December 13, 2006

Too difficult for regular students?

Posted in curriculum, grad school at 6:20 pm by mrsmauck

Okay, teachers, I need your opinions: My Methods teacher said my lesson on McCarthyism would not be suited to regular classes (but instead to AP or GT kids), and docked me 5 points! I want you guys to tell me if this is too much for normal juniors in high school: I’ve copied the text from my intro PowerPoint on McCarthyism. FYI, students will construct/create McCarthyism museum exhibits as one of their final projects for this unit: there won’t be a test over McCarthyism, so this presentation is really to get an overall understanding for discussion of The Crucible as an allegory and to get ideas for the exhibit they will choose.

Slide 1:
A Very Proper Gander (humorous fable by James Thurber) in today’s world? (I used this as an opening activity)
* Racial profiling (chart from U.S. DOJ on number of black homicide offenders and number of whites)
* NSA Wiretapping
(Discuss judging based on appearances, the govt.’s rights to do so, post 9/11 world, etc.)

Slide 2:
Red Scare of 1950s
* “Are you now or were you ever a member of the Communist party?”
(Ask students what they think of when they hear the word communism: positive/negative? What does it mean?)
*Communism def.: a theory or system of social organization based on the holding of all property in common, actual ownership being ascribed to the community as a whole or to the state.
*Flag symbolizes unity between agricultural and industrial workers.
(Discuss: this sounds like it could be good, yes? Who would not like this system? Who runs our government? Riiiight.)

Slide 3:
Second Red Scare: 1947-1957
* Cold War made U.S. extremely suspicious of Communists: Communist Party of the United States had 50,000 members in 1942.
*Senator Joseph McCarthy kick started anti-Communist fervor with a 1950 speech in which he proclaimed to have a list of more than 200 Communists working for the State Department.
*Alger Hiss, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg arrested for espionage, accused of being Soviet spies.
*Communism, though never illegal, became equal to treason to the United States.
*Anti-Communist “loyalty review boards” sprung up at all levels of government and for private companies.

Slide 4:
J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI
*Hoover developed his assignment to rid the country of disloyal radicals and leftists into the FBI.
*Distributed blind memoranda (anonymous documents) that indicated Communist loyalty through its “Responsibilities Program” to employers, often resulting in firing without any questions asked.
*Used many illegal practices in its pursuit of information (burglaries, wire-tappings, undercover operations.)
*COINTELPRO, a formal “dirty tricks” program, in which the FBI planted forged documents, leaked information to the press, called for IRS audits, etc. on organizations that were suspected of Communist or radical activity.
(Compare to NSA Wiretapping. Can the govt. do illegal things during times of war?)

Slide 5
House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC)
*Investigated many German-American Nazis during WWII.
*Became especially associated with the investigation of Communists, particularly suspects in Hollywood. (1947)
*Hollywood Ten: First Amendment
*Supreme Court ruling: Defendants may Claim the Fifth, but if they waive that right and do talk, they must “name names.”
*McCarthy: “Fifth Amendment Communists”
(Discuss: Think for a moment about what you would do in this situation? Would you be willing to lose work and your reputation to save the names of your friends?)

Slide 6
Hollywood Blacklist
*The day after the Hollywood 10 were cited for contempt (Nov. 1947), the MPAA released a statement that none of the major studios would knowingly employ a Communist.
*Arthur Miller was one of the people on the blacklist.

Slide 7
Arthur Miller: A Communist?
*“I would never have found it believable, in the 50s or later, that with its thuggish self-righteousness and callous contempt for artists’ freedoms, that the Soviet way of controlling culture could be successfully exported to America.”
*He was subpoenaed by HUAC in 1956, and was cited for contempt for refusing to name names.
*Longtime friend and director Elia Kazan (A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront) was also called before HUAC, and under the threat that he would never work again, confessed and named names.
*Miller began thinking about the “red hunt” as a “witch hunt” and was inspired to write The Crucible.

From here, go into discussion of the setting of the Salem Witch Trials: assess their prior knowledge, see how they think this parallels McCarthyism. Introduce graphic organizer in which students will fill in parallels between McCarthyism and the events of The Crucible.

If I used this presentation with regular juniors or seniors, would it just go over their heads? My brother is a senior in high school, and he read The Crucible this year, and his teacher never once mentioned parallels to McCarthyism. I don’t see how you can do this! Please help me out.



  1. Anonymous said,

    Oh my stars, I just typed the longest comment and now it is gone…

    Personally, I might break it down a little more- less info on each slide. Also, I would do everything I could to be teaching this at the same time the kids were studying the Cold War in US History, or at least put into your plans that you’re going to do that. What prof wouldn’t love such cross-curricular connections? I think the main thing stopping them from really getting it would be lack of history knowledge.

    this is the type of stuff kids LOVE to talk about- conspiracy theory, come on! They’d much rather talk about that than similes and metaphors!! This is what makes literature come alive- seeing the connections to real life, how it illuminates and reflects life!!!

    My profs encouraged us to teach literary theory, including deconstruction! If they thought kids could handle that, certainly they could handle McCarythism!! I think it is conforming to low standards to say they couldn’t handle it!!!!

  2. CaliforniaTeacherGuy said,

    I tend to agree with Anonymous: Too much info on each slide. Instead of a show with five slides, make it 15 or 20–and the fewer words the better. Use more graphics. You talk, let the kids look at the graphics on the slides. If they have lots of pictures and you to explain what’s going on, they’ll get it–and they don’t have to be AP students! Your prof was wrong to dock you point, but what can you do? Persevere! It’s a fine lesson, really fine.

  3. Miss Browneyedgirlie said,

    Living in New England, it was practically required that we read the Crucible in high school.

    I did so my junior year, and there was no mention of McCarthyism then.

    But I agree, kids are much more interested in topics like this – stuff that brings it to life. Even with the little ones, I can already see that you need fun and excitement, or even the week’s vocabulary list will fall flat.

  4. redkudu said,

    In my opinion, it won’t go over their heads so much as in one ear and out the other. I teach McCarthyism with “Crucible,” and I take much smaller steps throughout the reading of the play, introducing them to smaller bits of info as they read each act, then ask them to compare/contrast to what’s going on at that moment in the play.

  5. Ms. Q said,

    I teach both English and US History. The only issue I see for regular ed students would be if they had not covered some of the historical references in depth. As Anonymous said, if you can teach it the same time the history classes are covering that material, great! If not, considering doing a shorter intensive presentation on the background of the time period and issues surrounding it. You touch on them in the PPT, but depending on the students, they might not get it all.

    Great blog, btw! Just found it.

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