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IMGALTTAG Volume I: American Culture in the 1950s


Revisiting the Fabulous Fifties
Doris Braun

I have chosen to revisit the fifties for many reasons. I am currently teaching Reading and English to sixth, seventh, and eighth grades. Many of the short stories and/or novels that we read were written by authors born in the fifties or were set in the fifties. Many of my students’ parents were born during the fifties.

I would like to focus on the things that would be most interesting to adolescents such as the movies, music, fads and fears of the time. In general I would be concentrating on the everyday life of the decade. My goal would be to dispel some of the myths and make the students aware of what was really “fabulous” and what wasn’t. During my lectures, I would suggest topics that the children would do further individual research on and present to the class.


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The Emergence of the Anti-hero in the 1950’s
Elizabeth Claytor

The teaching focus for this instructional plan analyzes the emergence of the anti-hero as an artistic instrument or type of protagonist which was popularized during the 1950s. Students will examine the character of John Proctor in The Crucible, Howard Prince, the character portrayed by Woody Allen in the film The Front, the nature of Bigger Thomas in Native Son, and the popularity of James Dean, specifically noted in the film East of Eden. When discussing the character of John Proctor, the protagonist in The Crucible, it will be noted that he does not match the Aristotelian definition of the tragic hero, nor does the play match the Aristotelian definition of tragic drama.

Students may be introduced to the writings of Aristotle and his influence on literary criticism. Aristotle's definition of a tragic hero is that the character must be a man, must be of high birth or stature, and must have a tragic flaw. Then, they will read Arthur Miller's essay "Tragedy and the Common Man." Written in 1949, "Tragedy and the Common Man," is the preface to Death of a Salesman and can be found at www.deathofasalesman.com/study.htm. In addition to what Miller says about heroes, the essay is a model for the rhetorical study of its organization, structure and support for an argument. Then, prepare students for their own writing of an essay which uses comparison or contrast of two pieces of writing. Finally, they will write an essay which discusses how Miller's definition of the tragic hero differs from Aristotle's definition. Average students might be asked to write a precis of the essay or to relate what Miller says about tragic heroes to John Proctor. Develop an assignment-specific rubric to evaluate student writing.


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Taking a Stand for High School Literacy
Gary Dropcho

“If we don't stand for something, we may fall for anything”, said Malcolm X, and he was talking about the importance of taking a stand. It is important for teenagers to understand why a person must, at some time in their life, square their shoulders and hold themselves high, in words and in deeds. Taking a stand has everything to do with recognizing right from wrong. It also has to do with stopping the wrong by standing up for the right. Many teens, however, may confuse taking a stand with simple rebellion, and this is an important differentiation to learn. When they are trying to find their own way, when it seems that the most important things are to be part of a group and against the status quo, more than ever are they vulnerable to a fall for something that has no substance, is wrong, or even evil.

To gain knowledge, students will read alone, out loud, and in the classroom a number of different texts, including The Catcher in the Rye, A Raisin in the Sun, The Crucible, selections from Coming of Age in Mississippi, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” They will watch documentary footage of civil rights demonstrations and protests as well as a video production of a fictitious meeting between Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. Students will do some basic research to understand what it means to take the stand in a court trial, and what “taking the Fifth” means.

Through the course of the unit, students will have many opportunities to meet district communication standards, and for producing evidence for New Standards Portfolio. They will read different kinds of texts: literature (such as Catcher, Raisin, and autobiographies), informational (reference sources, National Archive and Records Administration primary sources), and public documents (“Letter from Birmingham Jail”). They will write responses to the literature they read, as well as writing narrative accounts, a literary genre with the theme of Taking a Stand (poem, short story or a play), and a persuasive essay.


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The 1950’s: Living in a Schizophrenic World -
The Cold War and Racial Conflict vs. Peace and Prosperity
Ivan Frank

This unit will encompass two to three school weeks of lessons, including activities listed in Part III, and major analytical questions based on the title of the unit. It will be studied by C.A.S. (Center for Advanced Studies) United States History students which my colleagues and I teach. It is incumbent upon me in the first section, the Narrative Section, to enumerate the objectives and the strategies which I will use. In this section, it will become evident why I chose that title. In writing about my life as a teenager in the 1950's, it will become evident that there is a relationship to the title and a number of the major essay questions, which the students will answer throughout the study of the topics in the unit.

In the Activity and Lesson Plans section, I have included a Study Guide with some specific dates and events for the students to use as they read. We will discuss the text book readings in conjunction with that Study Guide, and we will also review the answers to the film questions.


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Science/Technology and Society for a Pre-Engineering Magnet
Carol Petett

The purpose of this unit is to develop an interdisciplinary (Science, Applied Technology and Civics) first year course for students entering the Pre-engineering Magnet at Taylor Allderdice High School in Pittsburgh. This course will be housed within the framework of the ninth grade Civics program. The Civics course will provide the material on government, the Constitution, and the rights and responsibilities of citizens and apply that information to a better understanding of the changing definition of citizenship within the United States. We will focus on the 14th Amendment and the “equal protection under the law clause” which was the basis of the Brown vs. Topeka Kansas Board of Education case of 1954. With this case we will see the definition of citizenship broadening to include more people, from racial minorities to the physically challenged included in this new definition of citizenship. Students will be encouraged to use both traditional and emerging library technologies to explore census materials which reflect who is counted in the population today and the roles played by education and technology on income, education and housing. The culminating activity in this unit will focus on the scientific and technological advancements from the end of World War II to today and the impact on society including the redefinition of citizen and with it the changing complexion of the work place.


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The Good Old Days: A 1950’s Issues Portfolio
Renee Tolliver

The purpose of this unit is to provide students with a variety of venues for exploring and articulating important issues. This unit seeks also to sharpen the student’s reading, writing, speaking and critical thinking skills. To this end, students will compile a 1950s Issues Portfolio. This portfolio will contain the following anchor pieces: a “before” essay, three summaries (paraphrase, precis, abstract), a survey, a biographical report, a research essay, a fiction piece (poem, one act play, short story or persona piece) and a final reflection. This project may seem very broad in scope because of the number of assignments required to complete this portfolio. However, it is very broad only in terms of what the class, as a whole, will cover. The project is actually narrow in terms of what each student will investigate. The anchor pieces will focus on one issue of the fifties. Breadth of expression about this one issue is provided through the different approaches students must take in addressing their issue.


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Civil Rights in The Fifties: Writing the Decade
Diane Wright

This unit is designed to be used in a seventh grade Language Arts class in an Urban Creative and Performing Arts school. This study provides the background information necessary for students to gain an understanding of the struggle for civil rights during the 1950s. When students have completed this unit, they will have developed an understanding of the events of the 1950s that contributed to the struggle for civil rights. This unit will give students an opportunity to conduct research and show that research in a different form than the customary "research paper". Students will have to "apply" the information gained, by creating process-drama tableaux, visual projects, and narrative writings. The students with whom this curriculum will be used are students in a Creative and Performing Arts School and, therefore, may have an enhanced sense of creativity, but I believe this unit can be used with any group of students in a variety of grade levels and/or settings.


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Chatham University
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Jointly sponsored by Carnegie Mellon University, Chatham University and the Pittsburgh Public Schools.
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