How do changes in the treatment of students with special education needs over time show society’s changing understandings of disability? The 19th century initiatives to provide supports for people with disabilities, including the founding of schools for students with cognitive, hearing, or vision disabilities, were an important component of the social reform movements in the period before the US Civil War.
The primary source documents in this lesson provide a means to trace the logic behind expanding education to people who were largely seen in the United States as unable to be educated prior to the 1850s reforms. Students will examine period sources to gain a sense of what education was like for students with disabilities in the 1800s, and will describe it in one of several imaginative formats. The lesson is designed to be paired with a companion lesson that allows students to observe teaching in a modern substantially separate classroom, and to encourage students to think about how students with diverse needs are supported now. Download Lesson PDF.