Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Cold War Today: Connecting Past and Present

Conveniently, Vladimir Putin invaded Crimea just as I began my unit on the Cold War last spring. While no history teacher wishes for disaster just to make her lessons more meaningful, it does remind me how often the present can be better understood in light of the past. This week's unrest in Baltimore compared to the  1960s, anyone? (More on that in an upcoming post on teaching the Civil Rights movement).

The Cold War "ended" with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dramatic events of 1989 and the early nineties, but....well, the more things change...

And now I'm not just talking about Putin. 

Essentially, the Cold War was a period of friction between two world "systems," the Communist East and the Capitalist/Democratic West. Today, we can clearly see conflict between the West and a different East--the East of Islamism/Islamic Fundamentalism. Since the events of 9/11, I'd argue that the U.S. has been involved in a different Cold War, with a different enemy. But we can see some striking similarities: 

The interplay of religion. Then it was the Judeo-Christian West vs the "Godless" atheism of the Soviets. Today we are described as the infidels by Islamic fundamentalists. The occasional outbreaks of hot war: our involvement in Afghanistan and Iran today, Korea and Vietnam then. The conflicts over resources. And there are others. 

I bring this up as something to keep in mind as you teach about the Cold War. It is easy--alas, I find myself saying this over and over again in this blog--to get bogged down in too much detail. The goal should not be to have students learn facts about the Truman Doctrine, the Berlin airlift, NATO, the Marshall Plan, the fall of China, the Warsaw Pact, containment, McCarthyism, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, HUAC, the U-2 incident, Cuba, Krushchev, Korea, and on and on....oh my! The goal should be
  1. to make connections among (some of) the items above 
  2. to understand how our values and assumptions about the Soviet Union turned into policy
  3. get a sense of how the U.S. acted as one of two major powers in the world and and 
  4. understand how the foreign policy of the United States was forever changed in ways that still have an impact today. (See cartoon at right!)
  5. and of course we should connect all of this to our past study of foreign policy, especially the concepts of realism and idealism. (See this previous post and this one).
This means that we have to make choices about what we teach and what we leave out. I would encourage you NOT to cut out McCarthyism, though, as this is a way to connect what was going on abroad to the fear and paranoia at home. And it raises important issues about the first amendment which ought to be a recurring topic in U.S. history classes, I think. Why? Two simple reasons: it is one of our fundamental rights as citizens and students like talking about it.

To engage students in that topic, I like to show the first 20 minutes or so (I stop right before the Rosenbergs) of the documentary, Cold War Reds, 1947-1953, by CNN Perspectives. For more info on the video, including some of the criticisms of it, check out this site. I have mixed thoughts about giving students worksheets to go along with films (more on that in another post, I think), but I did choose to use one with this film. The clip is about 20 minutes, so if you devote a class period to it, you have plenty of time to stop it often so students have a chance to take notes and/or you can discuss the question as you go, or afterwards or a little of both. Find that worksheet here. Note that the last question I have on there says, "for tomorrow." That is because I the following day I like to spend on McCarthyism and connecting it to the present.

Years ago, when I taught about McCarthyism, I asked students to think of a more contemporary equivalent to accusing someone of being a communist. Often, they came up with the term, "racist." Their argument was that if a politician or other public figure was accused of saying something racist, that figure was often considered "guilty" immediately and had to "prove" that they weren't really racist, or that the comment was taken out of context. Just like those accused of being communists in the 1950s. I would argue that this is still a great example. But last spring, as I taught in a community that had a significant Muslim population, I was delighted when one of my students brought up the effect 9/11 had on Muslims in the United States. As the only student at the school who wore a headscarf, she had had personal experience with how others viewed her suspiciously and negatively simply because of the headscarf.

McCarthyism also presents the opportunity to make connections to the social conformity of the 1950s (see some of the videos and the interview in the bagtheweb lesson described in my last post), as well as racism, anti-semitism, and today's prejudice against Muslims.

For a nice "hands-on" sort of activity, check out this handout that was given to me years ago from deep in the history department's files (so I have no idea who first created it). I had students edit it directly from Google docs last year, but of course, the old-fashioned paper and pencil method works too. Following the activity, I had students write an ID, defining McCarthyism. I like to teach students early in the year how to do this, as it is a simple writing activity that can be used in class, for homework, or on tests. You can use this handout to do that.

Considering recent changes in our policy toward Cuba, it also makes sense to keep that in your Cold War curriculum. I found some really interesting resources on that last spring. Check 'em out:

  • my handy google presentation that lays out the basic facts for background information
  • these 3 short video clips about Castro, Krushchev and Kennedy from The Armageddon Letters are engaging for students, short (about 5 min. each) and help humanize this international crisis. I really liked them a lot. So did the students.
  • I found the above videos from the Choices Program lesson on the Cuban Missile Crisis. This site has the links to the videos above, as well as suggestions for how to use them.
  • I adapted this graphic organizer from the lesson above to add my own touch at the end. Check out my discussion question about the role of personality in shaping history.
  • The Stanford History Education Group (SHEG) also has a good lesson on the Cuban Missile Crisis. I used the documents they suggested. Check that out here.
  • Found some good stuff, too, at the New York Times Learning Blog site
  • You can put students in groups and assign each one of the following choices outlined to President Kennedy: 1. do nothing, 2. invade Cuba 3. airstrike against the missiles 4. naval blockade around Cuba 5. negotiate. And then they have to come up with reasons to support this choice. Then you can discuss what Kennedy actually did do.
  • Analyze the effect the Cuban missile crisis had on JFK and our foreign policy in general using these two speeches of Kennedy's. You can use it at the end of your lesson, or use the first at the beginning and the latter at the end. Very Common Core.
If you're looking for more Cold War materials, check out my next post.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Spring, Social History and Suburbia: Teaching about Social Change in the 1950s

After finishing a unit on World War II and the depressing topics of the Holocaust, Japanese Internment and the dropping of the atomic bomb, I like to spend a day or two on some of the social changes of the post-war period.

The emphasis in most U.S. history classes is on political history: wars, legislation, presidencies and other "major events" dominated by white men at the expense of social history and what life was like for regular people. University history departments saw the growth of what became the "new social history" beginning in the 1960s and 1970s. I once read that K-12 education is roughly 20 years behind academia, which sounds about right to me (but sad, isn't it?). In the 1990s, this social history began to creep into secondary education, with things like sidebars or quotations and sometimes even whole chapters on the history of women, slaves, working class people and other groups.

Much as been gained from this impact of social history. But the problem--as always--for U.S. history teachers of survey courses, whether it is in middle school, high school, or even college, is how to fit it all in without overwhelming students with too much of everything. Looking over my posts over the course of this school year, I can see that I still emphasize political history. African American history has some representation, but I have very little on women's history (I'll have to work on that over the summer!). Mind you, my posts don't = everything I would teach students, but are just a selection. But still, it is hard to fit it all in.

This post is my way of reminding all of us that whenever we can, we should make an effort to help students get to know something about life during a particular time and place. It also occurs to me that one of the ways we can differentiate what we teach in middle school from what we teach in high school is in this emphasis. What should be the difference between U.S. history in 8th grade and U.S. history in 11th? Should we just repeat everything, but go into more depth? Or should we actually teach different topics? Or should we teach the same "big" topics (like the Revolution, the Civil War, the New Deal) but emphasize different things about it?

These are important questions that I wish to ignore for now in order to go back to the topic of this post: incorporating more social history into our classes, whether we teach middle school or high school. And after you are done teaching World War II, and when it is starting to get warm out and your students are getting antsy, there is no better time for the lesson I'm about to describe (hence the word "spring" in this post's title). It's fun, it's light-hearted, and there's cool stuff to check out that still manages to address "big questions" about topics you will get to when you study the Cold War and Civil Rights. On a Thursday or Friday as the weather warms up, this lesson will help keep your students focused and their attention from wandering towards the window.

The lesson also helps describe the rise of a major phenomenon that shapes where many of our students currently live: the suburbs. The year 2000 was the first year that the suburban population of the United States hit 50 percent. The number is even higher today (but annoyingly, I could not find a number--if you can, do comment below!) So the chances are that a majority of you are teaching in a suburban community. Shouldn't our students know how that happened?

  • See here for information about the growth of suburbs from a 2002 U.S. Census report. That link is to page 38 of the entire report which you can find here.
  • Scroll to the bottom of this page for 2 additional useful charts you can show students about the shift from rural to urban to suburban populations.

I begin the lesson by explaining that the period I refer to as "the fifites" doesn't correspond neatly to the years 1950-1959, but really is more 1954-1963. The Korean War and the most tense period of the Cold War (until the Cuban Missile Crisis) ends in 1953. And Kennedy is assassinated in 1963, ending some of the optimism of the period. I also caution them that what they will be looking at is mainstream, middle-class white culture. A few of the links refer to that fact, but most do not.

Then I hand out a worksheet and direct them to a webquest-type activity in which they will figure out some of the major trends and the overall "mood" of the 1950s. You can certainly find your own websites, but are welcome to use mine. You can find it on a handy website called To find the "bag" that has my 1950s stuff you can link here, or if for some reason that doesn't work, type "Mrs. Brown" or "mrs brown" or "1950s" in the search box and you should find it. (And go ahead and "like it," while you're there! My students last spring certainly liked it,  but they didn't "like it." Sigh.) In this activity, students will get to check out 1950s tv shows, car design, Disneyland and other fun things that will also teach them about the changing roles of women and life in the suburbs.

(Fyi, there are a lot of web-curating websites out there that are useful for compiling resources for students. If you want more information on those, you will find no better source than the blog freetech4teachers.) And of course, you can also use the lower-tech method of just putting together a Word document or Google Doc that has the links on there.)

This is the worksheet for students which accompanies the 1950s websites. Note that you would want to revise it a bit and make it your own. For example, question #3 is about Chicago. The trend of rising suburbs is true across the country, but you can probably find data for a city closer to you if you aren't in Chicago.  Also, question #5 and the accompanying link on bagtheweb is about the specific suburb in which my students were living. If you teach in a rural or urban area, you should delete that question. If you teach in a suburb, undoubtedly, there is information out there somewhere about your community. Also, question #15 is just a private joke with my students: it refers to the fact that whenever I refer to the essential or major question of a topic, I always say "the $64,000 question," which is what my dad used to say, referencing the #1 TV show of 1955 that I've never seen. So you might want to come up with a different question about television.

If you want to the extend the lesson (and this might be more appropriate for high school, rather than middle school) read this article from TIME, "The End of the Suburbs" or this one from The Atlantic,
"Suburbs and the New American Poor" to give you information that will bring the topic up to the present.

Common Core Standards for this lesson: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.7 or CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.7 or CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.7.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Could the U.S. Government Have Done Something to Stop, or at Least Minimize, the Holocaust?

The topic for today's blogpost dates way back to one of the first lessons I did as a student teacher. It was in a unit on the Holocaust in a World History class. My cooperating teacher had given me a worksheet passed down to him in which students ascribed responsibility to different individuals. I decided to put my own twist on it and added a few individuals, namely President Roosevelt. I had recently read something about how F.D.R. could have bombed the train tracks leading to Auschwitz and in my simplistic understanding of history, I thought wow, he could have saved so many and didn't! Guilty!

There were a few students in the class who agreed with me (though I didn't share my personal views) but most were either baffled or appalled that anyone would suggest the U.S. bore ANY responsibility for what had happened to the Jews of Europe.

I have taught this lesson many times since. And as my understanding of the nuances of history have developed, so has the lesson, as well as my personal understanding of what Roosevelt could and could not have done. Here is the most current version of the handout I give students. It never fails to generate heated discussions (unless they all agree with each other, which would be highly unusual). I don't--for the record--usually use this in a U.S. history class. I feel it belongs in a more complete unit on the Holocaust. (But if you want to use it--in whatever class you teach--the second page has some discussion questions you can use. And the US Holocaust Museum has a similar lesson but on Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur.)

If you are teaching U.S. history in high school, it is likely that your colleagues in world history are teaching the Holocaust, and I think the lesson above and the topic overall fits better in that curriculum than in U.S. history. But many middle schools add the Holocaust into their curriculum even if world history is not taught. (So if you are looking for more materials for teaching the Holocaust in general, scroll down to the end of the post; keep reading for the U.S. history idea).

But I don't like to ignore the Holocaust in the U.S. history curriculum, and I think the lesson I will describe below is a good way to incorporate it.

After years of using the above lesson, I finally decided that it was high time that I put a little more research into the question of whether F.D.R. really could have done more to save the Jews. And if not, what were the obstacles? It seemed kind of irresponsible for me to imply they were responsible without knowing more about it. And my students really wanted to know more. There are a number of books on the subject. I will list a few at the end of this post.

During the war and depression years,  Roosevelt was enormously popular among American Jews. It was joked by some that there were three worlds or "velts" (the Yiddish word for world): this velt, the velt to come, and Roosevelt. So worshiped was Roosevelt by Jewish Americans for all he did during the depression and the visibility of Jews in his administration. But he and Eleanor also grew up with some of the anti-semitism that was common to their time and their social class. As president, he appointed many Jews to positions of power, most notably Henry Morgenthau, Jr. as his Secretary of the Treasury. But the U.S. State Department--which oversaw immigration to the U.S.--was noted for anti-semitism. And this would play a significant role in events to come.

So the lesson that I developed on this topic is described below, and you can find the whole thing here. Essentially, it takes the complex "answer" to the question implied in this post's title and turns it into an inquiry-style activity for students. They read the info on a bunch of cards and put them into categories that help answer the question. (Note: I have used presented this technique in some of my teaching presentations. You can find another application of the technique applied to the topic of the Cold War under the tab at the top, "Teacher Presentations"). It is an approach that can be applied to many topics, though I warn you it requires a significant investment of time, and is best done for a topic that you know a lot about or are willing to put in some research time. On the positive side, depending on the topic, it can serve as a lesson that lasts several days up to a week, so the time would be well spent. To see the technique in a nutshell, click here. It will meet at least a few Common Core Standards, too.)

One of the key essential questions or "big ideas" that the Holocaust lesson addresses is the problem of presentism: we know today that 6 million Jews and 5 million others will die under Hitler's reign, but at the time, that was not known. (And by "known" I don't mean that people didn't know anything, as is sometimes claimed, but they certainly didn't know all that we know.) Also, a concept described well by Bruce Lesh is the problem of "historical empathy." If we look at the decisions Roosevelt and Congress made regarding the Jews in Europe in isolation, it may strike us, "Hey, why couldn't they have at least let Jewish refugees into the country?" But we have to balance that with everything else at the time: opposition to other legislation, the lingering depression, anti-immigrant sentiment in general and anti-semitism in particular. and--after Pearl Harbor--the larger U.S. war effort.

Jewish refugees on board the St. Louis, docked at Cuba.
More info about the voyage of the St. Louis here.
If you want to extend this lesson, you can show a clip from the PBS film, America and the Holocaust. The film goes over some historical overview about the St. Louis, the immigration crisis and U.S. policy while juxtaposing it with the story of one particular family: the story of Kurt Klein who manages to leave Nazi Germany with his brother, but his parents are left behind. I don't show the whole thing. I use the first 20-30 minutes or so, up until the narrator Kurt Klein stops hearing from his parents. The students always want to know what happened to them, so I fill that in for them. As well as the great story about his personal life--he goes on to fight as a U.S. soldier and at the end of the war, meets a survivor of the Holocaust, Gerda Weissman, who he eventually marries. There is a highly regarded HBO documentary about her experiences called One Survivor Remembers.

And for more info on the topic of the U.S. and its role in the Holocaust, the US Holocaust Museum has a whole section on the United States, as does the David S. Wyman Institute. These are both excellent sources which you can use for background or to create or find additional lessons.

The books about U.S. and the Holocaust: 

Rather than include the links to Amazon like I usually do, I'm linking to reviews about the books so you can get the gist of them. I warn you, though, reading some of these books or even just the reviews (maybe especially the reviews!) will make you realize how difficult it is to find "the answer" in history. Perhaps that is exactly the point we want students to learn.

Additional More Comprehensive Holocaust Resources for Planning an Entire Unit:

While this post is mostly limited to how to teach one aspect of the Holocaust as it applies to U.S. history classes, I can recommend a few other sources if you are teaching a larger unit on the Holocaust. The most obvious is the one you probably all know: the United States Holocaust Museum. It is one of the most comprehensive museum websites I have ever seen, and you can probably find everything you need to create a full unit. Start with the resources for educators. And do check out their guidelines for teaching about the Holocaust which are also very useful suggestions for teaching about other sensitive or disturbing topics. Another outstanding resource, less known among American teachers is Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial and museum in Jerusalem. They also have substantial online resources for teachers. And if you are in the Chicago area--but also has online resources--do check out the Illinois Holocaust Museum in Skokie.

I also highly recommend this Teaching the Holocaust, an outstanding resource for teachers by Simone Schweber and Debbie Findling.  It has fantastic lesson ideas, and excellent suggestions for resources such as film clips and readings. The only downside is that not widely available and on the pricey side. ($33 on Amazon, but if you devote any significant time to the teaching of the Holocaust, I can vouch that it is money well spent.) You can read a sample of it here.

There are also SO many films about the Holocaust it can be hard to know what to choose.  One of my all-time favorites is I'm Still Here, produced by MTV. It has famous actors and actresses reading diary entries of young people. I have used it with 9th graders with great success. I think it would be good for 8th graders, too. Seventh grade, maybe a few clips. And it definitely works well up through 12th grade. What I love about it is that it describes the Holocaust from the perspective of teenagers and therefore it really resonates with kids. I have cut the excerpt from the anonymous diarist when I show it because one, that way you can better fit it into a class period and have time for discussion and two, that scene has especially graphic footage which I find inappropriate for younger students. If your school cannot borrow it from another library or purchase it (it's available for $15 on Amazon), then try your public library. I have also seen it fully downloaded on youtube, but I have some copyright issues with that, not to mention you may run into streaming problems. Facing History has a study guide for teachers (as well as lots of other Holocaust resources) you can use, too.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Some Thoughts on Class Participation, Role Play and How to Approach World War II in a U.S. History Class

At this point in the school year, it can be an uphill climb to impact any significant change in the culture of your classroom. You and your students have likely long settled into your roles. But there is still a good month and a half or more of school left to go, and it is our responsibility as the grownup in the room to keep fighting the good fight.

I am thinking specifically about classroom participation. We all would like a classroom environment in which every student's hand is waving in the air, every kid eager to participate. But the sad truth is that many classes have a handful of students who regularly participate and....well, and that can often be it. In my work evaluating student teachers, and currently I am teaching pre-student teachers in the methods class, I often harp about the need to pay attention to the kids. It is hard for beginning teachers to do that, I understand. They are so busy trying to figure out what they are going to do, that it is hard to really see what the students are doing. And they are so grateful when a student raises his or her hand, that they rarely use the power of "wait time" to see if anyone else is going to throw a hat in the ring.

I think about this often while looking back on my own middle school self: I was that quiet kid who NEVER wanted to raise her hand. There was a boy named Warren in lots of my classes who was an active class participant. For alphabetical reasons, I was often right behind him. And sometimes when the teacher would call, "Warren," I got a pit in my stomach feeling because "Warren" rhymes with "Lauren" and I was terrified thinking that the teacher had called on me.

So how do you get the Laurens to participate?

There has been a ton of research on this topic, which I'm not going to get into here. Suffice it to say that there are techniques that involve using classroom blogs, polls, or online discussions (See Edutopia's guide to online discussion) which allow students to participate without the "scariness" of having to speak out loud. Or techniques like the ones described by Doug Lemov (check out this excerpt about "cold-calling, wait time and other ideas) that can boost participation. (See also this interesting article about a university professor's success with small group discussions, fyi.)

In today's post, I'm going to offer another technique: role play. One of the advantages of a role play activity is that students are somewhat freed from having to be themselves. Sometimes the self is a tough role to play for adolescents. If you assign them the role of a historic figure, they don't have to worry as much about what other kids (or you) will think of their own ideas, as they are playing the role of someone else.

Hence my idea about role play. In a lesson on the U.S. and the world in the 1930s, what if students were each assigned a role, some fictional, some real, and then I had a list, so instead of calling on Lauren who is shy or Warren who may monopolize class discussions, I could call on Eleanor Roosevelt? Or an American World War I veteran? Or an Italian immigrant?

What I also like about this technique is that it forces students to grapple with the Problem of Presentism. We know there will be a World War II. We know the U.S. will join and that Nazi Germany will be defeated. But in 1933 or 1936 or 1939, nobody knew that. What they did know, our students forget because it was on the test from the last unit or two: World War I was terrible, with mixed results and the U.S. was in the midst of a terrible depression. So we need to remind students to think about the events of the 1930s from the perspective of those who lived through it.

One of the problems posed by World War II for U.S. history teachers is that the period 1935-1941 is an enormously complex time filled with lots of important and intersecting events. Take a look at this list of "vocab terms" from the end of a chapter of a typical U.S. history book:

Neutrality Acts of 1935, 1937 and 1939
cash and carry
Arsenal of Democracy
Ludlow Amendment
Panay incident
Selective Service Act

If you add to that key events from abroad...rise of Hitler and Nazi Germany, Mussolini and the invasion of Ethiopia, the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, the Spanish Civil War, the remilitarization of the Rhineland, the Sudetenland, the policy of appeasement, the Anschluss, Kristallnacht, Stalin and the Nazi-Soviet pact, etc., etc., etc....You will overwhelm your students and they will learn nothing.

There are two issues as I see it. First, is what should be covered in a United States history class vs. a world history class. And once we made the decision to focus on the war from an American perspective and save the rest for the world history teachers, how do we tame the content beast that remains?

My answer, as has hopefully become familiar to regular readers of this blog, is to focus on Essential Questions and recurring themes. If you read my earlier post on idealism and realism in U.S. foreign policy and the U.S. annexation of the Philippines, you probably already know where this lesson is going. That is my intention with my students as well. I want them to see the connections between the Spanish American War and World War I and World War II. Those connections center around these essential questions:
In what circumstances should the U.S. intervene in world affairs? When should we be isolationist? When should we intervene? And what are the criteria for deciding?  

So I begin my unit on World War II by setting the stage: the U.S. is still in the midst of the Great Depression, and FDR has key legislation he is trying to get through Congress. He will be up for reelection in 1936, and again in 1940. The infamous "Court Packing Plan" of 1937 has exposed Roosevelt to significant criticism. And meanwhile, there is very troubling news coming from Europe and Asia.

I then assign students each a role. I have created 25 different roles for students here. At the beginning of this document is your "cheat sheet." This is what you use to call on #16, Eleanor Roosevelt or the fictional #23, Raymond Hewitt. If you have more than 25 in a class, you can either double up or come up with a few more. You will note that some are fictional and some are real and I have noted that for the students. If you are on a 1:1 model, you can assign students roles through Google Doc or something like that. Otherwise, you will have to cut and paste the role from the previous handout onto this one for each student in your class, which is more of a pain, but certainly doable.

Class begins with my favorite Theodor Geisl (aka Dr. Seuss) political cartoon so we can review the concepts of "isolationism" and "interventionism" they learned when studying World War I. (Though point out that the cartoon is from 1941 and you are going to backtrack).

I handle the "troubling news from Europe and Asia" with this brief PowerPoint. Part of my reason for keeping it brief is to tame the content beast, but part of it is also deliberate: not all Americans are paying super close attention to what's going on abroad. Some are, some less so. Many would be familiar with at least the headlines. (And I am de-emphasizing European and World history in order to focus on U.S.). But again, they don't know as we do know what is going to happen and therefore how significant it is some of these events will be in hindsight.

Throughout class, you can conduct discussions, short or longer, where students play their role. Ask them how their character would feel about supporting various pieces of legislation (e.g. Neutrality Acts, Lend-Lease). They don't need to memorize all this legislation for the test; but they will get a sense of what kinds of things FDR is proposing to "bring the country" along with him. Ask students how they might react to the news from abroad, based on their character. Ask them how they would react to FDR's speeches such as the Quarantine speech in 1937. (Especially if you live in the Chicago area, check out the occasion for the speech as described in this Tribune article.) By the end of these discussions, students should have a better sense of the diversity of American public opinion, the importance of it and the need to respect it if you are president running for re-election and trying to pass your New Deal legislation. Take polls, either through a show of hands (low-tech) or on or, where you can sign up for free as a teacher. For more details, and links to additional primary sources, see my write up of this lesson.

And you can end your lesson with this quotation:

History never looks like history when you are living through it. It is always looks confusing and messy, and it always feels uncomfortable.
— John W. Gardner
One last point, I've been neglecting lately to explicitly connect my blogposts to specific Common Core standards. (I confess, I keep hoping that my motto of "high standards that meet any standards" will suffice, as I get tired of navigating the poorly designed CCSS website.) But my newest interest is the overlooked Common Core Speaking and Listening standards. Until the time when I can post my own ideas on these standards, check out this great blogpost about them from Erik Palmer, whose webpage is on my new must-read list and this one from Dave Stuart's blog,, and note that the above lesson ideas would meet the Speaking & Listening standards #1C. See here for more info on the 8th grade version of those standards.) Also, if students spend time looking at Roosevelt's speeches, they are meeting CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.2 or CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.2 or CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.2, depending on the grade level you teach.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Do's and Don'ts for Teaching the Great Depression and the New Deal

If I made a list of the things I would hope well-educated adult citizens of the U.S. should know about the New Deal off the top of their heads, the Glass-Steagall Act would not be one of them. Nor would I quiz someone about whether the Act was an example of Relief, Recovery or Reform.

So what I want to do first off in this blog post is mention a few "please don'ts" about the Great Depression and the New Deal.

1. Don't make students fill out a chart listing all the examples of New Deal legislation. They will not learn anything except how to copy information from a textbook or from a friend. In the Age of Google, they can find the answer in a sec if they really need to know what the Glass Steagall Act was. And I would argue that they probably should know about it. When I say "know" I don't mean memorize the provisions, but they should learn something about the banking crisis and how the Glass Steagall Act attempted to solve it and the FDIC that we still have today. (For a good summary of the Glass-Steagall Act, check out Also, I have had good success with playing an excerpt from F.D.R.'s first fireside chat about the banking crisis. Find that here. Even middle schoolers will find it easy to understand. And it's worthwhile, I think, to have students get to hear the man himself, as did millions of Americans at the time.

2. A second thing I think can be frustrating is trying to categorize everything in the New Deal as "Relief," "Recovery," or "Reform." The reality is that many programs fit more than one category. Giving students a list of New Deal legislation and making them label it as one of the 3 Rs is just an exercise in frustration. (But describing the New Deal as a whole as a set of policies and programs that aimed to provide the 3 Rs is fine.)

3. When you ask our fictional well-educated adult citizen of the U.S. what caused the Great Depression in the first place, you are likely to get "the stock market crash" as an answer. The reality is much more complicated. Economic history is not my strong suit, so I'm not going to get into any details here. John Green's Crash Course on the Great Depression will provide good background for you. (Not so good, though, for students. Definitely not appropriate for middle schoolers, and like most Green Crash Courses, it goes awfully fast even for high schoolers and crams in too much. But good for the teacher. Or for students to review on their own at home, if they have internet access.) This video is also useful for dispelling another myth about the Depression and my 4th "please don't"...

4. Don't give Hoover too hard of a time. It is too simplistic to say that he didn't do anything about the Depression and that's why he lost so dramatically to Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932. Certainly, he wasn't able to fix the economic collapse in American, and so naturally, voters looked elsewhere. But he was not the do-nothing loser that I remember learning about in school. I think students deserve a fuller picture. This article offers a helpful overview for teachers about Hoover. Presidential library websites are great resources for teachers. The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum is no exception. Check out this page for teacher resources.

So what about the "Do's"? 

1. For one thing, I mentioned in an earlier post that one way to conceptualize the 20th century (and therefore organizing your course) is to consider the New Deal as the second wave of domestic reform/liberalism, with the Progressive Era as being the first. Both periods accept the notion of a larger role for the federal government and taking responsibility for helping the people. Both address problems related to the economy. Both periods are distrustful of socialism on the left, as well as laissez-faire on the right. Both are periods that seek to avert social upheaval when capitalism seems in crisis.

But there are differences. One way to get students to see this is with this handout--I've provided you the key. You could use it in one of two ways. If kids have computers, you could mix up the contents of the chart and they can cut and paste the answers under the correct column. Alternatively--and a good way to have students literally manipulate the material--you can photocopy this and cut it up into cards. In pairs, students can put them into the correct piles.

2. Connect the Depression and the New Deal to the present. Younger students probably don't remember much about it, and even high schoolers may not really remember 2008 so well (or understand it), but it's still worth pointing out some of the similarities. Here are a few resources to help you do that:
3. Do find simple ways to explain the economics of the Depression, such as the chart below. You can also link to it here to see it more clearly (sorry about the blurriness--tech troubles). One activity you can do in class is give students a blank version of the flowchart with the text separate. See if they can put them in the correct order.

4. Do consider an entire lesson about F.D.R. and his disability. I have several reasons for this. First, it is a great way to study disability in the United States and how our attitudes have changed over time. Ironically, while our attitudes towards disability may be considered more progressive today, it is only because so much of FDR's struggles were kept hidden from the public that he was able to win the presidency--and that would likely still be true today. As Ken Burns points out in the TIME article I link to below, today's television cameras would have prevented FDR from making it out of the Iowa caucuses because he just would not have been seen as strong enough to be president. Second, it is such a fundamental part of who F.D.R. was, and as some historians have argued, Roosevelt's polio was a major part of his character. Check out the recent book by James Tobin, The Man He Became: How FDR Defied Polio to Win the PresidencyOf course, you probably don't have time to read the book before you teach the New Deal, but you can read a review of it here or listen to the interview with the author on NPR's Fresh Air. (Note: Fresh Air's Terry Gross does lots of interviews with many authors of history books. It's a great way to get some insight from recent books when you don't have time to read them!)
  • This excerpt from Ken Burn's The Roosevelt was apparently cut out of the final version but made exclusively available to Time Magazine. The link is to the article in Time. From there, you can watch the 3 1/2 minute clip. 
  • see this article from Social Education as either background for you, or readable for students (middle or high school). It describes how FDR's disability was widely known among the press and Washington, but minimized to the public. In the same issue (Social Education, September 1996) there is an article about the not-then-built F.D.R. memorial with lesson ideas for discussing it. There are some interesting questions raised: Why do we build memorials? Who are they for? Would FDR be upset if the disability he concealed was depicted in the memorial? Is it "rewriting history" to depict his disability in the memorial? Does it matter what FDR would think? What his family would want? What do you think?
5. Do devote time to Eleanor Roosevelt. She is influential in so many ways, both during the Depression and World War II. First off, if you do teach about FDR's disability, you have to explain the role Eleanor played in his recovery and in serving as his "eyes and ears" on the road as travelled places he could not. Depending on the ages of your students and whether or not they bring it up, you may or may not want to go into anything about Lucy Mercer. But this New York Times article does point out some interesting correlations between Eleanor and Hillary Clinton.

Students also like to know how FDR is related to Theodore and to Eleanor. This link helps explain that, plus has all kinds of additional links to all things Eleanor.

6. Connect the Depression and the New Deal to world history and to what comes next: World War II. Especially in today's highly partisan era, it is easy to focus on how the New Deal changed our federal government for the better or the worse, depending on one's point of view. But it is worth considering how other world leaders handled the world's financial crisis: Stalin and Hitler. Especially when you get to the later New Deal and the criticisms of it from both right and left, this is a point well worth making.

7. Connect the Dust Bowl to other recent environmental disasters. I'm especially thinking here about Louisiana and the Gulf Oil spill of 2010 and Hurricane Katrina. All of these involve environmental disasters that led to financial disaster. And all of them involve some level of human agency. (i.e. There is plenty that wasn't done to insure the effectiveness of the levees prior to Katrina.) And don't forget to show students some of the incredible images of the Dust Bowl

This blogpost just barely scratches the surface, I know, of these major topics. But in the interest of GettingToTheGulfWarByJune, I am going to press on...

A few final places to look for good Depression/New Deal resources:

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Black Migration to the North

Sometimes it is important to address basic questions about our society today--things we tend to take for granted. Isn't that one of the points of studying history, after all? To illuminate how we got to be what we are?

Growing up in the Chicago area, I have always known that Chicago was racially divided and that blacks lived predominately on the west and south sides of the cities. The city has changed in dramatic ways since I was a child (most notably with the rise of a large Latino community throughout the greater Chicago area) but there are still sharp racial boundaries in Chicago. (Check out this AMAZING map --also below--for details. And see the list at the end of the post* for similar information for the rest of the country and other U.S. cities.) How did this happen? And why?

As I mentioned back in October in this post, students should know that slavery existed in the North as well as the South. So there have been African Americans in the North from the beginning. But the numbers grew dramatically beginning in the 1910s with what has become known as, "The Great Migration." The movement of black Americans between 1910 and 1930 from the rural South to Northern cities represented the largest movement of black people since the slave trade.  Approximately 1.5 million blacks made this move. And between 1940 and 1960, there were another 3 million who did so.  Just as slavery created a unique African American culture, the Great Migration created a new urban black culture.

The decision to leave the South was influenced--just like immigration--by what historians sometimes refer to as push and pull factors. Push factors were those that tended to support leaving the South; pull factors were those that attracted blacks to come to the North. The Chicago Defender, a newspaper for African Americans, highlighted stories of blacks who had "made it" in Chicago, inspiring greater numbers to leave the South. The Defender was founded in 1905 and is still published today. Lots of blacks wrote in to the Defender to get advice and assistance. You can use some of these letters with your students to illustrate the kinds of issues migrants faced. See Letters to the Chicago Defender - from History Matters. I have also a few on this handout, which I put together originally to go along with a lecture.  You can also use the sources on that handout as an in-class activity. For example, ask students to read them and consider questions such as the following:

  • What does the writing tell you about the level of education of the writers? (interestingly, while there are clearly some grammatical and spelling errors, there is also a certain kind of eloquence that I don't always find in student papers!)
  • What do the letters to the Defender suggest about work ethic? about Blacks willingness to work hard in a system in which the traditional paths to success had so often been denied?
  • What do the quotations from Richard Wright and from Lucy Jefferson suggest about race relations in the North? And for Jefferson, what do they say about how those relations changed over time?
See also these sources:

Once they arrived in the North, the experiences that greeted a rural southern people could be daunting. The noise, hustle and bustle, the smokestacks of the urban industries, the big buildings--and the weather! If you were lucky, you arrived in good weather. But even a late spring arrival (as those of us living in Northern cities know all too well) can mean winter jacket weather. Which of course, the migrants did not have.

I like to use the paintings by Jacob Lawrence as a way to "tell the story" of the Great Migration or--how it was sometimes referred to at the time: the 2nd Emancipation or the journey to the promised land.  Jacob Lawrence is an African American painter.  He was 23 years old when he painted the first panel of what became a series of 60 paintings, known as the "Migration Series." They are marvelous to see in person, (which I did when they were first shown together in 2008). Normally, half of them are at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. and the other half at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Currently, they are being shown all together in New York, so if you are anywhere near there check it out. Fortunately, you can see all of them online at the Phillips Collection website or the MOMA site wherever you might be. There is also a youtube video:

Alternatively--and this is what I like to do--is assign students to read the captions that Lawrence wrote for each panel. The captions and paintings are excellent tools to describe not just the who, what, when, where and why of the Migration, but the feelings and emotions as well.

For biographical information about Jacob Lawrence, see the Whitney Museum of American Art or the Jacob and Gwen Knight Lawrence virtual resource center. And see this story from NPR on the current exhibit on Lawrence's migration series in its historical context.

The other reason I like to use these paintings is because they create a perfect segue into a discussion of the creation of the urban African American culture I mentioned above. Though Lawrence painted his series in 1940-1941, he grew up in Harlem during the period known as the Harlem Renaissance. (He was born in 1917, so he was a little young). His paintings were said to be inspired by the poem of Langston Hughes, "One-Way Ticket."(See here for the poem, and also a link to a larger collection from Chicago's Newberry Library about the Great Migration. You can also link here to download a recording of Hughes himself reading the poem.) Or I also like to use one of Hughes's other poems, "The South."

I probably don't say it often enough in this blog, so I'll say it now: history is one of the humanities. And the humanities include art, literature, and music. Teaching about the Harlem Renaissance is one of the great opportunities to connect with your Language Arts teachers down the hall. (It is also one of the topics that turned me from an English major in college to a focus on history, ultimately majoring in American Culture!)

One of my non-teaching passions is music, so I'm always looking for excuses to expose students to music they likely don't know and that has historical significance. One of my favorites for this topic, "Down in Mississippi." I post the lyrics up on the screen while playing it.

Here are just a few more references for you to expand your lesson on the Great Migration to the Harlem Renaissance:

With the events of Ferguson this year, and the Black Lives Matter movement (see yesterday's article from the Huffington Post) it is especially poignant to me that I feel the need to follow a lesson on the Great Migration with a lesson on race riots. The Chicago race riot of 1919, the East St. Louis riot of 1917, the Tulsa riot of 1921.... I used to conclude my lesson on migration with just a brief lecture about the Chicago riot of 1919, and conclude by suggesting that while such riots eroded the "myth of the Promised Land" by demonstrating that life did not become automatically better by moving to the North. And it is a critical point to come back to when you get to the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, as race riots will once again rattle across Northern cities. Today, I'd be inclined to develop this into a lesson of its own. See here for a good starting place, from the SHEG (Stanford History Education Group).

In order that this blogpost doesn't go on too much longer (and because my kids will be wondering soon what is for dinner!) I will leave you with this parting question about the intersection of history and the present: recently, there has been a reverse migration of African Americans from Northern cities "back" to the South-- what does this tell us race and American today? Here are a few articles to give you the background on that trend (remember, whites are moving out of the cold, snowy North, too!):

* From the beginning of this post, here are the websites where you can find racial maps of other regions:

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Roaring 20s and Its Dark Side

Students seem to love it when you get to the 1920s. It seems so glamorous to them.  But there is more doom and gloom, I think, in the twenties than they realize. I usually begin my unit on the twenties (which I combine with the Depression of the thirties) with the quotation below from Woodrow Wilson. It is eerily prophetic in light of the Red Scare and race riots of 1919:

Once lead this people into war and they'll forget there ever was such a thing as tolerance. To fight you must be brutal and ruthless, and the spirit of the ruthless brutality will enter into the very fiber of our national life, infecting Congress, the courts, the policeman on the beat, the man in the street. Conformity would be the only virtue, and every man who refused to conform would have to pay the penalty.

Mary Simkhovitch, the founder of the New York settlement house, Greenwich House, had a similar observation, but after the fact (the quotation is from her memoir published in 1938):

There were two great evils facing us in 1917. One was to go into war, and the other was to stay out. Whatever the outcome, war was bound to bring in its train not only loss of life and the destruction of property, but also new social alignments, a re-evaluating of customs, habits and outlooks, a redistributing of wealth and power.

Of course, both of these quotations address the year or so just after the war, which is technically before 1920. But the problems perceived continue into the twenties. So one way to begin is to set up this dichotomy of the 1920s:

Or this note I found in my files is also useful:

So then (after a day on the Red Scare) I spend a day or two on "Fords, Flappers & Fanatics."  And the fourth "F," films. This involves a collection of brief readings, a bit of lecture and some video clips (see below) about different aspects of the 1920s. See here for a worksheet you could use to do this. For the sources the students need, see below.

To find your own, check out the Digital History website has a good starting place for all kinds of resources about the 1920s (and every other topic in U.S. history, if you haven't seen this resource before). And another teacher, John D. Clare, maintains a website rich in overviews, including this one of the 1920s.

The sources I use:

  • For the "Ford" box, I have usually given a brief lecture (5-10 min.) about Henry Ford and the Model T. I don't have it in a handy, shareable form, but it came from notes I took from an article by Roderick Nash, "Henry Ford: Symbol of an Age" which you can find here. The article points out the irony that a man who was as nostalgic and committed to "traditional American values" as Ford was also responsible for popularizing the automobile which so profoundly changed society. He was also profoundly antisemitic. He owned a newspaper, the Dearborn Independent, which published a series of
    articles called, "The International Jew," and later, the infamous (and fake) "Protocols of the Elders of Zion." (You can read more about this in the Jewish Virtual Library.) Both works blamed the world's problems on Jews, and echoed many of the ideas later espoused by Adolf Hitler. In fact, Ford received the Grand Cross of the Supreme Order of the German Eagle from Hitler on the occasion of Ford's 75th birthday.  This was in 1938, when Hitler's views were widely known. Hitler greatly admired Ford. Check out this photo of Ford receiving the honor. Read the info there, too. I didn't realize this, but it mentions that Ford is mentioned in Hitler's, Mein Kampf, and a portrait of Ford hung in Hitler's office. 
  • The political cartoon to the right comments on how the cheap price of the Model T and creating new models regularly led to Ford's success and the auto's proliferation.

For the "Flapper" box, check out these sources:
  •  "Me and My Flapper Daughters" - wonderful reading about a man describing his daughter. Use your best judgement because the reading talks about smoking cigarettes and alludes to what goes on in cars when men and women date. It may or may not be appropriate for less mature students. But it can lead to some great discussions about life today. I can imagine a father writing a very similar thing today. I have included a few discussion questions at the end. This would work great as a read aloud, or for students to read on their own.
  • Here is another reading on flappers I found you may prefer. It includes an excerpt from the above.
  • And here is a really good powerpoint I found online comparing the "Gibson Girl" to the flapper. This could easily be its own lesson, along with this resource from

For the "film" box:
  •  I use this speech from U.S. Senator about concerns about the movie industry - I have included 3 versions here: the first is probably longer than necessary, but at least you've got the whole thing. The second version (p. 3) is edited to be shorter. And p. 4 is even shorter. I cut parts and included some vocabulary, making it workable for middle schoolers and/or weaker readers. Or if you just want something shorter.

You might also want to actually show some 1920s film clips and incorporate some music. (How can we teach the Jazz Age without playing any jazz?!) The youtube videos below are somewhat repetitive of each other but do a good job of depicting the "roaring" part of the 20s.

  • To Live in the 1920s - this one is a nice overview with music. (5:57 min.)  
  • Flappers in the 20s - this one is good for giving students a sense of the style, music, fashion, dancing and the changing role of women. Keep in mind this is for the white and the wealthy. (6:24 min)
  • 1920s Dancing (2:13 min)
  • This one is kind of silly: lots of crazy 1920s inventions (4:43 min)
For "Fanatics," I focus on the revival of the Ku Klux Klan in new areas of the country.

  • Here is a decent site to read more about that. 
  • Check out this chart to see how the KKK grew dramatically in Indiana, Ohio and Illinois and declined in the South. If you use it in comparison it to the growing cities of that region, students will be able make the connection that to the KKK expanding from an anti-black organization to an anti-immigrant one (remind students that that many of the "new" immigrants of the 1880s-1920s were Catholic and Jewish). 
  • More info on the Klan of the 1920s here and here and here.
  • And check out this recent blogpost from Slate's history blog about the 1920s membership application. This would be a great primary source to examine with students.
  • You can also use this quotation with students, from a speech attributed to Imperial Wizard Hiram Wesley Evans:
"Our unity is threatened by hordes of immigrants . . . who bring foreign ideas and ideals into our land. Two things must be done: first, we must stop influx of foreigners; second, we must through education, bring all people to common program of acting and thinking."

I also usually like to spend part of a period discussing what I suspect is not as widely taught as it should be: the 1924 Immigration Act, also known as the Johnson-Reed Act. Check out the chart here that depicts the quotas. And read here for more background. I often teach this as a conclusion to my late 19th century/early 20th lesson on immigration and nativism. But even when I do, I bring it back up in the 1920s. It's also useful as a reminder when you get to the Holocaust and need to explain why the U.S. didn't do more to help the Jews of Europe.

To conclude this lesson, help students connect the dots between the items below:

  • rising urban population
  • increase of automobile, movie industry
  • increased immigrant population
  • prohibition (I bet there's a good clip in Ken Burn's series on Prohibition)
  • increase of crime
  • revival of KKK, esp. in North/Central U.S. where the immigrant population is
  • changing fashion, music, styles, social mores
  • changing role of women

Monday, April 6, 2015

World War I

Full disclosure: I am WAY behind where I intended to be by now. If I were teaching a full year U.S. history course, I'd be at the Cold War by now. But I am not, and I really hate to skip things. So I am going to continue marching forward, with the hopes of picking up the pace enough to still make it through the Gulf Wars by June.

The U.S. officially entered World War I ninety-eight years ago today. So this is a good day, I think, to do my one and only post on World War I.

Another disclosure: I have never particularly liked teaching World War I. Most topics that I don't like to teach are topics that I don't know as much about. I have always found World War I rather complicated because--duh--it is a WORLD War and involves the history of so many other nations and empires. Oddly, I don't have this problem with World War II, which I love to teach about. And I love to teach it because I find it so interesting. Because I find it interesting, I have read a lot about it. And as a result, I know more about it and my teaching of it is better as a result.

So you'd think, with the 100 anniversary of World War I, and all the great books and articles that have come out recently about it, I'd be reading more about World War I. But no, I have always had a fascination with World War II, so recently I went out and bought David M. Kennedy's Pulitzer Prize winning book, Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945.

And guess how the book starts? With a prologue titled, "November 11, 1918." It's really fascinating: it describes where Hitler, Stalin, Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt were at the end of World War I and what were doing and thinking. (With a bit of editing, this would make a potentially awesome read aloud to conclude your unit on World War I.) And then the prologue concludes with the first sentence from Herbert Hoover's memoir: "The primary cause of the Great Depression was the war of 1914-1918."

So clearly World War I is important to U.S. and to World history for a number of things, but I'd argue that in a U.S. history class one should limit the teaching of World War I to its effects on U.S. history. That means there is a lot to leave out. I have always felt okay about that because students usually study the larger context of World War I--its causes & effects, etc.--in a world history class. So why repeat that?

I don't even do a separate unit on World War I; I just include it as part of my foreign policy, 1890-1920 unit (see the previous few posts). What I focus on is continuing the discussion we began when discussing the Philippines. But now the issue is not whether we should annex or not, but whether isolationism or intervention should prevail in the trouble brewing in Europe. And how is this influenced by idealism and realism?

To discuss these issues, I would focus on the decisions Wilson makes after World War I has begun in Europe and leading up to his decision to ask Congress for a declaration of war. And then we would look at the issues surrounding the ratification of the Treaty of Versailles, particularly over the League of Nations. Alas, with my goal of Get to the Gulf War by June, I will save ideas on this for another time.

But the other key issue to examine during a study of World War I in a U.S. history class is how a large, industrial and democratic nation goes to war. In other words, how does such a nation mobilize for war? What is involved? And what effect does that have on American civil liberties? So the two lessons I use to develop those themes are one on war propaganda and posters, and the other on the case Schenk v. United States. (Check out Stanford History Education Group's Reading Like a Historian lesson on that here.) I find these particularly interesting topics to discuss in order to set up the 1920s unit. (Next post).

I am hardly the first teacher to use World War I posters, but they are a great way to teach about the homefront and how the U.S. mobilized for war. And they introduce themes and concepts that will come again in--you guessed it--World War II. For an excellent collection, see the Library of Congress collection. I have used this worksheet to go along with it. It is a good example of a Common Core/C3 framework type lesson.

2/25/17 Update: I was just looking through some old papers and came across a handout I picked up at a teacher conference about WWI posters. And I realized that the above reference worksheet I adapted from a session by teachers James W. Coutts and Richard J. Hryniewicki, two teachers in Wisconsin. So a belated thank you and credit to them for the inspiration.

They are also great to use for talking about images of women, as in one of my favorite examples at right:

A few interesting facts you or your students might like to know about World War I posters:

  • always useful to remind students that World War I predates television and--of course--the internet, so posters are the way to communicate.
  • the U.S. printed more than 20 million copies of perhaps 2500 different posters. This is more than all the other belligerents combined!
  • the Advertising Division of the Committee on Public Information oversaw the production of posters. Many were done by famous illustrators, who were commissioned to produce work for free for the government. Some of these illustrators normally commanded fees of anywhere from $1000 to $10,000 so the government saved a lot of money.
  • the iconic, "I want YOU for the U.S. Army" poster was originally created for WWI. There were at least 4 million copies printed. Read more here.
  • Did the posters work? Consider the fact that approximately $21 billion dollars was raised from the public. Compare that to Britain and France; neither could raise more than $20 billion each during the full four years of the war. Estimates are that approximately 1/3 of the U.S. population bought bonds. Hoover's Food Administration had approximately 8000 full-time employees and 750,000 volunteers. (Not a bad idea to talk about the incredible feats of Herbert Hoover for a bit...will help make students appreciate him later when you get to the Depression.) 

Questions you can ask students about various posters:

  • what is the message of the poster?
  • what emotions do they appeal to?
  • what is the role of American workers? women? children?
  • how is the enemy portrayed?
  • what symbolism is used?
  • what were Americans being asked to do?
  • how effective do you think these posters were? would they work today? why or why not?
  • what groups of people are the posters directed toward?
  • how might these posters be different from European posters?
And to throw out another non-visual source, have students listen to the famous song, "Over There" by George M. Cohan. Read about it here and here.

The Library of Congress has a lesson on it, but I can't get the link to work for me. Maybe it will work for you:

Another fun source--less relevant, but fun! maybe for a brief intro?-- are the Charles Schulz Snoopy cartoons where Snoopy plays the World War I Flying Ace. Check out this exhibit. You can also find live action on youtube.

Next post: stay tuned for Wilson's prophetic quotation about the effect of war on tolerance. . . .