Lincoln School: The Most Closely Watched Experimental School in the World

| July 29, 2010

Teachers College opened the Lincoln School at 646 Park Avenue in 1917 to serve as a laboratory school and a testing ground for progressive curricula. The school encompassed kindergarten through 12th grade and attracted the children of prominent New Yorkers such as John D. Rockefeller, Jr. The staff, under the leadership of Professor Otis W. Caldwell and influenced by the teachings of John Dewey, 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, and through music, language, art, and social studies.

President Susan Fuhrman, in her 2007 address Living Up to the Legacy of Teachers College described learning activities at Lincoln School:

First graders at Lincoln studiedcommunity life by building a play city, complete with buildings, trains, electric lights, furniture and doll residents. The sixth grade learned how to make paper and books, and how to print and publish a magazine. Eighth graders explored the workings of a heating apparatus, and children staged their own musical productions-”including, in one program, an excerpt from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony played on pan-pipes of their own making.
The Lincoln School’s impact on the nation was monumental. The faculty published volumes; they developed curricula and field-tested them in cooperating public schools. They helped to overhaul school systems in Pittsburgh, Denver, Cleveland, Baltimore, Rochester, Chicago and St. Louis.

The Lincoln School was the most closely watched experimental school in the educational world in the 1920s and 1930s. But declining enrollments at both the Lincoln and the Horace Mann School prompted Teachers College to combine the two in 1940 over the protests of a group of Lincoln School parents. The new school was known as The Horace Mann-Lincoln School of Teachers College.