946 I have the recording) and I remember the annual Pet Show where Steiner Gimbel's father brought animals from the Gimbel farm. It was WWII and I remember air raid drills. This small school gave me a very good start enabling me to grow into a huge school(U of Michigan)that enabled me to grow into the world. Long gone those days. But here's a surviving former student who will forever remember with joy what education once was and why the core curriculum really worked. We came to understand the interrelationships of life. I fear those days are gone forever. Bless you: Ms. Stevens (K & 1), Arensa Sondergaard (2), Ms. Siever (3), Ms Harris (4), Ms Baxter(5). From there I went to a miserable 7 years at Ethical Culture Fieldston whose only saving graces were its Music teacher Bernie Werthman and a Latin teacher June Reed Andrews. I concur with Rosaleen about Lincoln: it was a great place for learning how to cope with the world as it was, and how to deal with all that has happened since. Though right now, I'm not so sure!

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almost 9 years ago

Perhaps, because your material has been "originally published in print form" you believe it is accurate, but I wish you could persuade any surviving former students of The Lincoln School to tell you how it really was.

My recollections are intirely different from those of the people who have provided your information. Perhaps that's what they thought it should have been, but actually, it was a great place for learning how to cope with the world as it was, and how to deal with all that has happened since. The teachers were able to get us on the right track and taught us how to stay there.
They educated us.

There are not many of us still here, but I'll bet you could find a few with valuable information about their dear old alma mater - it was an altogether fine school.
I hate to think that people who didn't have the privilege of kowing it will get the wrong impression from your article on the Internet. I am sure none of those writers ever attended classes tbere - they probably just read books about the concept and never saw the reality.

I would love to hear from any remining alumni.
Cheers,
Rosaleen Leslie, Lincoln '38
Now: Rosaleen Dickson
National Press Club of Canada
Ottawa, Ontario

Also see: http://www.flora.org/rosaleen

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almost 7 years ago

I am searching for a cookbook which served as a fund raiser for Lincoln School. It was either edited by, or contained a recipe by Marjorie Zucker (for zuccini soup). Any help very much appreciated. Gail

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over 8 years ago

PLEASE REPLACE MY PREVIOUS COMMENT WITH THIS. Three TYPOS have been corrected.
THANK YOU.
Rosaleen

Perhaps, because your material has been "originally published in print form" you believe it is accurate, but I wish you could persuade any surviving former students of The Lincoln School to tell you how it really was. My recollections are intirely different from those of the people who have provided your information. Perhaps that's what they thought it should have been, but actually, it was a great place for learning how to cope with the world as it was, and how to deal with all that has happened since. The teachers were able to get us on the right track and taught us how to stay there. They educated us. There are not many of us still here, but I'll bet you could find a few with valuable information about their dear old alma mater - it was an altogether fine school. I hate to think that people who didn't have the privilege of kmowing it will get the wrong impression from your article on the Internet. I am sure none of those writers ever attended classes there - they probably just read books about the concept and never saw the reality. I would love to hear from any remaining alumni. Cheers, Rosaleen Leslie, Lincoln '38 Now: Rosaleen Dickson National Press Club of Canada Ottawa, Ontario Also see: http://www.flora.org/rosaleen