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Scott McAnally - (1) Social Studies Textbook Analysis
(A) How is the section organized and divided? What headings set apart the readings in the section?
To start with, the textbook is organized chronologically with this chapter occupying the time period of 1945-1960. The chapter is titled "The Postwar Years at Home" and includes several sections. I will be using section one, titled "The Postwar Economy," for my social studies textbook analysis.
The first page of every new section contains a box titled "section preview" with a list of objectives (similar to the enduring understandings we have been using in TE 407), main ideas, and strategies for reading the section. The objectives also contain a set of vocabulary words highlighted throughout the text. At the top of the first page is a timeline from 1944 to 1956 with a number of events the authors of the textbook felt were important to understanding the postwar economy.
The authors chose to organize the section by bringing everything back to the objectives stated on the first page. For example, the first heading is "Businesses Reorganize" and it addresses the information needed to complete the first objective in the "section preview." The first objective reads: "Understand that following World War II rapid economic growth encouraged businesses to reorganize." The section goes on in this fashion creating large headings that relate back to the objectives. It is also interesting to note that sometimes the paragraphs under a heading are further divided into subtopics. The topic sentences of these paragraphs are shortened into colored and bolded titles that rest at the beginning of the passage. I suppose this would make it easier for students to skim a chapter to see what it is about or to quickly find information within a section.
Also included in my analysis is a short section titled "The Suburban Explosion." The text is designed to integrate geography and history and explain how geographic factors influenced suburban growth during this period.
(B) What can you infer to be the purpose of this section? In other words, why would students be assigned this section to read and study? How does it "fit" within the goals or themes of the subject matter discipline?
I believe the purpose of this section is to explain how the US transitioned from a war-focused economy back to a more traditional consumer economy. "Reorganization" seems to be a keyword throughout the section, both economically and socially. Businesses and industries had to convert their products from war materials (jeeps, packaged rations, mobile structures) into consumer products (cars, canned food, prefabricated homes). The section seeks to answer the "now what?" question of a postwar society. Socially, war veterans had to find ways to transition from soldier to worker. The idea of striving for the "American Dream" is often associated with this time period as families sought to own homes and automobiles. As the section points out, the evolution of suburban living allowed and promoted this to happen. Arguably the most important reason for students to study this section is that it explains the origins of the current socio-geographic model in which are country is organized. Additionally, the idea of credit and modern banking practices originated during this time period.
This section could be used in a history class to explain some basic economic principles. Assuming students had previously studied the Great Depression and World War II, a teacher could use the economic boom of the postwar era as an example of the importance (and necessity) of demand in a market economy. During the Great Depression, people were not buying things and investing money into the economy because they did not trust it (understandably so). Low consumer demand means firms will supply less and therefore employ fewer people. After World War II, the return of military veterans caused a surge in consumption because families desired all of the amenities a victorious America could afford. War veterans were also given generous low-interest mortgages through the GI Bill that encouraged them to buy homes. This shot up demand and expanded the economy as well as creating jobs. The section could serve as evidence to back up the idea that "war is good for the economy." Is this always true? Good source for a history discussion because the answer to that question is not found in the textbook and there are number of valid arguments on both sides.
(C) What are the strengths of this section (aspects or features you find worthwhile or useful)? What are its limitations (aspects or features you do not find worthwhile useful -- or would you omit?)
One strength of the section is the use of powerful images and telling graphical data. For example, the picture used at the beginning of the chapter depicting the 'typical American family' can be used in a number of different ways to talk about the changing social and economic fabric of the postwar period (appearing on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post in 1958 also makes it a good primary source document). Another image I liked was the aerial photo of the 1950s suburb showing rows and rows of identical houses mathematically arranged over a flat expanse. I think this image is powerful because of its similarity to many neighborhoods today. How do students feel about the image? Is there any connection between the conformity of home design and the conformity of various social mores such as cigarette smoking or gender roles? These images allow a teacher to branch off from the text if desired so I find their inclusion helpful.
The more I look at textbooks the more I realize that they are simply colorful and deceptively interesting encyclopedias (and questionably objective and inclusive). For this reason I find some of the questions that are added on to picture captions and section reviews problematic. I suppose if a student actually reads the section from top to bottom and wants to 'assess' their comprehension the questions are of some use. However, my experience from observing social studies teachers is that they rely entirely too much on the questions given in the textbook. Rather than use the textbook as a reference it is used as the primary educator. I suppose the textbook authors are trying to make the information they provide 'useful' to students, however I believe the teacher should generate the questions because of the narrow-mindedness of the questions provided by the authors. For example, in this section one of the review questions asks students to 'summarize the main idea' with the following question: "How did the growth of the United States economy after World War II help many people achieve the American Dream?" While the 'answers' to this question are found in the section, there is an entire discussion missing about those who had a difficult time surviving in the postwar economy such as single mothers or black Americans. Apparently that discussion doesn't come until the 'civil rights' section. This is a situation in which a teacher should supplement the textbook to provide additional histories for students to learn.
(D) How might students struggle with this section? Is it difficult to read? Easy to understand?
As I develop my philosophy of teaching I feel as though I am shifting more and more into the realm of teaching relevant connections within content rather than simply content itself. What I mean is that I believe history should be taught (to otherwise disinterested secondary school students) through the lens of making connections to students' everyday lived experiences. Getting students to memorize and recall minute historical facts is largely missing the point and useless in my opinion. Students instead should be able to answer for 'why things are the way they are today' by referencing the events of the past. This allows for history to have an active role in students' present experiences. This connection is often missing in textbooks. A laundry list of people, dates, events and ideas fill the pages but students lack the incentive to know or care about the content. This leads me to believe that the most effective history teacher is the one who makes content engaging for students by exposing its faults, its un-answered questions, and its influence on our world today. While this may leave less time for covering every speck of content provided in the textbook, I believe it will create lasting connections for students between the past and the present. With that being said, I believe this section is missing a 'hook' to get students to buy into why this content has relevance for them today. Though, as I said earlier, I believe creating those connections is the job of the teacher.
(E) How might you use this section in your own instruction?
I would use this section to talk about a few different macro ideas including consumer credit, "white flight" and its effects on cities, and social conformity.
For a lesson on consumer credit, I would draw students' attention to the entirely too brief passage at the end of the section about the origin of credit cards. This lesson would focus on the social aspects of consumerism and how the desire to buy commodities (even when lacking the funds to pay for them) has caused credit debt to rise steadily since the postwar period. This topic is of considerable value for today's students who are living through our current economic crisis and are struggling to make sense of its roots and possible solutions.
As I mentioned earlier, I felt the textbook was missing an analysis on the negative effects of suburbanization. My class would use this textbook section to show one perspective of the postwar economic situation but I would supplement it with a lesson about the racial divide created through suburbanization and how this was a precursor to the civil rights movements of the decades to follow (and, in actuality, continuing on to the present). By allowing multiple histories to enter the classroom discussion, students will be better informed about the experiences of a greater group of Americans (rather than solely the experiences of white male war veterans).
Social conformity in the 1950s is a fascinating topic and one that I believe resonates well with students today. Many of the social pressures that arose during the postwar period parallel the experiences of teenagers in our classrooms. Fashion, for example, is a fantastic topic to cover when talking about social conformity in the 50s and 60s. Cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption, gender roles and sexism are a few others. I would love to use clips from the TV series
in any discussion of this period to help illustrate the social mores of the time.
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