Social Studies for a Better World: An Anti-Oppressive Approach for Elementary Education


Social Studies for a Better World: An Anti-Oppressive Approach for Elementary Education

by Rodriguez Naseem, Noreen, and Katy Swalwell. (2021)

Reviewed by Natalie House

In “Social Studies for a Better World: An Anti-Oppressive Approach for Elementary
Education,” the authors are taking on the task of how to teach anti-oppressive history and how to implement those teachings in an elementary classroom. This book aims to “…offer advice for addressing two major fears that the preservice teachers we work with often express: teaching controversial issues and being accused of indoctrination.” Noreen Naseem Rodriguez and Katy Swalwell (2021).” This book showcases the negative realities that the current social studies curriculum offers to all students in America, and takes the audience on a necessary journey that will help educators offer better learning experiences for students moving forward. The authors have created a work that is easily accessible for teachers at any level. Furthermore, the resources and research contained in this book will allow teachers to apply the authors’ ideas in their own classroom.

The authors of the book have taken the time to research different ways in which social studies can be taught. They are able to show multiple examples of effective social studies instruction by describing real lessons that teachers are currently using to help students have meaningful interactions with the curriculum. The authors help guide teachers by discussing the common pitfalls they might encounter while also giving the educators tips and tricks on how to find a solution. All of the examples in this text come with supplemental resources to help the reader implement the lessons or strategies with students easily. Teachers should also feel comfortable utilizing this information because it is all grounded in scholarly research. As a
first-year teacher myself, this book was encouraging and helped to validate my emotions as it pertains to teaching hard histories. It lays out the lessons in ways that are fair to our students, while also celebrating the diversity of all people. This is critical because many students feel ignored, or left out, of the current social studies curriculum.

This book is written in a way that supports teachers, but could also be beneficial to
pre-service teachers. By discussing the most controversial issues to teach, it also gives the educator time to reflect by posing thoughtful questions. These questions are meant to guide the educator through a lesson, however they also give the educator something to think about as well.

For instance, how they have been unknowingly teaching specific histories incorrectly. It offers a refreshing way for students and teachers to consider what information is being taught, as well as the ways that teachers and students are engaging with the content. The use of real-life examples helps connect the reader with the content that is being shared. Additionally, offering practical advice on how to handle the backlash that might come from teaching controversial issues is
something that new teachers will find incredibly helpful.

“In addition to everything laid out in this book about curriculum and instruction,
we must understand the bureaucracy and hierarchy of our states and districts so we can know where best to direct our change-making energies, buffer our credibility with ongoing meaningful professional development, and assess our own safety (mental, emotional, physical, financial) so we know exactly how far we are willing to go,
” Naseem Rodriguez and Swalwell (2021).

The authors do not sugar-coat anything and they let the reader know that teaching histories in this way is not an easy task. However, it is not a task that has ever been easy in the first place.

“Anti-oppressive elementary social studies may not be easy, but it is absolutely worth it (Naseem Rodriguez and Swalwell (2021).” The opportunity for growth through dialogue with students and colleagues is endless with this book. It opens so many doors for educators to walk through and have thoughtful conversations that will benefit our students.

This book by Noreen Naseem Rodriguez and Katy Swalwell is one that I will be
encouraging all of my fellow social studies teachers to read. It was refreshing to read something that was made with so much passion. By using accessible language that all teachers can understand, it made it seem as though teaching these histories today is not as daunting as it might seem. It just takes time to understand and make connections with all of humanity. I feel as though this book did a wonderful job of reaching its target audience. It is well written and has found its place in social studies literature. The reflections and informative way of thinking in this book are
exactly what education needs today, and this is a book that social studies educators desperately need.

My name is Natalie House, and I am a current social studies teacher in Oklahoma. I am currently enrolled at The University of Oklahoma as a Master’s student in Instructional Leadership and Academic Curriculum with a focus on Social Studies.

Teaching Critical Thinking in the Context of Political Rhetoric: A Guide for Classroom Practice

Teaching Critical Thinking in the Context of Political Rhetoric: A Guide for Classroom Practice

by Joseph Sanacore

During the past several decades, there has been a blitz of information, sometimes referred to as the knowledge explosion, and students have struggled in their attempts to distinguish true, fake, and terribly biased information, especially regarding political issues. This book highlights the value of critical thinking as a way to navigate this difficult and frustrating terrain, so that students grow and develop as knowledgeable, independent thinkers. To promote this growth, the book offers thoughtful, evidence-based advice for teachers to support students’ deep thinking as it relates to real-world contexts. Strategies presented include student reflection based on experience, moving from narrow to broader perspectives, and using graphic organizers to build and activate knowledge before, during, and after instructional activities. With the instructional guidance and activities presented in this short, easy-to-apply volume, teachers can give students the tools they need to negotiate the often-murky waters of political. Chapters include: The Need to Teach Critical Thinking; Promoting Critical Thinking; Application and Transfer of Learning; Other Strategies and Activities That Support Transfer of Learning; The Value of Hard Work; and Reflections on Critical Thinking.

In a review, Alina Reznitskaya, Professor, Department of Educational Foundations, Montclair State University, New Jersey, writes “Written at a time when news can be fake and facts can have alternatives, this book provides teachers with innovative research-based instructional strategies that help students learn how to think through complex questions in a deliberate and informed way. It is a timely and valuable resource for practitioners who are looking for effective ways to address a pressing educational priority: teaching students how to critically evaluate various types of information and reach a sound conclusion. Importantly, the book treats teachers as co-inquirers, who reflect on their own thinking and continue to learn with their students.”

Joseph Sanacore is a journalist, researcher, and professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning at the Post Campus of Long Island University, Brookville, NY. He has authored more than 100 articles, essays, and book chapters. He also was an elementary, middle, and high school teacher and a K-12 Director of Language Arts and Literacy.

Suffrage and Its Limits: The New York Story

Suffrage and Its Limits: The New York Story

Edited by Kathleen M. Dowley, Susan Ingalls Lewis, and Meg Devlin O’Sullivan

Suffrage and Its Limits offers a unique interdisciplinary overview of the legacy and limits of suffrage for the women of New York State. It commemorates the state suffrage centennial of 2017, yet arrives in time to contribute to celebrations around the national centennial of 2020. Bringing together scholars with a wide variety of research specialties, it initiates a timely dialogue that links an appreciation of accomplishments to a clearer understanding of present problems and an agenda for future progress. The first three chapters explore the state suffrage movement, the 1917 victory, and what New York women did with the vote. The next three chapters focus on the status of women and politics in New York today. The final three chapters take a prospective look at the limits of liberal feminism and its unfinished agenda for women’s equality in New York. A preface by Lieutenant Governor Katherine Hochul and a final chapter by activist Barbara Smith bookend the discussion. Combining diverse approaches and analyses, this collection enables readers to make connections between history, political science, public policy, sociology, philosophy, and activism. This study moves beyond merely celebrating the centennial to tackle women’s issues of today and tomorrow.          

Kathleen M. Dowley is Associate Professor and Chair of Political Science and International Relations, Susan Ingalls Lewis is Professor Emerita of History, and Meg Devlin O’Sullivan is Associate Professor of History and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, at SUNY New Paltz.

Teaching Climate History: There is No Planet B

Teaching Climate History: There is No Planet B

by Alan Singer

Welcome to the Anthropocene. Since the start of the Industrial Revolution, human-caused climate change has impacted the globe with the burning of fossil fuels. The debate in classrooms and the political realm should not be whether climate change is happening or how much it places human civilization at risk but over how societies and individuals should respond. This interdisciplinary book offers an in-depth examination of the history of the Earth’s climate and how historians and citizens can influence contemporary climate debate and activism. The author explains climate history and climate science and makes this important subject matter accessible to a general audience. Chapter topics include examining the Earth’s geological past, the impact of climate on human evolution, the impact of climate on earlier civilizations, climate activism, and the need for international cooperation. Presenting climate history, human history, and climate science in a readable format and featuring resources for students, this book is meant for use by teachers in high school elective or an introductory college course setting.

Chapters include “Our House is on Fire”; Tipping Points; Great Climate Migration; Earth’s Past Climates; Climate Change and Human Evolution; Extreme Heat; Four Billion Years of Climate History; Mass Extinctions; “Clocking” Climate Change; Diseases Carried by Mosquitoes or Hidden in the Ice; Climate Change Deniers and Minimizers; A Short Cold Snap of about 500 Years; Power of Ice; Climate Repercussions; Water Scarcity, Water’s Vengeance; Technology Debate; Saving the Amazon Rainforest; Capitalism vs. the Climate; and Climate Activism. There is an annotated bibliography and a list of resources for teaching about climate change.

The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story

The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story

by Nikole Hannah-Jones, Caitlin Roper, Ilena Silverman, and Jake Silverstein

Review by Alan Singer

            The 1619 Project was released as an issue of the Sunday New York Times Magazine on August 18, 2019, 400 years after the arrival of the first slave ship at the British Virginia colony. It is now published in book formats. According to the Times, the project’s goal is to “reframe American history by considering what it would mean to regard 1619 as our nation’s birth year. Doing so requires us to place the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are as a country” (4-5). The introductory essay by project director Nikole Hannah-Jones opens with a full-page bold-faced headline, “Our founding ideals of liberty and equality were false when they were written. Black Americans fought to make them true. Without this struggle, America would have no democracy at all” (14). For the essay, Hannah-Jones received a 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary.

Other essays in the issue covered the role capitalism played in the establishment of chattel slavery and the plantation system in British North America; persistent racism after the Civil War that continues to shape the current era including Jennen Interlandi on unequal health care; Jamelle Bouie on undemocratic democracy; Brian Stevenson on mass incarceration; Trymaine Lee on the racial wealth gap; and African America contributions to America, especially American culture.

The 1619 Project has been criticized from across the political spectrum since it was released. Former President Donald Trump denounced it as anti-American propaganda in his call for “patriotic history,” former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos described it as “insidious lies,” and the World Socialist website branded it as a “politically motivated falsification of history” The New York Times Magazine printed a letter from five prominent American historians along with a response by the magazine’s editor-in-chief. The historians, who demanded corrections be made in the 1619 Project, applauded “efforts to address the enduring centrality of slavery and racism to our history,” but were “dismayed at some of the factual errors in the project” that “suggest a displacement of historical understanding by ideology.” Their claims, however, were at least as ideological in nature. The historians charged the “project asserts that the United States was founded on racial slavery, an argument rejected by a majority of abolitionists and proclaimed by champions of slavery like John C. Calhoun.” Actually, that was the position taken by William Lloyd Garrison, who publicly burned a copy of the United States Constitution on July 4, 1854, a document he called “a covenant with death, and an agreement with Hell.” The group also ignored Frederick Douglass’ 1852 Independence Day speech where he calls the Fourth of July a day that reveals the “gross injustice and cruelty” of American society. For Douglass, “There is not a nation of the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour.”

Should Chief Daniel Nimham Be Honored or Erased?

Should Chief Daniel Nimham Be Honored or Erased?

Peter Feinman

This article is reprinted with permission from the Institute of History, Archaeology, and Education.

“Chief Daniel Nimham was the last grand Sachem of the Wappinger Confederacy. While Nimham and other Wappingers fought against the French in the French and Indian War, their lands [in what became] Putnam County [NY] were usurped by Adolph Philipse. In 1766, Nimham traveled to England to challenge these fraudulent land titles in the British courts. In 1774, the Stockbridge Indians—a community of Wappinger, Munsee and Mohicans living in Massachusetts—organized a militia or community defense an in solidarity with the American cause of independence. Capt. Daniel Nimham and his son Capt. Abraham [they were Christians], along with the rest of the Stockbridge Militia, served in every major campaign in the eastern theater of the Revolution. By the summer f 1778, the Stockbridge Militia was stationed at an outpost near Fort Independence in the Bronx. This area—between British-occupied Manhattan and the main American forces in White Plains—was a no man’s land and the scene of constant skirmishes and ambushes from both sides. On August 31, 1778, Chief Nimham and the Stockbridge Militia were surrounded and killed by British Dragoons and Hessians under the command of Lt. Col. John Graves Simcoe [best known as an evil villain in the AMC series “Turn” and as a hero and founder in Toronto].” Source: DAR/SAR Brochure

Daniel Nimham has been honored. A cairn of boulders and plaque at Indian Field in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx near the site of Nimham’s death, honors him and his fellow warriors. In 1906, the Westchester Historical Society and the Mount Vernon Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution created this historical honor. On August 31, 2021, there was a ceremony at the Nimham Monument (which I attended). The event was organized by the Col. Benjamin Tallmadge Bronx Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Albuquerque Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution, and the Knightsbridge Historical Society. In the dedication of Seven Wappinger Stones, the following nations within the Confederacy were honored: Wappingers (Wappingers Falls, Dutchess County); Nochpeem (Carmel, Nimham Mountain, Putnam County); Siwanoy (Bronx, Hunters Island); Weckqueskee (Dobbs Ferry, Westchester County); Sink Sink (Ossining, Westchester County); and Rechewani (Manhattan).

As you can see from the list, there is a mountain in Putnam County named after Nimham. It is near where the Nimham Mountain Singers hold an annual pow-wow in August for the public. The headquarters for the organization is located on Chief Nimham Drive in Carmel, NY. By coincidence, I had alerted a colleague in Fishkill about the event in the Bronx. He arranged to have the municipality present at the event and to participate. They did so because Nimham had either had been born there or lived there. The municipality is arranging to dedicate an eight-foot tall bronze statue in his likeness probably in the spring, 2022. The statue will be located in the hamlet of Wiccopee, in East Fishkill, named after a Wappinger sub-tribe. So there are multiple ways in which Chief Daniel Nimham has been honored. But would you name a school after him and have him as your school mascot?

At the same time Nimham has been honored and in the same area of the Wappinger Confederacy, there also has been an ongoing effort to erase the Indian presence from school mascots. True the examples of the dispute are not for Nimham himself or either for the Wappingers. It is not my intention here to chronicle chapter-and-verse the various community fights over the maintenance or removal of Indian mascots particularly as they relate to high school football teams and other sports. These include the

Cross River John Jay High School Indians, the Mahopac Indians, the Nyack Indians, and the Wappinger Roy C. Ketcham Indians. According to a student petition in Wappinger: “The Roy C Ketcham High School and Wappingers Junior High School both have the mascot the Wappinger Indians. A human being should not be a mascot. This is offensive and damaging to students and community members who are Indigenous people.”

This is an example of teenage idealism at its purest. However, an adult version of these sentiments has been proposed as well in the state legislature that would ban New York schools from using Indian names, logos, and mascots beginning in 2024. Dr. Ian Record of the National Congress of American Indians said in July 2021: “The use of Native American sports mascots, logos or symbols perpetuates stereotypes of American Indians that are harmful. The ‘warrior savage’ myth has plagued this country’s relationship with the Indian people as it reinforces the racist view that Indians are uncivilized and uneducated.”

Heather Bruegel, a historian and cultural affairs director of the Stockbridge-Munsee community now based in Wisconsin said the people were not honored by names such as “Chiefs,” “Warriors,” and “Braves” which are offensive. She would prefer that the history would be taught accurately in the schools.

The Stockbridge Indians are aware of the honoring of Chief Nimham for his actions as a presumably brave warrior. To the best of my knowledge they have launched no campaign to topple the monument and markers to Nimham and his fellow warriors in the Bronx and Putnam nor to the statue to him being planned for the spring.

It seems that words like “warrior,” chiefs,” and “braves” only apply to Indians and to no other peoples. Apparently Achilles was not a warrior. It remains to be seen what would happen if a school or sports team kept the warrior name and changed the mascot. Klingons anyone? One suggestion made in the discussion was that Nyack Indians become the Nyack Lenape after the people who lived there.  That suggestion failed. The dominant decision is the best Indian is an erased Indian.

Consider for example, the Tappan Zee Bridge. It famously combines the Dutch and Tappan Indian heritages in its name – the name of a people and the Dutch word for “sea” at this wide point in the Hudson River. However the mascot of the Tappan Zee High School recognizes the Dutch heritage but ignores the Tappan. They have been erased. The Village of Ossining, named after one of the people part of the Wappinger Confederacy, is debating removing the Indian profile from its seal. It already changed the nick name of the high school from Indians. While the erasure of the Indian heritage is not complete in the village, one can anticipate that it will occur. Most likely the same fate awaits the Lenape, the Stockbridge Indians, and the Wappinger Confederacy wherever the name changes have occurred. The purification process leaves no trace behind. Perhaps Sing Sing, Wappingers, Wiccopee, Tappan, and Katonah will have to change their names as well when the next generation of idealistic teenagers finds a cause.

The Chicago Blackhawks are a hockey team named after an individual named “Black Hawk.” According to a team statement: “The Chicago Blackhawks’ name and logo symbolizes an important and historic person, Black Hawk of Illinois’ Sac & Fox Nation, whose leadership and life has inspired generations of Native Americans, veterans and the public. We celebrate Black Hawk’s legacy by offering ongoing reverent examples of Native American culture, traditions and contributions, providing a platform for genuine dialogue with local and national Native American groups. As the team’s popularity grew over the past decade, so did that platform and our work with these important organizations.” Needless-to-say the team is under pressure to change the name and mascot.

The Spokane Indians, a minor league baseball team, has a similar experience to the Chicago Black Hawks except it is named after a people and not an individual. At one time, the Indian mascot had nothing to do with the actual Spokane Indians located approximately 40 miles away. Now there are regular meetings between the tribe and the team. The mascot has been changed to a trout for a traditional food source of the people. The name on the team uniform is in Salish the language of the Spo-ka-NEE. Exhibits of the culture and history of the people have been placed in the stadium. An advertisement on the scoreboard depicts a traditional Spokane tribe person in headdress. And the nickname of the high school on the Spokane reservation is “Redskins” which does not seem to bother the people there. Obviously both the team and the people are in major need of cleansing and purification to meet Woke standards. A reporter spoke to the chairwoman of the Spokane Tribal Business Council, Carol Evans: “she expressed great pride in the partnership and emphasized the fundamental difference between the Spokane Indians baseball club and other teams. “We are not their mascot,” she said. “They’re named after our tribe.”

The Florida State University provides another example of a win-win solution. From its website:

“In the late 1960s and early 1970s, FSU’s campus became a learning ground with regard to the Florida Seminole Indians. Several key people were directly responsible for the new awareness. Joyotpaul “Joy” Chaudhuri, an American Indian expert and FSU professor of political science, and his wife, Jean, an American Indian activist, came to the university during this period. They helped establish an American Indian Fellowship at FSU. This influential group led the campus and the community toward a better understanding of Native Americans in general and the Florida Seminoles in particular. The group was instrumental in mediating between the university and the Florida Seminole Indians. There were several meetings between the two, and problems were addressed to the satisfaction of both. As a result, FSU retired certain images that were offensive to the tribe, and began consulting with the tribe regularly on all such matters.

By the late 1970s, FSU’s campus, like the rest of country, had become more educated about Indians in general and the Florida Seminoles in particular. Along with this new understanding came major changes in the university’s mascots. It became very important to portray the university’s namesake with dignity and honor, and to do it with the graces of the Florida Seminole tribe. This attitude culminated in a mutual respect between the two institutions, and further tied their futures to one another.

In 1978, FSU embarked upon a new tradition — one that had the full endorsement of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. A Seminole warrior riding a horse, to become known as Osceola and Renegade, was introduced at FSU home football games, and soon became one of the most enduring and beloved symbols of the university. For more than 30 years, FSU has worked closely with the Seminole Tribe of Florida to ensure the dignity and propriety of the various Seminole symbols used by the university. The university’s goal is to be a model community that treats all cultures with dignity while celebrating diversity.”

A recent article provided these quotations: “Florida State University’s official use of the Seminole name is different from other names in that it does not perpetuate offensive racial stereotypes nor is it meant to diminish or trivialize any Native American or indigenous peoples. Instead, it is used with explicit tribal permission and involvement to honor and promote the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s unconquered history and spirit that persists to this day,” Elizabeth Hirst, FSU’s chief of staff and liaison to the Seminole Tribe, told the Tampa Bay Times in 2020.

“The Tribe views the relationship as a multi-dimensional collaboration that provides meaningful educational opportunities and other positive outcomes,” tribe spokesman Gary Bitner told The Times.

One would think that the same such partnerships could be created elsewhere even at the high school level. The fact that such partnerships are never even considered is a sign of how the dialog has degenerated.

During all these confrontations over Indian logos, they remain quite common for Indian organizations and colleges. Two observations come to mind here. One big difference between Americans and Indians in logos relates to individuals. Americans love individual symbols. Think of Uncle Sam and Liberty as symbols of the country as examples. Even our nation’s capital is named after an individual. By contrast the Indian logos seem more symbolic or metaphorical. I suspect there is a real cultural difference here. That is why in the land of Daniel Nimham a school can be named after fellow American Revolution hero John Jay but not after Nimham.

Second, all these Indian organizations are still named “Indians.” By contrast when Negroes became African American, all Negro organizations were obligated to change their names accordingly. Apparently white people have yet to be as successful in getting Indians to abandon their names and become “Indigenous.” Dr. Ian Record of the National Congress of American Indians used the term “Indians” three times in two sentences (above). On the other hand as the student petition suggests (above), idealized (white) teenagers have now been educated to never use the word “Indian.”

In a previous blog,  (What Are You Doing for the Indian Citizenship Act (1924) Centennial?), I suggested that the Indian Citizen Act centennial provided a convenient opportunity to discuss the ongoing problems related to the place of Indian Nations and Indian individuals in America. Lord knows, there is plenty to discuss. As I read the plethora of news articles from my local paper about mascots, I realize that such discussions are a farfetched pipedream. There can be no “come-let-us-reason-together” in a moral cultural war. There can be no healing in zero-sum confrontations. The stories of Daniel Nimham, Chief Katonah, and the Wappinger Confederacy provide an excellent example of the potential opportunity to begin such a dialog. The absence of his name from the mascot discussions which have been held so far reveal that there is no chance of such healing discussions even being started yet alone succeeding.

Origin and Meaning of Critical Race Theory

Origin and Meaning of Critical Race Theory

Alan Singer

On a November 2021 CNN broadcast, host Chris Cuomo interviewed comedian/commentator Bill Maher about a supposed leftwing peril threatening the United States, feeding him a series of softball questions and responding with “Oh my God” facial expressions. After acknowledging “I’m not in schools” and “I have no interaction with children,” Maher announced that he has heard from people all over the country that “kids are sometimes separated into groups, oppressor and oppressed” and being taught “racism is the essence of America.” He derided this practice as “just silly, it’s just virtue-signaling” and accused people advocating for curriculum revision of being “afraid to acknowledge progress,” a psychological disorder he alternately labeled “wokeness” and “progressophobia.” Maher’s comments on “wokeness” and “progressophobia” reminded me of a 19th century medical condition described by Dr. Samuel Cartwright from Louisiana in DeBow’s Review in 1851 as “Drapetomania, the disease causing Negroes to run away from slavery.”

I kept waiting for Chris Cuomo to ask Maher to provide an example, any example, to support his claims, but Cuomo never did and Maher never felt compelled to offer any evidence. On his television show, Maher promotes a group of contrarians that want to start their own college where they will be free to present offensive ideas and dismiss objections without having to provide supporting evidence or answer to anyone. Cuomo never asked Maher about that either.

In August 2021, the Brookings Institute reported that at least eight states had passed legislation banning the teaching of Critical Race Theory, although only Idaho actually used the phrase. The modern iteration of Critical Race Theory began in the 1980s when legal scholars followed by social scientists and educational researchers employed CRT as a way of understanding the persistence of race and racism in the United States. Kimberlé Crenshaw, who teaches law at UCLA and Columbia University and was an early proponent of critical race theory, described it as “an approach to grappling with a history of white supremacy that rejects the belief that what’s in the past is in the past, and that the laws and systems that grow from that past are detached from it.” Basically, Critical Race Theory disputes the idea of colorblindness or legal neutrality and argues that race and racism have always played a major role in the formulation of American laws and the practices of American institutions. It is a study of laws and institutions that sifts through the surface cover to look for underlying meaning and motivation. In my work as a historian, I traced the current debate over “citizen’s arrest” back to its implementation in the South during the Civil War when it was used to prevent enslaved Africans from fleeing bondage. It essentially empowered any white person to seize and hold any Black person they suspected of a crime, stealing white property by stealing themselves As an academic discipline CRT does not claim that everything about the United States is racist or that all white people are racist. The CRT lens examines laws and institutions, not people, certainly not individual people.

What has come to be known as a CRT approach to understanding United States history and society actually has much deeper roots long before the 1980s. A 19th century French observer of American society, Alexis De Tocqueville, in the book Democracy in America published in 1835, wrote: “I do not believe that the white and black races will ever live in any country upon an equal footing . . . But I believe the difficulty to be still greater in the United States than elsewhere . . . [A]s long as the American democracy remains at the head of affairs . . . [I]t may be foreseen that the freer the white population of the United States becomes, the more isolated will it remain.

In an 1852 Independence Day speech delivered in Rochester, New York, Frederick Douglass rhetorically asked, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” Douglass then answered his own question. “The blessings in which you this day rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence [given] by your fathers is shared by you, not by me . . . What to the American slave is your Fourth of July? I answer, a day that reveals to him more than all other days of the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass-fronted impudence; our shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.”

In the 19th century, a reverse CRT lens was openly used by racists to justify the laws and institutions derided by Alexis De Tocqueville and Frederick Douglass. In the majority opinion of the Supreme Court in its 1857 Dred Scott decision, Chief Justice Roger Taney claimed, and the Court ruled, that “A free negro of the African race, whose ancestors were brought to this country and sold as slaves, is not a ‘citizen’ within the meaning of the Constitution of the United States” because “When the Constitution was adopted, they were not regarded in any of the States as members of the community which constituted the State, and were not numbered among its ‘people or citizens.’ Consequently, the special rights and immunities guaranteed to citizens do not apply to them.”

The deep roots of racism were recognized by the United States Congress when it drafted the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments after the American Civil War. Abolitionist and civil rights proponent Congressman Thaddeus Stevens issued a warning in December 1865. We have turned, or are about to turn, loose four million slaves without a hut to shelter them or a cent in their pockets. The infernal laws of slavery have prevented them from acquiring an education, understanding the common laws of contract, or of managing the ordinary business of life. This Congress is bound to provide for them until they can take care of themselves. If we do not furnish them with homesteads, and hedge them around with protective laws; if we leave them to the legislation of their late masters, we had better have left them in bondage. If we fail in this great duty now, when we have the power, we shall deserve and receive the execration of history and of all future ages.” Stevens was right. Enforcement legislation was gutted by the Supreme Court making way for Jim Crow segregation, Klan terrorism, and the disenfranchisement of Black voters for the next 100 years. The power of racism was so great that in 1903, W.E.B. DuBois wrote in the forethought to The Souls of Black Folk that “the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line.”

The legal system recognizing the legitimacy of racial distinction was affirmed by the Supreme Court in the 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson decision. Although the Supreme Court reversed itself with the Brown v. Topeka Kansas ruling in 1954, legal action to change American society really started with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, both designed to enforce the 14th Amendment prohibition that states could not make or enforce laws that “abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.” Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, as amended in 1982, outlawed laws and practices that had the result of denying a racial or language minority an equal opportunity to participate in the political process, even if the wording of the law did not expressly mention race. A racist result was racism.

The New York State Court of Appeals also argued that under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act a law could be challenged as discriminatory if the “practice has a sufficiently adverse racial impact–in other words, whether it falls significantly more harshly on a minority racial group than on the majority . . . Proof of discriminatory effect suffices to establish liability under the regulations promulgated pursuant to Title VI.” Governments have the obligation to demonstrate that “less discriminatory alternatives” were not available. This is the modern origin of Critical Race Theory.

According to the Texas Tribune, the “new Texas law designed to limit how race-related subjects are taught in public schools comes with so little guidance, the on-the-ground application is already tying educators up in semantic knots as they try to follow the Legislature’s intent.” In one Texas district, a director of Curriculum and Instruction notified teachers that they had to provide students with “opposing” perspectives on the World War II era European Holocaust, presumably Holocaust-denial voices. It remains unclear if science teachers will now have to legitimize social media claims that the COVID-19 virus arrived on Earth from outer space.

In her blog, Heather Cox Richardson, an American historian and professor of history at Boston College, focused on subjects that were crossed out of the law, which listed topics permissible to teach. The dropped topics included the history of Native Americans, the writings of founding “mothers and other founding persons,” Thomas Jefferson on religious freedom, Frederick Douglass articles in the North Star, William Still’s records for the Underground Railroad, the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, documents related to women’s suffrage and equal rights, and documents on the African American Civil Rights movement and the American labor movement, including Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech. The Texas legislature also crossed out from the list of topics that are permissible to teach the “history of white supremacy, including but not limited to the institution of slavery, the eugenics movement, and the Ku Klux Klan, and the ways in which it is morally wrong.”

What caught my attention more though was what the Texas legislators decided to include on the permissible list, documents that they apparently had never read. The “good” topics and documents include the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, the Federalist Papers “including essays 10 and 51,” excerpts from Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, and the transcript of the first Lincoln-Douglas debate from 1858 when Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas ran against each other for Senator from Illinois. When you read these documents through a Critical Race Theory lens or any critical lens, they expose the depth of racism in America’s founding institutions.

The Declaration of Independence includes a passage that has stuck with me since I first read it as a high school student in the 1960s. “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” I was always impressed by the vagueness of the passage. Who has the right to abolish a government? Did they mean the majority of the people, some of the people, or did the decision have to approach near unanimity? Did enslaved Africans share this right to rebel? Very unlikely.

The words “slave” and “slavery” do not appear in the United States Constitution until passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865 that banned slavery. However, a number of clauses in the original document were intended to protect the institution. The three-fifths compromise, which refers to “other Persons,” gave extra voting strength to slave states in the House of Representatives and the Electoral College.  Another clause forbade Congress from outlawing the trans-Atlantic slave trade for at least twenty years. A fugitive slave clause required that freedom-seekers who fled slavery to states where it was outlawed had to be returned to slavery if they were apprehended. The Constitution also mandates the federal government to suppress slave insurrections and the Second Amendment protected the right of slaveholders and slave patrols to be armed.

Both Federalists 38 and 54, which were most likely written by future President James Madison, himself a slaveholder, justified slavery. Madison first mentioned slavery in Federalist 38 where he defended the right of the national government to regulate American participation in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. In Federalist 54, Madison explained the legitimacy of the Constitution’s three-fifths clause and of slavery itself. According to Madison, “In being compelled to labor, not for himself, but for a master; in being vendible by one master to another master; and in being subject at all times to be restrained in his liberty and chastised in his body, by the capricious will of another, the slave may appear to be degraded from the human rank, and classed with those irrational animals which fall under the legal denomination of property. In being protected, on the other hand, in his life and in his limbs, against the violence of all others, even the master of his labor and his liberty; and in being punishable himself for all violence committed against others, the slave is no less evidently regarded by the law as a member of the society, not as a part of the irrational creation; as a moral person, not as a mere article of property. The federal Constitution, therefore, decides with great propriety on the case of our slaves, when it views them in the mixed character of persons and of property.”

In the first Lincoln-Douglas debate on August 21, 1858, Stephen Douglas accused Lincoln of trying to “abolitionize” American politics and supporting a “radical” abolitionist platform. Lincoln responded that he was “misrepresented.” While Lincoln claimed to hate slavery, he did not want to “Free them, and make them politically and socially our equals? My own feelings will not admit of this; and if mine would, we well know that those of the great mass of white people will not . . . We cannot, then, make them equals . . . anything that argues me into his idea of perfect social and political equality with the negro, is but a specious and fantastic arrangement of words . . . I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists.” Lincoln then added in words that show the depth of American racism, “I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and the black races. There is a physical difference between the two, which, in my judgment, will probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality.”

The real question is why the big outrage about Critical Race Theory today? A group of traditional historians was infuriated by claims in the New York Times 1619 Project that race and racism have played a significant role in throughout American history, including as a motivation for the War for Independence. Whatever you think about that claim in the 1619 Project, I don’t think anyone seriously believes that opposition by a small group of historians is the basis for the assault on CRT. The much-criticized opening essay by Nikole Hannah-Jones does not even mention Critical Race Theory.

I believe the public attacks on Critical Race Theory, including in school board meetings, are a rightwing response to challenges to police actions following the murder of George Floyd and to the Black Lives Matter movement’s demands for racial justice. They have nothing to do with what or how we teach.

CRT became controversial when President Trump denounced it in an effort to rally his supporters during his re-election campaign. Trump declared, without any evidence, that “Critical race theory is being forced into our children’s schools, it’s being imposed into workplace trainings, and it’s being deployed to rip apart friends, neighbors and families.” According to Professor Crenshaw, acknowledging racism was being defined by President Trump and his supporters as racism. Racial equity laws and programs were called “aggression and discrimination against white people.”

We don’t teach CRT in the Pre-K to 12 curriculum because we don’t teach theory. We certainly don’t teach children to hate themselves or this country. What we do teach is critical thinking, and a critical race theory approach is definitely part of critical thinking.

Critical thinking means asking questions about text and events and evaluating evidence. It is at the core of Common Core and social studies education. I like to cite the conservative faction of the Supreme Court that claims to be “textualists,” meaning they carefully examine the text of laws to discover their meaning. Because they will need to become active citizens defending and extending democracy in the United States, we want young people to become “textualists,” to question, to challenge, to weigh different views, to evaluate evidence, as they formulate their own ideas about America’s past, the state of the nation today, and the world they would like to see.

The Texas anti-CRT law also includes more traditional social studies goals, “the ability to: (A) analyze and determine the reliability of information sources; (B) formulate and articulate reasoned positions;  (C) understand the manner in which local, state, and federal government works and operates through the use of simulations and models of governmental and democratic processes; (D) actively listen and engage in civil discourse, including discourse with those with different viewpoints; (E) responsibly participate as a citizen in a constitutional democracy; and (F) effectively engage with governmental institutions at the local, state, and federal levels.” It also includes an appreciation of “(A) the importance and responsibility of participating in civic life; (B) a commitment to the United States and its form of government; and (C) a commitment to free speech and civil discourse.”

Given these very clearly stated civics goals, I recommend that Texas social studies teachers obey the civics legal mandate by organizing with their students a mass campaign to challenge restrictions in the Texas law, including classroom “civil disobedience” by reading the material that was crossed out of the law. Maybe someday Texas students can share Martin Luther King’s “dream.”

AIM: How enlightened was the European Enlightenment? A CRT Lens Lesson

This lesson on the European Enlightenment is for the high school World History curriculum. The European Enlightenment is one of the first topics explored in the New York state 10th grade social studies curriculum. This lesson uses a CRT lens to build on understandings about the Scientific Revolution and the trans-Atlantic slave trade that were studied in the 9th grade. It establishes themes that reemerge in units on European Imperialism in Africa and Asia and lessons on Social Darwinism. Many scholars credit the European Enlightenment with establishing modern ideas like liberty and democracy. But it also defended gender inequality and attempted to establish a scientific basis for racism. Students are asked to take a closer look and decide: “How enlightened was the European Enlightenment?”

Do Now: The European Enlightenment is often known as the Age of Reason because Enlightenment thinkers tried to apply scientific principles to understand human behavior and how societies work. Many of the earliest Enlightenment thinkers were from England, Scotland, and France but the idea of using reason and a scientific approach spread to other European countries and their colonies. In the United States, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin are considered Enlightenment thinkers. While there are no firm dates, most historians argue that the European Enlightenment started in the mid-17th century building on the Scientific Revolution, and continued until the mid-19th century. Some historians have pointed out that the Age of Reason in Europe was also the peak years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade when millions of Africans were transported to the Americas as unfree labor on plantations.

One of the first major European Enlightenment thinkers was John Locke of England. Read the excerpt from Locke’s Second Treatise on Civil Government, written in 1690, and answer questions 1-4.

John Locke: “Liberty is to be free from restraint and violence from others . . . Good and evil, reward and punishment, are the only motives to a rational creature: these are the spur and reins whereby all mankind are set on work, and guided . . . Man . . . hath by nature a power . . . to preserve his property – that is, his life, liberty, and estate – against the injuries and attempts of other men . . . The end of law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom . . . All mankind . . . being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions.”

Questions

  1. According to Locke, what is the most important human value?
  2. How does Locke believe this value is preserved?
  3. What document in United States history draws from Locke? Why do you select that document?
  4. In your opinion, why is John Locke considered a European Enlightenment thinker?

Activity: You will work with a team analyzing a quote from one of these European Enlightenment thinkers and answer the following questions. Select a representative to present your views to class. After presentations and discussion, you will complete an exit ticket answering the question, “How enlightened was the European Enlightenment?”

Questions

  1. Where is the author from? What year did they write this piece?
  2. What is the main topic of the excerpt?
  3. What does the author argue about the topic?
  4. Why is this author considered a European Enlightenment thinker?
  5. In your opinion, what do we learn about the European Enlightenment from this except?
 David Hume (Scotland, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, 1779): “What truth so obvious, so certain, as the being of a God, which the most ignorant ages have acknowledged, for which the most refined geniuses have ambitiously striven to produce new proofs and arguments? What truth so important as this, which is the ground of all our hopes, the surest foundation of morality, the firmest support of society, and the only principle which ought never to be a moment absent from our thoughts and meditations? . . . Throw several pieces of steel together, without shape or form; they will never arrange themselves so as to compose a watch. Stone, and mortar, and wood, without an architect, never erect a house.”  
Baron de Montesquieu (France, The Spirit of the Laws, 1748): “Political liberty in a citizen is that tranquility of spirit which comes from the opinion each one has of his security, and in order for him to have this liberty the government must be such that one citizen cannot fear another citizen. When the legislative power is united with the executive power in a single person or in a single body of the magistracy, there is no liberty, because one can fear that the same monarch or senate that makes tyrannical laws will execute them tyrannically. Nor is there liberty if the power of judging is not separate from legislative power and from executive power. If it were joined to legislative power, the power over life and liberty of the citizens would be arbitrary, for the judge would be the legislator. If it were joined to executive power, the judge could have the force of an oppressor. All would be lost if the same man or the same body of principal men, either of nobles or of the people exercised these three powers: that of making the laws, that of executing public resolutions, and that of judging the crimes or disputes of individuals.”
Marquis de Lafayette (France, The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, 1789): “Therefore the National Assembly recognizes and proclaims, in the presence and under the auspices of the Supreme Being, the following rights of man and of the citizen: Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be founded only upon the general good. The aim of all political association is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression. Liberty consists in the freedom to do everything which injures no one else; hence the exercise of the natural rights of each man has no limits except those which assure to the other members of the society the enjoyment of the same rights. These limits can only be determined by law.”
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (France, Emile, or Education, 1762): “Women have ready tongues; they talk earlier, more easily, and more pleasantly than men. They are also said to talk more; this may be true, but I am prepared to reckon it to their credit; eyes and mouth are equally busy and for the same cause. A man says what he knows, a woman says what will please; the one needs knowledge, the other taste; utility should be the man’s object; the woman speaks to give pleasure. There should be nothing in common but truth . . . The earliest education is most important and it undoubtedly is woman’s work. If the author of nature had meant to assign it to men he would have given them milk to feed the child. Address your treatises on education to the women, for not only are they able to watch over it more closely than men, not only is their influence always predominant in education, its success concerns them more nearly, for most widows are at the mercy of their children, who show them very plainly whether their education was good or bad.”
Mary Wollstonecraft (England, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 1792): “Till women are more rationally educated, the progress in human virtue and improvement in knowledge must receive continual checks . . . The divine right of husbands, like the divine right of kings, may, it is to be hoped, in this enlightened age, be contested without danger . . . It would be an endless task to trace the variety of meannesses, cares, and sorrows, into which women are plunged by the prevailing opinion that they were created rather to feel than reason, and that all the power they obtain, must be obtained by their charms and weakness . . . It is justice, not charity, that is wanting in the world. . . . How many women thus waste life away the prey of discontent, who might have practiced as physicians, regulated a farm, managed a shop, and stood erect, supported by their own industry, instead of hanging their heads surcharged with the dew of sensibility, that consumes the beauty to which it at first gave lustre.”
Immanuel Kant (Germany, 1761, quoted in Achieving Our Humanity): “All inhabitants of the hottest zones are, without exceptions, idle . . . In the hot countries the human being matures earlier in all ways but does not reach the perfection of the temperate zones. Humanity exists in its greatest perfection in the white race. The yellow Indians have a smaller amount of Talent. The Negroes are lower and the lowest are a part of the American peoples . . . The race of the Negroes, one could say, is completely the opposite of the Americans; they are full of affect and passion, very lively, talkative and vain. They can be educated but only as servants (slaves), that is they allow themselves to be trained. They have many motivating forces, are also sensitive, are afraid of blows and do much out of a sense of honor.”
Thomas Jefferson (British North America, Preamble, Declaration of Independence, 1776): “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
Thomas Jefferson (Virginia, Notes on the State of Virginia, 1785): “The first difference which strikes us is that of colour. Whether the black of the negro resides in the reticular membrane between the skin and scarf-skin, or in the scarf-skin itself; whether it proceeds from the colour of the blood, the colour of the bile, or from that of some other secretion, the difference is fixed in nature, and is as real as if its seat and cause were better known to us. And is this difference of no importance? Is it not the foundation of a greater or less share of beauty in the two races? Are not the fine mixtures of red and white, the expressions of every passion by greater or less suffusions of colour in the one, preferable to that eternal monotony, which reigns in the countenances, that immovable veil of black which covers all the emotions of the other race? . . . Their griefs are transient. Those numberless afflictions, which render it doubtful whether heaven has given life to us in mercy or in wrath, are less felt, and sooner forgotten with them. In general, their existence appears to participate more of sensation than reflection . . . Comparing them by their faculties of memory, reason, and imagination, it appears to me, that in memory they are equal to the whites; in reason much inferior, as I think one could scarcely be found capable of tracing and comprehending the investigations of Euclid; and that in imagination they are dull, tasteless, and anomalous.”

Exit ticket: “In your opinion, how enlightened was the European Enlightenment?”

What did Thomas Jefferson Buy in October 1803?

The Louisiana Purchase is generally presented to students as a land deal between the United States and France. Napoleon’s hope for a French New World empire collapsed when formerly enslaved Africans on the western third of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola defeated French forces and established an independent republic. The United States was anxious to purchase the French port of New Orleans near the mouth of the Mississippi River to open up the river to U.S. settlers west of the Appalachian Mountains.  Napoleon made a counter-offer and for $15 million the U.S. acquired over 800,000 square miles of land stretching from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains. Or did it?

In middle school, students generally trace the expansion of American territory on maps and may read a biography of explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and their First Nation guide and translator Sacagawea. Sacagawea was a Shoshone woman who had been kidnapped by another tribe. At the time of the expedition, she was married to a French fur-trapper and pregnant. Her baby, a son, was born during the expedition.

In high school students often examine the constitutional debate surrounding the purchase. President Thomas Jefferson was generally a strict constructionist who believed in limited federal authority. Although the Constitution did not expressly authorize the federal government to purchase territory, Jefferson and his special envoy James Monroe argued it was permissible under the government’s power to negotiate treaties with foreign powers. Parts or all of the present day states of Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Minnesota, New Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana, were acquired by the United States.

However, despite claims to the territory between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains by both Spain and France, there were very few European settlers in the region outside of the area near New Orleans where the non-native population was about 60,000 people, including 30,000 enslaved Africans. During the expedition west, Lewis, Clark, and Sacagawea encountered members of at least fifty different Native American tribes, some of whom had never met Europeans before, most of whom had never heard of France or Spain, and none of whom recognized Spanish, French, or American sovereignty over their homelands. The Native American population of the region included the Quapaw and Caddo in Louisiana itself, and the Shoshone, Pawnee, Osages, Witchitas, Kiowas, Cheyenne, Crow, Mandan, Minitari, Blackfeet, Chinook, and different branches of the Sioux on the Great Plains.

The reality is that for $15 million the United States purchased French claims to land that belonged to other people and was not France’s to sell and then used military force to drive the First Nations into restricted areas and instituted policies designed to destroy their cultures. Middle school students should consider how they would you feel if someone from someplace else who they had never met knocked on their door and told their family that they all had to leave because a King across the ocean or a President thousands of miles away gave them ownership over their house and the land it stood on? High school students should discuss whether Manifest Destiny, American expansion west to the Pacific, was a form of imperialism, and how it was similar or different from European colonization in the Americas, Africa, and Asia? High school students should also discuss whether United States treatment of the First Nations constitutes genocide and what would be an appropriate recompense for centuries of abuse.

As many areas of the United States shift from celebrating Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day, a good question to start with is to ask students exactly what did Thomas Jefferson buy in October 1803?

Using Court Cases to Teach Social Studies and History

Using Court Cases to Teach Social Studies and History

Bruce Dearstyne

Key decisions of state and federal courts can be useful sources for students in civics, social studies, and state and U.S. history courses.  Textbooks often include references to well-known, historic U.S. Supreme Court decisions, but students seldom read the actual opinions. Moreover, cases that make their way through state court systems rather than the federal system can be very useful in education because they illustrate important home-state issues and how they were resolved at the state’s highest courts. Those courts were often the forum of last resort, the place where issues that impacted people’s lives were finally hashed out and settled. 

Some of the most interesting and important cases, including the two described later in this article, made their way through state courts but were appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court for final reckoning.

Carefully selected cases and decisions can illustrate these themes and lessons:

  • Fundamentals of constitutional law – how constitutions represent the fundamental will of the people, how they are written and amended, how laws are based on them, and the role of the courts in deciding the constitutionality of the laws.
  • The arguments that attorneys make in favor of or against the constitutionality of the laws that are the focus of key cases.
  • The factors that judges consider and weigh in deciding on the constitutionality of the laws, including their interpretations of what the relevant constitutional provisions meant when written, how they have been interpreted by other courts over the years (called judicial precedent), and how they should be applied in a particular case.
  • The impact of decisions, including the precedents they set and the degree to which those precedents hold up or are modified or altered in subsequent court decisions.
  • The insights and implications of the cases for citizen rights and civic responsibilities under our constitutional government.

Teaching constitutional history is both challenging and rewarding. Teachers have a good deal of leeway in the issues and cases they select and how they guide students in understanding and drawing conclusions from them.  Cases might be chosen to illustrate how the courts have interpreted, circumscribed, or expanded civil liberties; law-and-order and criminal justice issues; the role of government in regulating businesses, organizations, and people’s lives; and complex issues involving race, gender, diversity and social justice. These are critical issues at this time when there is widespread recognition of the need for more and better civics education to prepare young people to be responsible adult citizens. 1

Students can be assigned to read about the issues and summaries of the decisions but then should go on to read the court decisions themselves. Some court opinions may be challenging to follow because of their complex legal language, but most are clear and straightforward. Judges intentionally compose major court decisions so that their principles are understandable by the public, not just attorneys and judges.  Judges cite constitutional provisions, laws, legal principles and precedents, but the gist of their decisions should be clear.  They hope that the concerned public will read their decisions, and not just summaries by media commentators or legal experts.  Teasing out the judges’ fundamental judicial principles and explanations is a way for students to gain an understanding of the role of the courts and constitutional law.

It is also a useful type of documentary analysis, interpretation, and writing assignment, making for additional connections with state and local educational standards.

Teachers might also consider assigning students to write their own legal briefs or have a debate between students playing counsel for contending viewpoints.

The history-making Lochner case, 1904-1905

A good example of a case that is readily adaptable by educators is what is commonly referred to as the Lochner case. This famous case was decided by the New York State Court of Appeals in 1904 (People v. Lochner) in a decision that was reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court the next year (Lochner v. New York), 1905.The case involved an 1895 New York State law limiting the hours of employees working  in bakeries to 10 hours per day or 60 per week and imposing sanitary regulations.  It was an early example of progressive-era regulation. That time period, ca. 1895-1920, was an era when governments enacted multiple laws to regulate businesses and laboring conditions and hours. The New York law was intended to protect bakeshop workers from fatigue and possible harm to their health from working overly-long hours in dusty, sometimes unsanitary, conditions.

Advocates called it sensible, justifiable regulation. Opponents of the law – and other restrictions on businesses and regulations governing labor — rallied against it behind the concept of “substantive due process.” The U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment proscribed state laws abridging “life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” The amendment had been adopted in 1868 to help protect the rights of formerly enslaved people after the Civil War. The New York State constitution had a similar, but briefer, provision.

Years after the amendment passed, business attorneys began to argue that it also applied to the rights of employers to run their businesses without state interference and to employees’ rights to contract to work as they pleased. They contended it trumped the state’s “police power” – the power to regulate social and economic affairs for the general welfare, health, and safety of the people. In the closing years of the 19th century and the opening years of the new one, the “substantive due process” shield was pressed into service by the business community to forestall or overturn incipient state regulatory intervention. Usually, lawyers attacking regulatory laws in New York courts cited the 14th amendment, occasionally referencing the state constitution provision as well.

Joseph Lochner, a Utica bakery owner, believed that New York State could not tell him how to operate his business.  He and his employees had the right to contract for whatever work hours they pleased. Lochner defied the 1895 law was arrested for employing a baker for more than the permissible hours. He challenged the law as a violation of his constitutional rights.

New York State Court of Appeals: the law is constitutional

The New York State Court of Appeals upheld the law in January, 1904. Its decision has been neglected by historical scholars even though it was issued by what was then arguably the nation’s most important court, second only to the U.S. Supreme Court. The decision had additional gravitas because it was written by the court’s Chief Judge, Alton B. Parker, who was one of the most prominent legal statesmen in the nation and who ran (unsuccessfully) for president in November 1904, eleven months after his court decided the case. 

The Court reasoned as follows:

The 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and a comparable clause in the New York State Constitution, were not intended to infringe the state’s police power.  Parker cited several Supreme Court decisions “sustaining statutes of different states which…seem repugnant to the 14th amendment but which that court declares to be within the policy power of the states.” He emphasized the Supreme Court’s 1898 decision in Holden vs. Hardy, which upheld a Utah law limiting the number of hours of work for miners as a legitimate exercise of state police power. New York State case law was “all in one direction,” too, the chief judge said, in support of broad state intervention.

Changing conditions warrant changing state regulations. The Constitution must be read in light of changes in society and the economy. “…by the application of legal principles the law has been, and will continue to be, developed from time to time so as to meet the ever-changing conditions of our widely diversified and rapidly developing business interests.”

Courts should not second guess the legislature. “The courts are frequently confronted with the temptation to substitute their judgment for that of the legislature,” the Chief Judge wrote. But whether the legislation is wise “is not for us to consider. The motives actuating the legislature are not the subject of inquiry by the courts, which are bound to assume that the law-making body acted to promote the public good.” Where interpretation is needed, “the court is inclined to so construe the statute as to validate it.”

The public interest is served by sanitary bakeries. “That the public generally are interested in having bakers and confectioners’ establishments cleanly and wholesome in this day of appreciation of, and apprehension on account of microbes, which may cause disease and death, is beyond question,” Parker asserted. The statute is designed “to protect the public from the use of the food made dangerous by the germs that thrive in darkness and uncleanness.”20

Regulating working hours is tied to public health concerns.  Judge Parker went on to assert that “the legislature had in mind that the health and cleanliness of the workers, as well as the cleanliness of the work-rooms, was of the utmost importance and that a man is more likely to be careful and cleanly when well, and not overworked, than when exhausted by fatigue, which makes for careless and slovenly habits, and tends to dirt and disease.”

Three judges concurred with Parker, making a majority of four in support of the law. But three dissented, arguing that Lochner was right. The state had no business regulating bakers’ hours or conditions, and the law violated Lochner’s right to contract with his workers as he pleased. They said it was inconsistent in that it applied to bakery employers but not to proprietors. A worker could evade the hour limitation requirements by working for more than one bakery. The connection between bakers’ work hours and public health seemed tenuous.

U.S. Supreme Court: the law is unconstitutional

Lochner appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. In its 1905 decision, the majority of that in effect agreed with the New York dissenters.

The high court was more conservative than its New York counterpart and had a track record of striking down state labor laws. The Lochner decision was written by Associate Justice Rufus Peckham, originally from Albany, New York, and a former member of the New York Court of Appeals before joining the U.S. Supreme Court in 1895.

Peckham posed a central question: “Is this a fair, reasonable and appropriate exercise of the police power of the State or is it an unreasonable, unnecessary and arbitrary interference with the right of the individual to his personal liberty or to enter into those contracts in relation to labor which may seem to him appropriate or necessary for the support of himself and his family?”

The judge asserted that the New York bakeshop law clearly fell into the second category. Bakers are not “wards of the state” and he said and went on to ridicule the assertion that their work was dangerous. The law did not constitute a legitimate exercise of police power and contravened Lochner’s and his employees’ right of contract. “…no state can deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law,” said the judge.“There is no reasonable ground for interfering with the liberty of person or the right of free contract by determining the hours of labor in the occupation of a baker….Clean and wholesome bread does not depend upon whether the baker works but ten hours per day or only sixty per week.”

Four Supreme Court judges agreed with Peckham, giving him a majority of five.  But four of his colleagues dissented, contending that that the liberty to contract is subject to reasonable regulations and restrictions imposed by the state. In effect, the four dissenters were aligning with the views of the four-judge majority on the New York Court of Appeals a year earlier.

Lochner in historical perspective

Historians have extensively analyzed Lochner v. New York but have overlooked its New York predecessor, People v. Lochner. 3  The reasoning in both decisions (and the dissents in both cases) are worthy of study. Between the two high courts, nine judges held the law was constitutional and seven held it was not, showing a near-even division of judicial opinion on the issue. That is another feature that makes the case useful for study by students.

For several years after Lochner v. New York, Justice Peckham’s views held sway and outdistanced Chief Judge Parker’s. The Supreme Court – and many state courts — cited Lochner in repeatedly striking down regulatory measures.

But public criticism mounted over the years that the courts were obstructionist and too inclined to use their narrow views of constitutional safeguards to kill much-needed reforms. The criticism intensified when the court struck down a number of laws that were part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal recovery and reform program to combat the Great Depression in the early 1930’s. The courts gradually relented and Parker’s philosophy of supporting reasonable regulatory oversight eventually made a comeback. 

In the 1937 case of West Coast Hotel vs. Parrish, an opinion written by Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes (coincidently, a former New Yorker himself) held that a Washington State minimum wage law was constitutional. “Liberty implies the absence of arbitrary restraint,” Hughes wrote, “not immunity from reasonable regulations and prohibitions imposed in the interests of the community.”   He continued that “the Constitution does not recognize an absolute and uncontrollable liberty….the liberty safeguarded is liberty in a social organization which requires the protection of law against the evils which menace the health, safety, morals and welfare of the people.” 4

In effect, West Coast Hotel v. Parrish  superseded Lochner v. New York as the predominant judicial philosophy about government regulation. For the most part, courts since then have leaned toward Parker’s and Hughes’ expansive reviews and away from Peckham’s narrow, constraining concept. But the Lochner case illustrates two contending perspectives on government’s role in social and economic affairs which still undergird and shape discussions today:

Governments have an inherent obligation to regulate organizations and protect people’s welfare. This includes regulating working conditions, hours, and wages to ensure that workers’ health and rights are protected.  Constitutional guarantees of life, liberty, and property and the requirement that governments proceed in line with due process of law, should be interpreted and applied in light of this larger, inherent government role.

Versus

People have inviolable rights guaranteed by the U.S. and state constitutions. The provision in the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment that forbids governments from depriving any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law, should be construed broadly. It is a bulwark against governments’ unwarranted overreaching and meddling in social, economic, and personal affairs.

The two Lochner decisions provide a good basis for discussion and debate of these two contrasting viewpoints, in part as a way of shedding light on similar issues under public discussion today. These two case opinions, and other like them, can help teachers guide students in considering these issues:

  • What is included in state constitutions and how do they relate to the U.S. Constitution?
  • What do citizens need to know about the federal and state constitutions and their rights and obligations under them?
  • How should constitutions, written hundreds of years ago, be interpreted and applied by courts to modern conditions and issues?
  • How should legislators (Congress, state legislatures) and chief executives (Presidents, governors) make sure that the laws they pass are constitutional?
  • What criteria and processes should courts use in determining whether a law is constitutional or not?
  • How and why do courts’ viewpoints and decisions change over time?
  • How should citizens react to court decisions on constitutionality that are controversial or unpopular?

Sources for teaching constitutional history

Websites

  • American Bar Association (https://www.americanbar.org) includes information on civic education
  • American Society for Legal History (https:/aslh.net). A useful source for scholarship and teaching in the field of legal history.
  • CASETEXT (http://www.casetext.com) and CASEMINE (http://www.casemine.com) present the texts of most important cases, including summaries of the issues and decisions.   Many of the cases can be accessed by a simple Google search.
  • Center for Civic Education (https://www.civiced.org) provides information for understanding and participating in a constitutional republic.
  • Cornell University Legal Information Institute (https://www.law.cornell.edu ) has a slogan that “everyone should be able to read and understand the law.” It is an invaluable source of information on legal concepts and key cases.
  • Historical Society of the New York Courts (https//history.nycourts.gov) has a wealth of information online, including court histories and biographies of judges of the supreme, appellate division, and Court of Appeals. There are also analytical essays on key cases.
  • iCivics. (https://www.icivics.org). Sources for engaging students in civic learning.
  • New Jersey State Bar Association (https://tcms.njsba.com) is an excellent source for legal issues in that state.
  • New York State Bar Association (https://nysba.org), particularly its Law, Youth and Citizenship program, which promotes citizenship and law-related education, has useful information.
  • Ohio Supreme Court, Under Advisement: Ohio Supreme Court Cases on Demand (2019)  (https://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/VisitorInfo/CivicEd/educationResources/underAdvisement/default.asp) is designed for high school students. It follows selected cases through the state court system.
  • Rutgers University/New Jersey Center for Civic Education (https://civiced.rutgers.edu). Curriculum guides and other materials to foster student understanding and engagement in a democratic society.
  • University of Pennsylvania/Annenberg Public Policy Center/Annenberg Classroom (https://www.annenbergclassroom.org). Information on the constitution and constitutional issues and cases.

Books

  • Bergan, Francis. The History of the New York Court of  Appeals, 1847-1932.New York: Columbia University Press, 1985
  • Bernstein, David E. Rehabilitating “Lochner:” Defending Individual Rights Against Progressive Reform. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011
  • Dearstyne, Bruce. The Spirit of New York: Defining Events in the Empire State’s History. 2nd ed., Albany: SUNY Press, 2022
  • _______. The Crucible of Public Policy: New York State Courts in the Progressive Era. Albany: SUNY Press, 2022
  • Friedman, Lawrence M. A History of American Law. 4th ed., New York: Oxford University Press, 2019
  • Galie, Peter J. Ordered Liberty: A Constitutional History of New York. New York: Fordham University Press, 1996
  • Gilman, Howard. The Constitution Besieged: The Rise and Demise of Lochner Era Police Power Jurisprudence. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1995
  • Hall, Kermit L., Editor-in-Chief., The Oxford Companion to American Law. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002
  • Karsten, Peter. Heart Versus Head: Judge-Made Law in Nineteenth Century America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997
  • Nelson, William. The Legalist Reformation: Law, Politics and Ideology in New York, 1920-1980. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001
  • Stewart, Ted. Supreme Power: Seven Pivotal Supreme Court Decisions That Had a Major Impact on America. Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain Publishing, 2017
  • White, G. Edward. Law in American History. Volume II: From Reconstruction Through the 1920’s. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016
  • Winkler, Adam. We, the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights. New York: Liveright, 2018

Notes

1. Educating for American Democracy, Educating for American Democracy: Excellence in History and Civics for all Learners (New York: Educating for American Democracy, 2021)

2.  New York State Court of Appeals, The People of the State of New York, Respondent v. Joseph Lochner, Appellant. 175 NY 145  January 12, 1904 and U.S. Supreme Court, Lochner v. New York  198 U.S. 45  April 16, 1905. This discussion draws on the analysis of the case in my book, The Crucible of Public Policy: New York Courts in the Progressive Era (Albany: SUNY Press, 2022) 

3. Paul Kens, Lochner v. New York: Economic Regulation on Trial (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1998); Howard Gilman, The Constitution Besieged: The Rise and Demise of Lochner Era Police Power (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1995); Cass Sunstein, “Lochner’s Legacy,” Columbia Law Review 87 (June 1987), 873-919; David E. Bernstein, “Lochner vs. New York: A Centennial Retrospective,” Washington University Law Quarterly 83 (2005), 1474-1527.

4.  U.S. Supreme Court, West Coast Hotel vs. Parrish 300 US 379 March 29, 1937

Using Literature to Teach about Race in America

Using Literature to Teach about Race in America

Stephanie Rosvoglou, Debra Willett, and Melissa Wilson

African American authors use the genre of historical fiction to highlight the experiences of their communities, urban, suburban or rural. Using short stories and novels, ordinary and sometimes not so ordinary events are relayed through the actions of fictional characters. Contemporary authors Colson, Whitehead, Walter Mosley and Guy Johnson use imaginary people in real-life settings that are reflections of African American life past and present, as did Zora Neale Hurston writing in the 1930s and Toni Morrison in the 1970s. Throughout these novels, racism and the inevitable cycle of abuse and poverty are present. Fiction can be used to help students develop a better understanding of race and racism in the United States past and present. These books can either be assigned as supplemental reading in a social studies class or in an English class paired with American history.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (Lippincott, 1937)

Zora Neale Hurston, a Columbia University trained anthropologist, explores racism and gender bias through the eyes and voice of her character Janie Crawford. Their Eyes Were Watching God is set in 1937 in Eatonville, Florida. It serves as a reminder of the brutalities that the plantation owners once caused to the previously enslaved community and how reminders of enslavement continue to haunt the community.

Janie’s grandmother was born into slavery and was raped by a plantation owner. His wife was suspicious and questioned why Janie’s mother looked white and had yellow hair. The wife threatened to whip her and sell her mother. This didn’t happen because African Americans were freed after the “Big Surrender at Richmond.” Janie’s grandmother and mother settled in West Florida. At seventeen, Janie’s mother was raped by her schoolteacher. As a result, Leafy started drinking and abandoned Janie. Because of the disadvantages that both Janie’s grandmother and mother faced, they were trapped in a class and cycle of abuse, hard labor, and poverty.

Through her relationships with men, especially the affluent Joe Starks, Janie is able to break the cycle of poverty and abuse that both her mother and grandmother faced, however she remained isolated from the Black community. After Starks death, Janie marries a younger and darker skinned man known as Tea Cake. Tea Cake is bit by a rabid dog. As he plunges into insanity, he attacks Janie who shoots him. Janie is put on trial, charged with his death, in a trial marked by all of the racial prejudice of the period. Janie is finally acquitted by an all-white jury. In this novel we learn how race prejudice has been absorbed by the Black community and fuels resentment against a lighter-skinned woman.

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970)

Toni Morrison also exams how racial prejudice is absorbed by the Black community. The novel takes place in Ohio during 1940 and 1941 and is told through the voice of Claudia McTeer, the foster-sister of Pecola Breedlove. Pecola endures hatred, prejudice, and racism, including from the Black community, because she is dark skinned and considered unattractive. She dreams of having blue eyes, which symbolize whiteness. When Pecola goes to a candy store, the owner of the store looks at her with disgust. Pecola wonders how a white immigrant storekeeper could possibly understand a little black girl. Pecola is eventually raped and impregnated by her drunk and abusive father. The baby is born prematurely and dies as Pecola drifts into insanity. The abuse of Pecola and her insanity are attributed to racism that infests the Black community because of the racial hierarchy in American society.

Always Outmanned and Always Outgunned by Walter Mosley (Norton, 1997)

Walter Mosley is a bi-racial author born in California in 1952. His mother is of Russian Jewish linage and his father is African American World War II veteran from Louisiana. Mosley grew up in South Central L.A and witnessed many of the situations he writes about. His family eventually moved to a middle-class community bordering on affluent west L.A. Mosley is not only an award- winning author of crime novels, but he has also written for young adults, produced and written for motion pictures and television.

Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned follows the life of Socrates Fortlow, an ex-convict who battles to live a moral life in the city of Los Angeles. In the 1990s, 5.7 million people in the United States were under a form of correctional supervision. About 30% were white, 38% were black and 27% were Hispanic, but blacks made up only 12% of the general population. Overwhelmingly these jail sentences were due to drug arrests. Mosley uses an incident with a drug dealer to highlight Fortlow’s violent but moral code of life.

The setting for the novel is the poor L.A. neighborhood of Watts. Fortlow, who is now fifty-eight, has been released from prison after serving a sentence for a double homicide. He has been living in LA for the past eight years still encumbered by guilt and regret. He occasionally thinks about what transpired and what could have occurred if he made a different choice. Walter Mosley gives a sympathetic and compassionate account of Fortlow’s experience. We see him grow from a hard criminal to a person who tries to live the years he has left with moral conviction. He makes decisions and handles situations using methods that are unorthodox but necessary for the greater good of his neighborhood. Along the way, Fortlow meets young Darryl, an eleven-year-old that reminds him of himself. He feels obligated to save Darryl from a life of hardship and crime to ensure that he does not spend his life in prison. While struggling with the idea that he still viewed himself as a murderer, Fortlow mentors Darryl to keep him out of trouble. He ultimately saves Darryl and eventually finds self-identity, self-love, and self-confidence.

Mosley pulls you into the story with the astonishing developments of his main character, Socrates Fortlow. The reader can see the character transformation from a murder convict into a compassionate man that finds himself while helping others. I would have high school students read and study this novel to better understand the experiences of some African Americans living in poor neighborhoods and the struggles they go through throughout much of their lives. The teaching of this novel gets easier once the use of some of the difficult language is discussed, so that the students may better understand what terms are used and the context of those terms.

The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas (Balzer Bray, 2017)

Starr Carter is a sixteen-year-old Black girl who lives in the poor neighborhood of Garden Heights while attending an all-white preparatory school across town. She decides to attend a party with her friends and runs into Khaill, a long-time childhood friend. They began to hang out and he offers her a ride home. While on the way, a white police officer pulls them over. Khaill gets out of the car awaiting the return of the officer. Khalil then opens the car door just to check on Starr and he was immediately shot and killed by the officer, badge number One-Fifteen. Khalil’s death makes national news and Starr wants justice. She wants people to know who he really was, not what the media is portraying him to be. While fighting for justice, Starr realizes that no one can shut her up. Her voice can be used as a weapon. She ultimately finds her voice and uses it to inform others of what really happened to Khalil and what happens to many black men and women in today’s society. Justice must prevail.

This book gives the reader the felt experience of Starr and how she deals with seeing her best friend get shot right in front of her. She has to deal with the implications of the media and police trying to dictate who he was and to justify the need to kill him. Starr’s greatest challenge is using her voice to bring justice to Khalil. It is often taught that black voices don’t matter, but through risk taking, bravery, and extreme strength and power, she finally recognizes the importance of speaking up for who you are and what you believe in, no matter the consequences. I would definitely allow my high school students to read and study this book. It gives an account of Starr’s experiences and the struggles she went through to speak to the world about who Khalil was and to get him true justice. Never stop using your voice and never give up.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (Doubleday, 2019)

The Nickel Boys follows the life of Elwood Curtis, a business owner living in New York City. In the present day, an investigation takes place into the Nickel Academy that had been closed for several years. The investigation exposes the school’s hidden history of brutalities, including many bodies that were secretly buried on the grounds. Many men who were jailed at Nickel Academy are deciding to come forward to share their experiences of what happened there. Elwood Curtis is forced to tackle the long-term impacts of his experiences.

In 1960s Tallahassee, Elwood Curtis is a hardworking high school student with an idealistic sense of justice. Motivated by Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement, he always tried to speak out about injustices. When he was chosen to attend a university to start earning credits for college, he was very excited. However, on the first day, he decides hitchhike with an African American man. When they are pulled over, it is revealed that the vehicle was stolen. Elwood is arrested and convicted. He is sent to Nickel Academy, a juvenile detention center. Most boys at Nickel Academy receive poor education, are made to perform hard labor, and regularly receive harsh physical reprimands. The staff ignores and conceals sexual abuse and visits to the “White House,” from which some boys never come back. The children are segregated by race, with black boys facing the worst treatment. Elwood makes friends with another boy by the name of Turner. Turner has been in the Nickel Academy for a while and knows how everything works. Elwood tries to serve his time while keeping his head down but is gravely beaten on two instances: once for interfering when a young boy was being attacked by sexual predators, and once after writing a letter to inspectors describing the facility’s inadequate conditions and mistreatment. Turner overhears the administration’s plan to have Elwood killed and they decide to try to escape. Elwood is shot and killed while Turner avoids being captured. We then discover that Turner has been using Elwood’s name and tried to live up to his principles. In the present day, he finally exposes his history and real name, Jack Turner, to his wife, then heads back to Florida to tell his friend’s story.

Colson Whitehead reveals the truth about a reform school that operated for 111 years. He revealed the harsh and unjust treatment of young black boys that destroyed their lives. This book gives very descriptive imagery on how these boys were treated and the condition they were in. If this book is taught, students could see the harsh treatments that these black children faced. It also shows how in society today, hanging out in a wrong crowd, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time, could ruin your entire life in just an instant. It shows the injustices of what happens to black children. They are not even given a chance. They are sent straight to jail without anyone defending them and without anyone telling judges and authority figures who they really are as a person, or who they can be.

A Different Pace of Change: Debunking the Myth of “The Roaring Twenties”

A Different Pace of Change: Debunking the Myth of “The Roaring Twenties”

Michael Tomasulo

Famed 1920s American author Willa Cather once said “the world broke in two in 1922 or thereabouts…” With this quote, Cather is referencing the culture wars that were emerging in America during the 1920s. She is summarizing the feeling that spread during the 1920s as the United States seemed to divide itself into two separate halves with urban and rural cultures. America during the 1920s is often viewed as a time of economic prosperity as well as a time consumed by an electrifying party scene. Wealthy young men and women going out to dance halls to drink, smoke, and, of course, dance. When they are not out on the town, these wealthy Americans spend their time in their lavish Fifth Avenue apartments or extravagant suites in the Ritz Hotel. This was not the lifestyle that all Americans had the opportunity of living, however, which is where the divide Willa Cather was describing occurred. Young, wealthy individuals in metropolitan America lived vastly different lives in comparison to the young individuals living in rural and small-town America.

The other perspective for which one could analyze Cather’s quote is in terms of the division of cultures as a new youth culture was emerging, growing, and spreading in urban spaces throughout the 1920s. Young men and women in metropolitan America, mainly, were working to distance themselves from their parents’ seemingly outdated morals, values, ideals, and norms which is where new images and identities such as the flapper stem from. However, as F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, “youth is unfortunately not a permanent condition of life.” The youth in American cities spent most of their time engaging in the vast slew of leisure activities their cities provided like movie theatres, dance halls, and amusement locations like Coney Island in New York. This was not the way a large portion of the American youth population had the luxu ry of choosing to live. The youth population in rural American towns truly felt the impact of Fitzgerald’s quote as they oftentimes held more responsibility than the wealthy youths of the city. Rural youths did not have the opportunities to spend all their time as frivolously as urban youths were able to because they were busy working, whether that be in or out of the home, and they did not have the plethora of leisure activities that the city offered its patrons. This is not to say that all young people in metropolitan America were not working since there were plenty of working-class youths in cities like New York that came from immigrant families. However, the focus here is on the wealthy youth population living in the urban meccas of America during the 1920s. This leads into why “The Roaring Twenties” is such a misnomer for the decade that is the 1920s; it only classifies life in the city and disregards the large portion of the population living in the small towns and rural America.

There are some questions that arise when considering this idea that “The Roaring Twenties” is an inaccurate nickname for the 1920s as a decade. Through extensive research, this project will answer some if not all of those questions. Those questions include the following: Why is “The Roaring Twenties” viewed from only one perspective? Specifically, that perspective of immense wealth and party lifestyles. How was life different for those not living in major cities different from the lifestyles of those who were living in metropolis? Who is responsible for perpetuating the myth of “The Roaring Twenties” and why do they do that? What is the danger in immortalizing the decade in this way? Is there any danger? Again, this project will answer all of these questions in some form or another in order to provide some explanation into why “The Roaring Twenties” is such an inaccurate misnomer that disregards a large portion of the American population during the 1920s.

The decade that is the 1920s has historically been granted the moniker of “The Roaring Twenties.” When most hear this nickname, what comes to mind is lavish lifestyles filled with parties, drinking, flappers, dance halls, and many other frivolous activities. The classification of “The Roaring Twenties” is one that is inaccurate when describing the decade as a whole as it only categorizes the lifestyles of those wealthy individuals living in urban spaces, like New York City. For those working-class individuals and families living in rural and small-town America, the 1920s were far from “roaring.” This unequal representation brought on by this misnomer can be visualized through the literary works of two well-known authors of the 1920s and the 20th century as a whole: F. Scott Fitzgerald and Willa Cather. Fitzgerald is arguably one of the main perpetuators of the myth that the 1920s was “roaring” as the major themes of his book revolved around upper-class society in urban meccas such as New York. The main characters that his stories focus on often hail from wealthy families and have luxuries and opportunities that not many were offered during the 1920s. Willa Cather, on the other hand, wrote stories that mostly were set in rural America. She is praised for her ability to transport readers to the small towns she writes about as well as her ability to accurately depict life in these small rural towns. Cather’s writing helps to show how incomparable life was for those individuals not living in major cities and, in turn, how and why “The Roaring Twenties” is such an inaccurate misnomer for the decade as a whole.

F. Scott Fitzgerald is considered one of the greatest authors of the modern era due to his easily recognized and distinct style of prose. He is most well-known for his novel The Great Gatsby and writing about similar themes of high society, wealthy individuals. However, he did not come from a family of money. Born in 1896, Fitzgerald was “the son of an unsuccessful businessman who had to rely upon his wife’s inheritance to support his children,” which made Fitzgerald “sensitive to his family’s outsider status among the monied elite of his native St. Paul, Minnesota” (F. Scott Fitzgerald Society, 2020). Fitzgerald’s sensitivity and insecurity eventually grew into a true inferiority complex that he was forced to deal with for the entirety of his life. He always felt a need for popularity and to fit in with the majority population. This led to him writing about the themes he is most widely known for, once he became an author. Throughout his lengthy career, “Fitzgerald’s main themes are ambition and loss, discipline vs. self-indulgence, love and romance, and money and class” (F. Scott Fitzgerald Society, 2020). Most of Fitzgerald’s well-known works focus on these major themes as they often feature wealthy, ambitious, self-indulgent individuals often trying to find love. These themes are heavily explored in two of Fitzgerald’s most famous works, The Beautiful and Damned and The Great Gatsby.

            The Beautiful and Damned, published in 1922, is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s second novel. The story follows a young, wealthy, Harvard-educated man named Anthony Comstock Patch and his wife, Gloria. At the beginning of the novel, Anthony is a young bachelor living in a large Fifth Avenue apartment who spends most of his time going out with his two best friends, Maury Noble and Richard “Dick” Caramel. Anthony’s view on life completely changes when he is introduced to Dick’s cousin, Gloria, whom he falls in love with and eventually marries. The middle and latter portions of the novel follow their initially loving marriage that quickly turns a bit rocky as they wait for Anthony’s extremely wealthy grandfather, Adam Patch, to die so that they can inherit his money. The couple become enthralled in their ambition for wealth until it eventually drives Anthony completely mad by the end of the novel (Fitzgerald, 1922).

The Great Gatsby is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel which was published in 1925. This novel follows a young, middle-class man named Nick Carraway as he moves into a small house next to the enormous manor owned by Jay Gatsby. Nick and Gatsby get along incredibly well with one another, but they come from two different worlds and classes: Nick from the middle- or working-class and Gatsby from the upper class. The novel follows the two men as they form a friendship and as Gatsby rekindles a relationship with Nick’s cousin, Daisy Buchanan. In the end, however, Gatsby’s love for Daisy ultimately gets him killed by the grieving husband of a woman whom Daisy unintentionally killed while driving drunk (Fitzgerald, 1925).

Willa Cather is also considered to be one of the greatest authors of the modern era and of the 20th century for her innate abilities as a regionalist author. Cather is most notable for her novels and short stories set in rural and small-town America. She is widely praised for her abilities to really transport readers to the locations her stories are set. She is able to do this because she actually lived most of her life in Nebraska. As “the eldest of seven children, Willa Cather was born in Back Creek Valley, Virginia in 1873. When Cather was nine years old, her family moved to rural Webster County, Nebraska. After a year and a half, the family resettled in the county seat of Red Cloud, where Cather lived until beginning her college studies at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln in 1890” (The National Willa Cather Center). Cather is known for her abilities to use her childhood and young adult experiences in rural Nebraska and allows readers to visualize the region and geographic features of rural America through her detailed descriptions and overall writing style. These skills are overtly present in two of her novels, One of Ours and A Lost Lady.

One of Ours, published in 1922, follows a man named Claude Wheeler living in rural Nebraska during the late 1910s and early 1920s. Claude feels as though he does not belong in the farming life he is living in, even though his fortune is guaranteed by his family’s profession. He is distanced from his father and extremely religious mother, and is basically rejected by his wife who would prefer to spend her time completing missionary work and political activism projects. While in college, Claude feels that the religious Temple College he attends is not giving him the best education and feels that he will get a more enriching and beneficial experience at the State University. His parents ignore his request and he is forced to stay at the religious school, but he then meets the Erlich family who he better identifies with. However, Claude eventually finds what he is searching for when the U.S. enters World War I and he enlists in the army. The novel explores the theme of belonging as Claude really only wants to feel as though he actually matters which he does not feel until he goes to fight in World War I (Cather, 1922).

A Lost Lady, published in 1923, is a novel by Willa Cather that actually had an incredibly prominent influence on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing of The Great Gatsby. This novel, however, tells the story of a woman named Marian Forrester, a wealthy socialite, and her husband Captain Daniel Forrester. The couple live in the small, Western town of Sweet Water, Nebraska along the Transcontinental Railroad. The story is told from the perspective of a young man and Sweet Water native named Neil Herbert. Neil feels very deeply for Marian, who is a representation of the American Dream, and he tells the story of her eventual social decline. This decline is said to mirror and allegorize the decline of the American frontier in the new age of rapid modernization and industrialization as well as the age that brought rise to capitalism in the United States. Overall, the novel is an allegory for the decline of the American Dream, a prominent theme in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, hence the influence, and the decline of the American frontier during the 1920s (Cather, 1923).

Metropolitan America, where one would find the major hustling and bustling cities such as New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles are where the lifestyles most associated with “The Roaring Twenties” are prevalent. These urban meccas are where young, wealthy Americans tended to call home during the 1920s. This is not to say that everyone living in metropolitan America were wealthy and from the upper-class. Rather, there were many working- and lower-class people living in major American cities, at this time, who would also participate in the various leisure activities offered by cities, simply in a different capacity. The focus of this project, however, is solely on the wealthy, upper-class youth population. Wealthy young men and women in these urban spaces would spend most of their time in dance halls and at various parties or in their large apartments and hotel rooms. The daily lives of these Americans are what are most directly associated with the moniker of “The Roaring Twenties.” Classifying the decade of 1920s as “The Roaring Twenties” only categorizes the lives of the wealthy in American urban spaces as they have the access and financial ability to the activities that are most directly associated with life during the 1920s. This wealthy lifestyle, and the people who live them, are accurately portrayed and represented throughout the various literary works of famed 1920s author F. Scott Fitzgerald through such characters as Anthony Patch from The Beautiful and Damned (Fitzgerald, 1922) and Jay Gatsby from The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald, 1925).

            The wealthy metropolitan lifestyle is the one that is most directly associated with the moniker “The Roaring Twenties” which leads to the inaccuracy of that classification. When it comes to the daily practices and lifestyles of individuals living in major urban spaces, specifically those of wealth, there was an evolution in how individuals experienced daily life. This evolution can be mostly attributed to the access individuals living in urban spaces had as well as to their affluence and plentitude of wealth. The evolution can also be attributed to the modernization and commercialism of urban America during the 1920s as “advertisements, magazines, and movies broadcast the hedonistic delights available in cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles to the rest of the country” (Ryan, 2018, p. 9). Major American cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles were growing in population and area as more and more people were being drawn to them from the country and rural areas. Metropolitan spaces were made to look incredibly attractive in various forms of media such as advertisements, books, movies, magazines, etc. as the many attractions of the spaces were highlighted. Specifically, “it was the amusement park, lit up at night, the dance halls, and the movie palaces, and the ideas about what went on there, that drew the line of demarcation between the village and the city” (Ryan, 2018, p. 9-10). These were the hotspots of activity for wealthy youths in urban America as they offered the most entertaining experiences for them and these places were frequently presented attractively to all Americans through several facets of popular media, at the time.

This sort of lifestyle is also incredibly prevalent throughout several of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s most notable literary works. For example, the main character of Fitzgerald’s 1921 novel The Beautiful and Damned, Anthony Patch, lives the life of a member of high society in New York City. When he is not in his luxurious apartment on Fifth Avenue, he would frequently “walk down Fifth Avenue to the Ritz, where he had an appointment for dinner with his two most frequent companions, Dick Caramel and Maury Noble” (Fitzgerald, 1922, p. 18). Anthony Patch’s life is the epitome of wealthy youth culture in urban America during the 1920s. Other than going to dinner at the Ritz, he can also be found attending parties of various types, frequenting dance halls, and finding company with women of a similar age to his and socioeconomic status until he meets Gloria who he eventually marries. Another well-known example and representation of metropolitan youth culture that is so directly associated with “The Roaring Twenties” is the character Jay Gatsby from Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel The Great Gatsby. Spontaneity was often a trait of young men and women in 1920’s metropolitan culture as they often were against being tied down and limited to experiencing too little an amount of activities and often would spend long nights out on the town. One of the most well-known examples of this spontaneity comes in The Great Gatsby when at a dinner party, Daisy Buchanan decides on a whim that the attendees of the party should drive into the city from Long Island (Fitzgerald, 1925, p. 926). Spontaneity was a common practice and trait among youths during the 1920s, especially young women and/or flappers, as they wanted to experience as much of life as they could and lead a life of excitement without being restrained or held back by society.

Young women during the 1920s saw a major evolution in the way they experienced life as well as in the ways they presented themselves to the rest of society. Specifically in urban spaces, the flapper image and identity came to prominence during the 1920s. A flapper has been described as “virtually any girl [who] could be found ‘deep in an atmosphere of jungle music and the questioning of moral codes” (Zeitz, 2006, p. 42). Flappers were redefining womanhood during the 1920s by changing the view and perception that was often placed onto women prior to this decade. They were women who dressed differently and acted differently in comparison to women prior to this time. Flappers are girls who “wear ‘hand-knit, sleeveless’ jerseys… that offer easy access to the forbidden regions of their bodies. They scoff at their parents’ prudery and remind them that ‘Mother, it’s done – you can’t run everything now the way you did in the early nineties” (Zeitz, 2006, p. 42). Young women during the 1920s were shifting the gender norms that had been placed on them and dramatically changing the ways people, but mainly men, viewed them as members of society. This flapper image and identity did not exist prior to “The Roaring Twenties” as F. Scott Fitzgerald is actually credited with creating the image in his first novel published in 1920.

In 1920 F. Scott Fitzgerald published and released his first novel called This Side of Paradise. This novel is said to be semiautobiographical as the main character, Amory Blaine, follows a similar life path compared to that of Fitzgerald himself. It is within this novel that Fitzgerald is said to have created the flapper image and identity that became widely known and grasped during the 1920s and is still widely known and even grasped today. However, “by later standards, Fitzgerald’s exposé of the flapper was tame. But it was provocative enough for its time” as “‘none of the Victorian mothers … had any idea how casually their daughters were accustomed to be kissed,’ opened an oft quoted chapter” (Zeitz, 2006, p. 42). The college age generation (the youths) living in urban America, mostly, were wholeheartedly breaking away from the standards and norms that their parental generation was setting for them and this breaking was increasingly intense and deliberate for young women. Young women were participating in activities and completing different actions that, prior to this time, would have never been seen done by a woman. In This Side of Paradise, “Amory saw girls doing things that even in his memory would have been impossible: eating three-o’clock, after-dance suppers in impossible cafés, talking of every side of life with a furtive excitement that Amory considered stood for a real moral let-down. But he never realized how wide-spread it was until he saw the cities between New York and Chicago as one vast juvenile intrigue” (Fitzgerald, 1920, p. 55-56). Flappers went against the traditional moral code set for women prior to the 1920s and were proud of their new sense of freedom and agency that they set for themselves within urban society. This identity and image coined by Fitzgerald opened a fairly brand-new conversation about sex, mainly in the city, and women’s sexuality.

The decade of the 1920s brought about an increase in sexual fluidity in terms of the lessening of the taboo nature of sex. Further, “in a culture saturated in sex, these girls knew more than their mothers and their grandmothers had at their age, and evidence shows that they did in fact engage in more sexual activity than their forebears. Later research demonstrates that higher numbers of women partook in premarital sex in the 1920s, though for most it was only acceptable as a prelude to marriage” (Ryan, 2018, p. 107). Young women during the 1920s were much more open about sex and their sexuality than the women whom came before them. Even though some women still decided not to partake in premarital sex unless it was considered a prelude to marriage, the decade showed an immense increase in the numbers of women partaking and participating in premarital sex. These sorts of changes can be accredited to the location that is metropolitan America and the accessibility that this locale provided young, wealthy Americans.

The accessibility that urban spaces provided young upper-class citizens for the various activities they participated in has a major impact on what made life in 1920s cities so “roaring.” Being that everything in cities was so condensed, there was a vast spectrum of activities for young men and women to participate in. There were dance halls, movie theatres and theatres for theatrical productions, restaurants, and in some places like New York there were places of amusement and entertainment like Coney Island. This accessibility, in the case of urban America, had an immense impact on popular media of this times. Specifically, literature was incredibly representative of leisure activities and was greatly impacted by the geography of the locale. Authors like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Willa Cather were inspired by urban geography (only in some cases for Cather) to set their novels and other stories.

In Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and Damned, Anthony and Gloria Patch both hail from urban America where they were able to go out nightly and go to elegant restaurants, the theatre, or dance halls. However, after marrying one another, they decided to move out of New York City and ended up in the small suburb, north of the city, called Marietta. Fitzgerald writes a vastly different life for the young couple when they move to Marietta in comparison to the life they led in the city. Unfortunately for the newly married Patches, “Marietta itself offered little social life” (Fitzgerald, 1922, p. 152). Gloria and Anthony were so used to seeing friends on a daily and nightly basis when living in the city and this made the adjustment to rural living that much more difficult for them to the point where they were forced to move back to the city (because of this, but also because of financial issues). In opposition, in Willa Cather’s short story Coming, Eden Bower!, a man named Don Hedger takes the titular character Eden Bower on a date to Coney Island where “they went to the balcony of a big, noisy restaurant and had a shore dinner with tall steins of beer” and “after dinner they went to the tent behind the bathing beach, where the tops of two balloons bulged out over the canvas. A red-faced man in a linen suit stood in front of the tent, shouting in a hoarse voice and telling the people that if the crowd was good for five dollars more a beautiful young woman would risk her life for their entertainment” (Cather, 1920, p. 15). Places like Coney Island in urban America held such a wide array of activities for people to see, do, and participate in. These activities provided by the condensed nature of metropolises had an immense impact on popular literature during the 1920s and, in the case of Fitzgerald, helped to perpetuate the myth of “The Roaring Twenties.”

Even though is one of the most recognizable authors of the 1920s, and one of the most profound authors in general, F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of the most responsible individuals in the perpetuation of the myth of “The Roaring Twenties.” Fitzgerald is known for mostly only writing about the lives of wealthy men and women living in major cities during the 1920s. His most well-known and widely recognized characters like Jay Gatsby, Amory Blaine, and Anthony Patch live among upper-class society in or near New York City. These characters lived in large homes and/or apartments, spent most of their time drinking at parties or dance halls, and had enough money that allowed them to not necessarily have to work if they chose not to. The inaccuracy and myth that stems from this writing is that these characters are set in unchanging class standings with no real opportunity or need for mobility. It is evident that “Fitzgerald clearly establishes the emblematic dissimilarity of style and taste between the rich and the others, arranging it around the habit” (Bechtel, 2017, p. 118). Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is a perfect example of this dissimilarity as readers are presented with two vastly different main characters: Jay Gatsby of the upper class and Nick Caraway of the working class. In this novel Fitzgerald presents readers with these two characters and clearly distinguishes between their differing financial statuses through their attire, lifestyles, and homes. With this incredibly dissimilar presentation, “thus, Fitzgerald shows that the tastes of his upwardly mobile working-class men are gaudy and ostentatious, yet utterly terminable, fulfilling Bourdieu’s definitions of cultural incompetence and the vulgar manners that reveal underlying social conditions in the habitus” (Bechtel, 2017, p. 119). Fitzgerald’s portrayal of life in the 1920s was widely inaccurate as he presented this erroneous fallacy of the possibility of social mobility which is completely incongruous with Fitzgerald’s actual lifestyle.

When the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald are read, most readers would assume that Fitzgerald spent his life living like the wealthy characters he created. When reading his work, most would assume that Fitzgerald held the luxuries of frivolously spending money, living in a mansion of sorts, and no real need for work. However, “his popular reputation as a careless spendthrift is untrue. Fitzgerald was always trying to follow conservative financial principles” (Quirk, 2009). Fitzgerald led a life that was vastly incongruous with the lives in his most famous characters led. Throughout the majority of his life, Fitzgerald worked to save as much money as he could, until 1929 when his wife, Zelda fell ill. This is a perfect example of the danger of perpetuating the myth of “The Roaring Twenties.” By perpetuating this myth, Fitzgerald placed an inaccurate assumption onto himself in that most readers, and later historians, assumed he lived the wealthy, upper-class life of his characters which was not the case. Similarly, his writing is what leads to people assuming that life was the same for everyone in the country when that life that is mostly associated with the 1920s is only that of wealthy youths in metropolitan America. 

Rural America, where one would find the slow-moving small towns and farm towns. This is where one would find the lifestyles that are not commonly associated with the moniker “The Roaring Twenties.” These rural spaces are where most working and lower-class families would call home. People in these smaller, slow-moving spaces spent most of their time working or could be found crowding on neighbors’ porches singing, playing games, or engaging in small talk. This locale, frequently referred to as “Main Street,” is completely disregarded when most consider the moniker of “The Roaring Twenties” as these spaces were not categorized by that nickname. Young people living in small town America did not have the access to the activities nor, in most cases, to the financial frivolity that youths in urban America had making life for these youths vastly different. This different pace of change is most accurately represented through the literary works of famed author Willa Cather through such characters as Claude Wheeler from One of Ours (Cather, 1922) and Marian Forrester from A Lost Lady (Cather, 1923).

One of the most notable differences between life in the urban setting compared to life in the rural setting is the type of leisure activities young people participated in and engaged with. Part of this difference also has to do with the accessibility these young men and women had to different activities. For those living in rural towns, there were less options for a night out in comparison to what those living in cities had. Family life was heavily emphasized in small towns as young men and women often spent more time with their parents and siblings than the young men and women in metropolitan America. Again, most nights on Main Street were spent on the lawns or porches of one’s neighbor’s home where large groups of families and neighbors would sing and chat. This was not exclusive to any age group, specifically, though as “young couples joined in too, and while they might drift away momentarily, their evening centered on these community gatherings of all ages” (Ryan, 2018, p. 2). Youth culture in small town America did not revolve around independence or separation from one’s parents as it did in the city where young men and women oftentimes put immense effort into separating themselves from their previous familial generations. This sort of community gathering did change, somewhat, during the 1920s as the automobile became more commonplace for families to own so people in small town America would often drive out of their towns to participate in other sorts of leisure activities that were not offered nor present in their hometowns. An example of this begins the novel One of Ours by Willa Cather where readers are introduced to Claude Wheeler as he awoke excitedly one morning. Claude waked his younger brother, Ralph, and asked him to come help him wash the car because they had plans to go to the circus (Cather, 1922, p. 1). Claude and Ralph would otherwise not be able to see the circus without having a mode of transportation, in this case their car, to get them there. This was the case for most Americans living in small towns as leisure activities were not readily available nor present for them in their towns.

During the 1920s, the concept of youth culture became more distinct and prevalent throughout society. Young people of the time often sought to distance themselves from their parents’ old-fashioned morals, ideals, and values and live life in the way they chose to live it. However, historians have argued and debated where this, for the time, new distinction of cultures stemmed from. Some locate the origins of this culture gap to World War I which was the first war of the Machine Age, while “others locate its origins in the nation’s rapid modernization and industrialization, dramatically altered social, racial, and gender roles” (Drowne and Huber, 2004, p. 39). This is also an explanation for why leisure activities and youth culture differed so noticeably in small town America in comparison to metropolitan America. If the development of this new youth culture is going to be attributed to rapid modernization and industrialization, then it is evident why this was how youths in cities lived; they were directly witnessing and experiencing rapid modernization and industrialization. Young men and women in small towns were not seeing this modernization and industrialization, so the new youth culture was not as prevalent in these spaces as “technological changes came far more slowly to homes in rural America” (Drowne and Huber, 2004, p. 18). This explanation is also relevant and topical for explaining why an evolution nor change in terms of women and gender norms cannot be seen as clearly in small town America during the 1920s.

The evolution and newfound freedom women felt and expressed in major cities was not as prevalent in small towns. The flapper image and identity were not seen in the same light as it was in the cities. People living in small town America tended to follow more traditional gender norms and this is evident in their views and perceptions of flappers. Journalist John Farrer learned this when writing an article about one of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s collections of short stories called Tales of the Jazz Age. In his article, he explains how “a young married woman recently told me that she detested the writings of F. Scott Fitzgerald. ‘Such girls don’t exist,’ she affirmed. ‘At least I haven’t been able to find them’” (Farrar, 1922, p. 12-13). Flappers were mainly seen in the major urban spaces and were not as prominent in rural spaces, even though there were some instances of them, as the young women on Main Street were not as focused on distinguishing themselves from their parents and engaging in the new youth culture. Furthermore, women in small towns did not venture out as much as the young women in the cities had the luxury of doing as “the great majority of families followed traditional sex roles: the husbands were the principal breadwinners, while the wives had primary responsibility for cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the children” (Drowne and Huber, 2004, p. 18). Women in rural spaces chose to hold onto their responsibilities and work in the home, primarily, whereas flappers in the cities wanted to break away from those traditional gender norms and responsibilities. However, this way of living was the only option for women due to the geographic locale of their small towns.

Small towns did not offer the slew of activities comparable to the amount major cities offered their inhabitants. Rural towns were less condensed and more spaced out than cities, architecturally, so there was not the available space for places like movie theatres, dance halls, and amusement parks like Coney Island in small town America. This is why people in small town America oftentimes would leave their homes for short periods of time for simple nights out and/or for longer, extended periods of time for vacations. Willa Cather’s novel, A Lost Lady, takes place in a small town known as Sweet Water, located in Nebraska where there are little to no options of leisure activities for its residents. That is why the couple the story follows, Captain Daniel and Marian Forrester, leave the town for an extended period of time. Specifically, “she and her husband spent the winter in Denver and Colorado Springs, — left Sweet Water soon after Thanksgiving and did not return until the first of May” (Cather, 1923, p. 24). Readers can infer that Cather’s Sweet Water does not offer much excitement nor any sort of change of pace for its residents, therefore, it is the type of town where residents who are able to decide to take vacations and leave town for some time. This can be accredited to the regional and geographic layout of the town and its location. Nebraska, in general, is mostly farmland with few major cities, which is evident throughout Cather’s novel. Cather is a novelist known for her regionalism within her writing or her ability to place readers in the setting of her novels through in-depth descriptions and details.

Throughout her career, it is evident that Willa Cather was heavily influenced by the geography and regional style of rural America which is the feature setting in a variety of her novels and short stories. Cather is credited as being one of the greatest regionalist authors of the modern era of literature. Literary scholars argue that “Cather achieves similar effects with fewer words, her landscape made vivid through metaphors that create picture with contrasting images of ‘sea,’ ‘Gothic… cathedrals,’ and ‘enormous city.’ Her use of color in describing the blooming vegetation suggests the influence of Impressionism, an improvement over the blur of Hawthorne’s ‘smokey-hued tracts’” (Murphy, 2021, p. 302). In her writing, Cather was able to take readers and place them in these rural settings through her use of descriptive phrases, metaphors, and colorful language. Her ability to create vivid images of her settings within the minds of her readers is why she is categorized as one of, if not the best, regionalist authors as she is able to present her words through a regionalist perspective. Cather’s “regional way of thinking emphasizes the interconnections between places and communities as a larger spatial network” (Squire, 2011, p. 48-49). When writing, Cather was able to look at her settings as a larger space rather than a specific region which allowed for her to see and write about the connections that specific places and communities hold to their larger regional space. It is evident that Willa Cather was immensely influenced by the geography of rural America as that tended to be the setting she seemed most comfortable writing about. Her writing also provides for an accurate perception of what life was like for individuals living in rural and small-town America during the 1920s and explained how life was not “roaring” for everyone during this decade. Cather’s writing also provides reasoning for why the phrase “The Roaring Twenties” is an inaccurate classification for the decade as it completely disregards nor considers life for those living in American suburbs.

Cather was able to write about the lifestyle of those living in rural America so accurately as she actually lived and grew up there. Cather was born in Virginia, but when she was only nine years old, her family moved to Nebraska (The National Willa Cather Center, 2021). When writing, Cather was able to draw on her own childhood and young adult experiences to give an accurate depiction of life in the rural region of the country. Critics raved about Cather’s writing, praising the “reality and a beauty of description in Willa Cather’s treatment of the prairie country that must bring a wonderful sigh of gratitude from anyone who lived there. The pages spill color: words sing with life” (De Leeuw, 1922, p. 7). Cather had the ability, when writing, to truly transport her readers from wherever they were reading to rural America as her portrayal and depiction of what life was really like for that large population of the country. Critics felt as though this ability was remarkable and should have really pleased the rural population as Cather was letting them truly be seen by the rest of the population in metropolitan America. Overall, “as one of the greatest American novelists of the 20th century, Willa Cather was gifted in conveying an intimate understanding of her characters in relation to their personal and cultural environments—environments that often derived from Red Cloud” (The National Willa Cather Center, 2021). Willa Cather is deemed one of the greatest authors of the 20th Century because of her innate ability to draw on her past experiences in rural Nebraska in order to accurately depict life in rural America. Her writing allowed those living in this region to feel seen by those living in the major cities and she gives profound reasoning for why “The Roaring Twenties” is a misnomer for the decade as a whole.

Conclusively, 1920s, as a decade, has historically been referred to as “The Roaring Twenties.” When most hear this moniker granted to the decade, what typically comes to mind is lavish lifestyles filled with parties, drinking, flappers, dance halls, and many other frivolous activities. “The Roaring Twenties” is a misnomer that is incredibly inaccurate when describing the decade as a whole as it only categorizes the lifestyles of those wealthy individuals living in urban spaces, like New York City. For those working-class individuals and families living in rural and small-town America, the 1920s were far from “roaring.” However, even though life was not “roaring” for those living in rural and small-town America, their lives were not dreary and awful. For individuals living in those spaces, the slower and more traditional lifestyle was really all they knew how to follow since they were surrounded by it on a daily basis.

The unequal representation brought on by this misnomer is overtly present within the literary works of two well-known authors of the 1920s: F. Scott Fitzgerald and Willa Cather. Fitzgerald is arguably one of the main perpetuators of the myth of “The Roaring Twenties” as the major themes of his novels and stories revolve around upper-class society in metropolitan meccas such as New York. The main characters his stories oftentimes focus, hail from wealthy families and have luxuries and opportunities that not many were offered during the 1920s. Fitzgerald highlights the fast-paced, glamourous lifestyle of young, wealthy Americans living in major cities. In opposition, Willa Cather wrote several stories that mostly were set in rural America. She is praised for her ability to transport readers to the small farm towns where her stories are set as well as her ability to accurately depict life in these small rural towns. Cather’s writing helps to show how incomparable life was for those individuals not living in major cities and, in turn, how and why “The Roaring Twenties” is such an inaccurate misnomer for generalizing the entire decade. Cather’s writing highlights the lack of serious cultural division that was prominent in American cities and emphasizes the differences in cultural identity that the youth population lived in, connected to, and promoted. She promotes the acceptance and understanding of the cultural divide that was growing during the 1920s and exposes the experiences of working-class American young men and women to uncover this frequently ignored and omitted part of American History.

A major issue that needs to be amended in regards to this issue of unequal representation of all during the 1920s is the educational perspective this decade is viewed. Most individuals visualize “The Roaring Twenties” in the way they do because that is how they were taught to see the decade. Students are frequently taught in the classroom only about the wealthy urban lifestyle that was lived during the 1920s and associations are often made with places like New York City as well as works of popular media like The Great Gatsby. The issue with this comes in that the entire perspective of the working- or middle-class individual is completely lost and disregarded by educators and, in turn, by students.

Teachers, at least in New Jersey, are not even suggested to teach about rural nor small town America in History and Social Studies classes. The closest that they may come stems from NJ Social Studies Standard 6.1.12.D.8.b which falls under the “Perspectives” content strand and has students “assess the impact of artists, writers, and musicians of the 1920s, including the Harlem Renaissance, on American culture and values.” (New Jersey Student Learning Standards for Social Studies, 2014). New Jersey students are asked to study different artists, writers, and musicians of the 1920s and assess their impact on American culture, but these artists, writers, and musicians almost always have some sort of connection to an urban space, typically New York. The New Jersey Department of Education have laid the groundwork for students to learn about various perspectives of individuals from the 1920s with this standard, but the focus almost always falls onto and stays on the perspective of city inhabitants, with writers of the Harlem Renaissance, and authors who write about urban life, with F. Scott Fitzgerald. If the perspectives of all Americans from the 1920s continue to be ignored and disregarded in History and Social Studies classrooms, the country will eventually lose the historically vital stories, voices, and perspectives of a large portion of the U.S. population, altogether.

This leads into the devolution within History and Social Studies education which has, arguably, deteriorated greatly in terms of its quality. When asked in an interview “How do you think inadequate history education plays into what some describe as the country’s current “‘post-truth’ moment?” author James W. Loewen answered that “History is by far our worst-taught subject in high school; I think we’re stupider in thinking about the past than we are, say, in thinking about Shakespeare, or algebra, or other subjects” (Wong, 2018). High school students have been disserviced in the ways they are taught History and Social Studies. The reason for this is that “we historians tend to make everything so nuanced that the idea of truth almost disappears” (Wong, 2018). Most History and Social Studies teachers rely too heavily on fitting as much of the vast expanse of History into their classes so much so that important topics tend to simply be glanced over and taught subtly rather than being focused on intently. This is the disservice that is done onto students and it directly boils down to the textbooks used in schools, today.

History and Social Studies textbooks, that are uses in schools across the country, are incredibly biased and one-sided. They oftentimes omit certain facts regarding an individual, event, or concept or they simply omit certain individuals, events, or concepts altogether. Individuals like Willa Cather and topics like rural America during the 1920s are oftentimes omitted from History and Social Studies classes and textbooks because they are not as enthralling or appealing as individuals like F. Scott Fitzgerald and topics like cities during the 1920s. That determination, however, is made by the individuals writing the textbooks. This is a consideration that consumers of textbooks, especially schools, need to make as “perhaps we are all dupes, manipulated by elite white male capitalists who orchestrate how history is written as part of their scheme to perpetuate their own power and privilege at the expense of the rest of us” (Loewen, 2018, p. 304). Those who write the textbooks control the narrative of what readers learn from the textbook. Bias detection is vital for consumers of textbooks to utilize especially if the textbook is going to be used by students. Loewen highlights how “in 1984, George Orwell was clear about who determines the way History is written: ‘Who controls the present controls the past’” (Loewen, 2018, p. 304). This is what happens with modern textbooks as the major publishing companies responsible for our textbooks are the ones controlling the narrative of history that our students are consuming in their classrooms. Money and wealth dominate modern American society and since the individuals at the top of the corporate hierarchy for major publishing companies are presumably incredibly wealthy, they control the way History is written. What they find interesting is what is published in textbooks, but those individuals, topics, and concepts are not always the vital pieces of history that students need to learn while in school.

References

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Cather, W. (1920). Coming, Eden Bower! Youth and the Bright Medusa (pp. 1-166)

Cather, W. (1922). One of Ours

Cather, W. (1923). A Lost Lady

De Leeuw, A. (1922, May 28,). New-York Tribune, May 28, 1922, Page 7, Image 53. New-York Tribune10.1093/nq/192.9.195e https://api.istex.fr/ark:/67375/HXZD0ZFBQHG0/fulltext.pdf

Farrar, J. (). The New York Herald, October 8, 1922, Section 7, Page 12, Image 96.

Fitzgerald, F. S. (1920a). Flappers and Philosophers. Collected Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald      (pp. 3-164). Barnes & Noble Inc. (Consulted)

Fitzgerald, F. S. (1920b). The I.O.U. In Anne Margaret Daniel (Ed.), I’d Die For You and Other   Lost Stories (pp. 3-18). Scribner Inc. (Consulted)

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Fitzgerald, F. S. (1922a). The Beautiful and Damned. Barnes & Noble Books.

Fitzgerald, F. S. (1922b). Tales of the Jazz Age. Collected Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald (pp. 167-398). Barnes & Noble Inc. (Consulted)

Fitzgerald, F. S. (1925). The Great Gatsby. The Great Gatsby and Other Classic Works (pp. 853-965). Sterling Publishing Co.

Hansen, H. (). The New York Herald, March 19, 1922, Section 8, Page 11, Image 105.

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New Jersey Student Learning Standards for Social Studies (2014). New Jersey Department of      Education.

The New York Herald, October 15, 1922, Section 8, Page 9, Image 97.

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F. Scott Fitzgerald 1896-1940. (2020). F. Scott Fitzgerald Society. Retrieved from https://fscottfitzgeraldsociety.org/about-us-2/biography/

Garvey, T. J. (1984). Paul Manship, F. Scott Fitzgerald and a monument to echo the Jazz Age.

Jenkins, A. (1974). The Twenties. Universe Books.

Loewen, J. W. (2018). Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. The New Press.

Murphy, J. J. (2021). Epilogue Why Willa Cather? A Retrospective. Cather Studies, 12, 300-323. Retrieved from https://rider.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=trudb=aph&AN=151747278&site=eds-live&scope=site

Quirk, W. J. (2009). Living on $500,000 a Year: What F. Scott Fitzgerald’s tax returns reveal       about his life and times. American Scholar, 78(4), 96-101. Retrieved from https://rider.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=truedb=lfh&AN=44180090&site=eds-live&scope=site

Ryan, E. J. (2018). When the World Broke in Two: The 1920s and the Dawn of America’s Culture Wars. ABC-CLIO LLC.

Squire, K. (2011). Jazz Age Places: Modern Regionalism in Willa Cather’s The Professor’s House. Cather Studies, 9, 45-66. 10.1017/9781787446861

Zeitz, J. (2006). Flapper: A Madcap Story of Sex, Style, Celebrity, and the Women who Made America Modern. Random House Inc.