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Museum of DisABILITY History

Instruction at the Idiot School

The Idiot School was a part of the Idiot Asylum, which was constructed in 1860. The teacher of the school had studied teaching techniques from Dr. Hervey B. Wilbur of the State Asylum for Idiots at Syracuse. The school was opened in 1866 and commenced instruction with 20 pupils from ages 8-14. Instruction usually followed a traditional model in which the teacher asked a question or gave a command and the student replied with an answer or the appropriate action. When teaching subjects like colors and words, teachers taught the students to recognize the colors and letters by repetition until they were comfortable with them. The teaching of geometric shapes and arithmetic were also part of the curriculum.

"Thus a knowledge of the alphabet is acquired. A spirit of emulation and the desire to learn were soon excited among the pupils, and the progress has been very satisfactory."

— W.H. Davenport, The Nurseries on Randall's Island,

Harper's New Monthly Magazine, December 1867.