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Mr. Lincoln’s Way

by Patricia Polacco


Mr. Lincoln’s Way explores why people become bullies and along the way raises questions about parental influence and good leadership.

Mr. Lincoln’s Way is a story about a bully who overcomes his destructive ways. Eugene, the bully, terrorizes the students at his school and has no respect for his teachers. Mr. Lincoln, a much-beloved principal, is determined to help Eugene by giving him an alternative to bullying. Mr. Lincoln notices that Eugene has a love for birds and uses that to develop a positive relationship with him. Mr. Lincoln learns that Eugene’s father plays a major role in fostering Eugene’s negative beliefs and behavior. Mr. Lincoln helps Eugene learn the virtues of tolerance for diversity.

Read aloud video by Read Learn Grow!

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

Through much of the focus on bullying behavior discussion about the harm that it does, this book highlights another factor, the conditions that cause a child to become a bully in the first place. Mr. Lincoln’s Way draws the connection between what a child learns at home and what he does at school. The story encourages us to ask whether it is really the child’s fault that he is a bully. We see in the story that the bully changes his ways and begins to pursue his love of birds. Mr. Lincoln persuades Eugene to talk about why he loves birds so much, and Eugene begins to talk about his lovely grandfather. Mr. Lincoln shows Eugene that the relationship with his grandfather and their mutual love of birds is a strong and healthy bond that is beneficial to Eugene. Mr. Lincoln is portrayed as a compassionate and influential leader. He tries to reach out to all of his students and spends time working on making each one a better student and person. What makes someone a good leader?

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

Eugene changes his ways

“Eugene was good to his word. He became a model citizen. He tried with all his heart to keep his promise to Mr. Lincoln.”

  1. What is bullying? Is it always wrong?
  2. In what ways does Eugene change?
  3. What did Eugene learn from Mr. Lincoln?

The parental influence

“My old man calls you real bad names, Mr. Lincoln. He’s got an ugly name for just about everybody that’s different from us.”

  1. Where did Eugene get his attitude from?
  2. Do you think that Eugene’s bullying behavior is his fault?
  3. What is wrong with what Eugene’s father is doing?
  4. Why should Eugene listen to Mr. Lincoln rather than his father?
  5. What happens when parental expectations are different from those of your school?

“Don’t all of those beautiful types and colors make this a beautiful place to be—for all of them?” Eugene nodded yes. “Well, God made all of them! All kinds! Just like he made all of us, Eugene.”

  1. What is cultural diversity?
  2. Is cultural diversity good?
  3. What can we do to increase cultural diversity?

The principal as a leader

“Mr. Lincoln was the coolest principal in the whole world… He had the coolest clothes, had the coolest smile, and did the coolest things.”

  1. How does Mr. Lincoln’s treatment of Eugene show that he is a good leader?
  2. What makes someone a good leader?
  3. If you are well liked, does that make you a good leader?
  4. What is the difference between a good leader and a bad leader?

Original questions and guidelines for philosophical discussion by Dominique Piquant. Edited June 2020 by The Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics.

Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our Resources page.

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Back to All Books Illustrated book cover for Mr. Lincoln's Way featuring three students holding a man's hands, excitedly leading him somewhere. The man is black and has a mustache and glasses. He's wearing a tan blazer and a striped tie. The students appear to be a black boy, a white girl with pigtails, and an Asian girl with a bun. Download & Print Email Book Module

About the Prindle Institute

As one of the largest collegiate ethics institutes in the country, the Prindle Institute for Ethics’ uniquely robust national outreach mission serves DePauw students, faculty and staff; academics and scholars throughout the United States and in the international community; life-long learners; and the Greencastle community in a variety of ways. In 2019, the Prindle Institute partrnered with Thomas Wartenberg and became the digital home of his Teaching Children Philosophy discussion guides.

Further Resources

Some of the books on this site may contain characterizations or illustrations that are culturally insensitive or inaccurate. We encourage educators to visit the Association for Library Service to Children’s resource guide for talking to children about issues of race and culture in literature. They also have a guide for navigating tough conversations.  PBS Kids’ set of resources for talking to young children about race and racism might also be useful for educators.

Philosophy often deals with big questions like the existence of a higher power or death. Find tips for leading a philosophical discussion on our resources page.

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