I enjoy planning new lessons or restructuring old ones throughout the school year. Not only do I think about content when designing curriculum but also I consider the kind of mood and tone I'd like to set with each lesson. I'm forever looking for ways to get students excited about history, too. In my years as a teacher, I have found that some of the best classes are those that allow students to study art, film, or music to reveal the significance of social, cultural, and political issues.
In my U.S. History course, we are currently exploring a unit titled "Cold War and Civil Rights." The central questions for this unit include: How did the Cold War emerge and what was its impact on the U.S.? What effect did conformity in the home and workplace have on Americans in the 1950s? Why did the modern civil rights movement occur in the mid-twentieth century, and how did it influence U.S. race relations during this time?
On Monday, May 1, we focused on the construction of the ideal woman, the nuclear family, and Betty Friedan's Feminine Mystique. To prepare students for this discussion, they read and examined a portion of Friedan's book over the weekend. To help frame the lesson, I opened the class by reviewing how many historians agree that magazines and television shows created images of the happy housewife and gainfully employed husband who lived in suburbia during the 1950s. I made sure to inform students that a noted scholar has argued that media helped to produce the idea of the upstanding man and woman who supposedly protected their family from threats by residing in the Cold War suburb.
After sharing what historians have said about popular portrayals of femininity and masculinity in the 1950s, we viewed an episode of Leave It to Beaver called "The Black Eye." While screening this primary source, students looked for examples of the blissful homemaker or a sense of female dissatisfaction that Friedan spoke of in the Feminine Mystique.
Students seemed intrigued and entertained when watching Beaver and his family interact with each other and their neighbors. After the screening, many also demonstrated their knowledge of Friedan's central thesis and the main reason she wrote her book. When asked what is missing from the episode, some students stated that there is no evidence of fear or anxiety about the Cold War in Beaver's community. Two or three students remarked that "The Black Eye" shows that there was racial segregation in the U.S. during the 1950s, because it depicts a homogenized white neighborhood that is devoid of people of color.
At the close of Monday's classes, I hoped that all students connected with the material in some meaningful way. I also reminded myself that I can check-in with students tomorrow and the next day to see if they are linking past issues to contemporary events and their own lives. I look forward to the rest of the week!