When John F. Kennedy and Franklin D. Roosevelt were president, the details of mistresses and crippling illness were largely hidden from the public. The same goes with the mental illness of Mary Todd Lincoln. But the world has changed such that it’s all fair game, and the Illinois State Board of Education is working with professionals in other fields to develop a junior-senior high school curriculum that includes the former first lady’s troubles, including her “insanity trial” of 1875.
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“Back in the 70s, social studies was still very, very content-driven, and the classes were primarily lecture-oriented,” says Gene Burnett, president-elect of the Illinois Council for the Social Studies. “The role of the teacher has changed a lot.” Burnett is a supervisor in the student teaching program at Illinois State University and formerly taught at Pontiac High School.
The council’s executive director, Bradley University teacher education director Dean Cantu, says it’s a disservice to leave out Mrs. Lincoln’s struggles with mental illness and grief: “These are the same kinds of experiences that many of our students have,” he said.