The instrumental role Dorothea Dix played in reforming prisons and mental institutions, and the actions of Horace Mann in his campaign for free public education are at the center of this lesson. How did improvements in conditions for people in the public charge, whether prisoners or people institutionalized because of disability, come about? How did the the idea of who gets to be educated change? By focusing attention on the strategies used by these social reformers, the lesson engages students in critical thinking about the methods of reformers as well as their goals.
Teaching resources include videos, a map, photographs, vivid written testimony to legislators, drawings, and period journalism. In their projects, students can echo the reform messages and strategies through antebellum period-correct expressions (political cartoon or poem/song) or through contemporary forms (comic strips, posters, or memes).