A song for our times: Arlo and Pete sing Woody

July 20, 2010

In the late 1960s and the 1970s, conservatives made big displays of singing this song.  The Mormon Tabernacle Choir recorded one very popular version of it; it showed up often.  In those occasional complaints about the difficulty of singing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” this song’s suitability for national anthem status was always raised.

Today?  I haven’t heard it at a Republican gathering in long, long time.  I’m not saying that it’s completely disappeared from the conservative song book — among other things, I don’t attend Republican conventions as often as I once did, but I don’t think I’d hear it if I did.  I am saying that people finally started listening to the song, and it’s been largely dropped from conservative sing alongs for political reasons.

And that tells us a lot.

It would be good to hear this song a lot more; it would be good if more people sang it.

Arlo Guthrie and Pete Seeger leading the congregation in singing Woody Guthrie’s “The Land Is Your Land,” from a 1993 concert at Wolf Trap Farm Park in Virginia (one of my favorite venues for any music):

(Arlo’s got a new release this year, featuring this tune.)


FDR’s First 100 Days – tailored for the classroom

April 4, 2009

The FDR Library in Hyde Park has an exhibit on FDR’s legendary First 100 Days.  Accompanying the exhibit is a flyer, available on-line in .pdf, that is tailor made for a quick PowerPoint on the events.

Cover of the .pdf flyer on the FDR Librarays exhibit on the First 100 Days

Cover of the .pdf flyer on the FDR Libraray's exhibit on the First 100 Days

A 24-page guide to the exhibit is also available, with even more details — though a lot of the images would be more difficult to put into a PowerPoint or Keynote presentation.

For government classes, these guides might offer a project on comparing Roosevelt’s first three or four months to Obama’s first months in office.

I’m wondering about printing at least a class set of the guide . . .


FDR takes over

March 31, 2009

Leisure Guy, in his leisure no doubt, has some time to look seriously at political criticism and its accuracy.  For example, recently he wondered about the claim that FDR didn’t do anything to help the U.S. out of the depression, and perhaps helped prolong it.  [I have corrected a minor error; he had FDR being inaugurated in January of 1933.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the last president to be inaugurated in March; the term was changed to start in January during his presidency.]

This graph is from an interesting post by Paul Krugman, but I was fascinated to see that you can tell when FDR took office. He was elected, as you know, at the end of 1932, and he took office in late January [March] of 1933. Can you find that spot on the graph?


But of course, Right Wingers will tell you that FDR made the Depression worse. Some will even say that FDR started the Great Depression.

Leisure Guy didn’t include a link to Krugman’s post, drat it.  It doesn’t appear to be this one, though it covers some of the same territory.  Update: Oh, here it is:  “Partying like it’s 1931.”

How do you know it’s as bad as it is?

March 20, 2009

My father lived through the Great Depression.  That was what we noted whenever he cheered when somebody got a job with the Post Office.  “It’s a steady job,” he’d say.  “The Post Office doesn’t lay people off.  They have good health care, and a pension.”

That was then.  My father died in 1988.

This is now.

Yeah, it’s that bad.

Great Depression in music and images – look what good film can do

March 14, 2009

History is Elementary once again shows why we ought to be reading her stuff regularly, pointing to the short film “Pennyland” by Eddie and Frank Thomas.

I dare you to plug that into your lesson plans, teachers.  When you do, drop back and tell us in comments what you did, will you?


Recession or depression: Anecdotal evidence

October 23, 2008

Schools and teachers in Dallas still scramble to deal with the layoff of just over a thousand, including several hundred teachers.  At our school, schedule changes will be effective Monday, we hope.  Hundreds of students will have new schedules; in one case, we’re abandoning one elective entirely.

Teachers, staff and administration are shaken at best, bitter in worse cases, struggling to catch up everywhere.

About a dozen other teachers now have dropped by my classroom, asking about comparisons to corporate layoffs, an area where I have more experience almost all on the survivor side.   If I had to typify their reactions, I’d say the corps of teachers in Dallas is just scared.

Other economic stories don’t help.  Supplemental retirement funds have been hammered by Wall Street’s woes.  I hear teachers saying they had hoped to retire in a year or two, but can’t now, especially with a child or grandchild in college and tuition costs rising.

Also, locally, Dallas is supposed to lose a score of Starbucks locations (600 across Texas).  The first to close was the closest to Molina High School, last spring.  Last night Starbucks shuttered the first location south of the Trinity River in Dallas, a partnership with Magic Johnson, on Camp Wisdom Road.  It’s about four miles from here, a site I visited often when it first opened, but lately only when I get the tires rotated at the shop across the street.

Both of my parents lived through the Great Depression.  My mother graduated from Salt Lake City’s West High in 1932, and plunged into the grim job market.  She said that, on the farm, they had little awareness of the depression.  On farms in the late 1920s, everyone was poor.  Off the farm, things were a lot worse.

My father spoke about catching the first job that comes along.  His series of jobs in the Depression came from big businesses collapsing about as often as he got a better job from jumping.  He said it was possible to stay in employment, but once one got knocked out of the employment market, it was very difficult to get back in.  He was happy to have the skills to get a job behind a drugstore or cigar store “fountain.”

What was the difference between a depression and a recession?  They couldn’t say.

Tuesday I dropped into our remaining local Starbucks (may it remain open) for the weekly purchase of the New York Times featuring the science section. The woman barista noted my identification badge.  “My husband was just fired from that school,” she said.

I said I was sorry, I said we miss him badly (true in all cases).  I told her I hope he finds something soon.

Then I had to leave fast.

She’s working in a location condemned to close.  He’s just been laid off.  I didn’t ask about children.

History for fun, not profit (other than a little drink)

October 14, 2008

E Clampus Vitus has tens of thousands of members across seven Western states, though nowhere are the groups eccentric ways more alive than in California. Above, Noble Grand Humbug Scott Neilsen, left, and Steve Slonecker at Eds Restaurant in Twain Harte.

Caption from the New York Times: E Clampus Vitus has tens of thousands of members across seven Western states, though nowhere are the group's eccentric ways more alive than in California. Above, Noble Grand Humbug Scott Neilsen, left, and Steve Slonecker at Ed's Restaurant in Twain Harte. Photo fro the New York Times, by Jim Wilson.

You don’t think history can be fun? Consider the group of Californians known as Clampers, who gather to celebrate history in a place called Twain Harte (ask any California historian, or American literature mavin, how the town got its name):

“It’s a common saying that no one has been able to tell if they are historians that like to drink or drinkers who like history,” said Dr. Robert J. Chandler, a senior historian at Wells Fargo Bank and a proud member of the group’s San Francisco chapter. “And no one knows because no one has been in any condition to record the minutes.”

Whether a historical drinking society or a drinking historical society, the Clampers claim tens of thousands of members in 40 chapters across seven Western states, though nowhere are the group’s strange ways more alive than in California, where members are said to have included Ronald Reagan; John Huston, the film director; and Herb Caen, the famous San Franciscan master of the three-dot journal. Some Clamper membership claims, of course, can be suspect. It is true, however, that many noted historians have been members, as is the current director of the State Office of Historic Preservation.

I already like the bunch:  The Order of E Clampus Vitus.

Read about them in the New York Times. The Times carries a series of stories based on the WPA-produced state guide books (Works Progress Administration).  Each one of these articles would be a good topic of focus for a lesson plan.  Other articles in the series so far include:

See also the introduction to the series, and go back in time to read the .pdf of the story announcing the creation of the WPA, intended to created 3.5 million jobs in the Great Depression.

Slowdown for study

January 25, 2007

Posting will be light this weekend — I’m off to Pasadena, California, for a Liberty Fund seminar on the “Hoover-Roosevelt Conversation,” regarding the debates between Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt between 1928 and 1945.  Good fun, great company, hoped-for good stuff for future lesson plans.

But little time for blogging (and who knows how well the connections work).


After the end, Hoover showed the way for Bush

December 28, 2006

Herbert Hoover, White House Portrait

Herbert Hoover, White House Portrait

Herbert Hoover is one of the great foils for U.S. history courses. The Great Depression is on national standards and state standards. Images from the dramatic poverty that resulted win the rapt attention of even the most calloused, talkative high school juniors. Most video treatments leave students wondering why President Hoover wasn’t tried for crimes against humanity instead of just turned out of office.

In most courses, Hoover is left there, and the study of Franklin Roosevelt‘s event-filled twelve years in office (with four elected terms) takes over the classroom. If Hoover is mentioned again at all in the course, it would likely be for his leading humanitarian work after World War II.

But there is, hiding out in California, the Hoover Institution. Hoover’s impact today? Well, consider some recent fellows of the Hoover Institution: Condaleeza Rice, Milton Friedman, George Shultz, E. D. Hirsch, Jr., Gary Becker, Diane Ravitch, Chester Finn. The Hoover Institution, “at Stanford University,” is the conservatives’ anchor in the intellectual and academic world.

Hoover’s legacy is being remade, constantly, through his post-Presidential establishment of an institution to promote principles of conservatism (and liberalism in its old, almost archaic education sense). The Hoover Institution has carried Hoover’s ideas and principles back into power.

Dallas has been wracked recently with the shenanigans and maneuvers around the work of Southern Methodist University to be named as the host for the George W. Bush Presidential Library. In a humorous headline last week the Dallas Morning News (DMN) said such a library could lead Dallas’s intellectual life in the future (the headline is different in the on-line version — whew!).

Humor aside, there is grist for good thought there. Read the rest of this entry »

Egan’s Dust Bowl history wins National Book Award

November 21, 2006

The Worst Hard Time book cover, Houghton Mifflin image

Timothy Egan wins awards for his reporting and writing on a regular basis these days, it appears. He was part of a 2001 Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter team who reported on racial attitudes in America for the New York Times. Last week his book on the Dust Bowl won the National Book Award for Nonfiction: The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl (Houghton-Mifflin).

This period is not well understood by Texas history students, according to the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) tests of the past few years. Here’s a new book that should be incorporated into lesson plans for 7th grade Texas history courses, who will be coming into the Dust Bowl period sometime after the first of the year on most calendars.

Egan reads an excerpt of The Worst Hard Time for NPR here, and the site includes a link to the first chapter and other NPR stories on the Dust Bowl.

Other sources for lesson planning for this period should include Woody Guthrie’s biography Bound for Glory (book and movie), Steinbeck’s series on the Great Depression, The Grapes of Wrath (both book and movie), and Of Mice and Men (book and movie and more movies).

(New York Times book review of Egan’s book, here.)

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