Lesson Plans

Early Twentieth Century

Reactions to Change in the 1920s
Author: Anne Manuel
School: Montgomery Blair High
Grade Level: 9th
Time Estimated: 2 days (90 minute periods)

Enduring Understanding

Since the second half of the 19th Century, the United States experienced more dramatic change than at any time in its previous history. Nearly four million individuals, previously considered the property of Southern whites, suddenly became citizens, with a legitimate claim to the same rights as their former owners. And while the end of Reconstruction and the establishment of the New South seemed to place these freedmen in a position of complete subservience, World War I led about one million African Americans to move to northern cities, where they created a mecca in Harlem for the New Negro: someone who proudly and without fear trumpeted his race, its accomplishments and expectations.

At the same time, the impact of constantly advancing technology, industrialization, and rural to urban migration dramatically changed the daily lives of Americans. The proliferation of electric light marked the beginning of a major shift away from the natural rhythms of darkness and light. The availability of cheap manufactured goods improved convenience and standards of living for all Americans. These changes began a revolution in women’s lives, as everything from cornflakes to washing machines increasingly freed them from endless unpaid labor.

The mechanization of both agricultural and industrial production also brought drastic changes in workers’ lives. Alienation increased as assembly lines replaced the craftsman’s bench. The increasing use of machines in agriculture created a farm debt crisis at the same time that it freed rural workers to move to the cities.

Cities became magnets for new forms of entertainment and life in the 1920s. Add to all of this the intoxicating consumerist spirit of the 1920s and the growing influence of Darwinism in the explanations for man’s origins and you have a recipe for some kind of profound backlash. We will explore various aspects of that backlash in this lesson.

Objectives

Analyze the cultural backlash against social changes of the early 20th Century through analysis of primary sources and composition of a five-paragraph essay.

Content Focus: 1920s

  • Based on public demand and nativist beliefs, Congress passed legislation setting a quota system that led to a sharp reduction in immigration
  • Nativist suspicions of foreigners and immigrants led to the execution of Sacco and Vanzelli
  • The most extreme expression of nativism was the resurgence of the KKK
  • Racial prejudice and fears led to an increase in racial violence and lynchings.

MCPS Unit

Unit 9.4: “Culture in Prosperity and Adversity”
Lesson Sequence 2: “Culture Clash”

Materials

  • Large pieces of newsprint
  • Markers
  • Partner appointment sheets or some means of dividing students in groups of two
  • Internet access or print out of primary sources
  • Video: Peter Jennings, “The Century: America’s Time,” v. I
  • Online primary resources or print outs
  • Analyzing primary source documents

Procedures

First Class Period

1. Activating Prior Knowledge

Writing on large sheets of newsprint with markers, students in groups of 3-4 will brainstorm the way various trends since the end of the Civil War have changed Americans’ lives. Separate groups will focus on one of the following topics each:

  • the affect of changing in race relations from Reconstruction to the Harlem Renaissance
  • the impact of the growth of industry
  • the affect of technological changes
  • the impact of urbanization
  • the affect of large-scale immigration

2. The Acceleration of Change and Reaction in the 1920s

After sharing their ideas on the massive changes brought about by modernity, students will watch an approximately 20-minute segment of the video, "The Century: America’s Time," by Peter Jennings and the History Channel on the 1920s. The segment shows the frenetic consumerism and party atmosphere of the 1920s, with an emphasis on the breaking of limits (dance marathons, taller and taller buildings, speakeasies, etc). A recounting of the Scopes Trial, brief glimpses of the growth of fundamentalism and nativism, and a harrowing account of the rise of the Klan follow this in the 1920s.

3. Analyzing the Forces of Reaction

While students are easily moved by accounts from the victims of reactionary forces, they are quick to dismiss the views of those promoting reaction. Analysis of primary sources may help to deepen their understanding of the forces of reaction. I will assign students to work with a partner as they read and analyze the sources listed below, filling out the attached questionnaire: “Sounding the Alarm.”

4. Homework

Students will continue work on analyzing primary sources that we will begin in class. They will report their findings on the questionnaire, which requires them to among other things, place the sources in historical context, say what each adds to their previous knowledge, note if anything conflicts with their previous knowledge, and record any questions they have.

5. Differentiation

The primary sources incorporated into the lesson plan encompass different levels of reading difficulty as well as political cartoons. Shortened versions of the more difficult sources could be provided, with vocabulary defined.

Second Class Period

1. Warm-up

Students will respond in their notebooks to the warm up question “What does it mean to be American?” What about American identity do you relate to?

2. Next

Read together sections of KKK Imperial Wizard Hiram Wesley Evans’s “The Klan’s Fight for Americanism,” in which he uses nativist arguments in favor of white, Protestant supremacy, not only in the U.S., but in the entire world.

3. Discussion

4. Continue work on primary sources

Homework

Day One: Students will continue work on analyzing primary sources that we will begin in class. They will report their findings on the questionnaire, which requires them to among other things, place the sources in historical context, say what each adds to their previous knowledge, note if anything conflicts with their previous knowledge, and record any questions they have.

Differentiation

The primary sources incorporated into the lesson plan encompass different levels of reading difficulty as well as political cartoons. Shortened versions of the more difficult sources could be provided, with vocabulary defined.

Assessment

Student homework will be graded as a formative assessment. The summative assessment will be an extended constructed response using primary sources to describe and analyze the reaction to change in the 1920s.

References: Web

T. T. Martin, Hell and the High Schools, University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law
http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/scopes/hellandhighschool.html
Excerpts from T.T. Martin’s book Hell and the High Schools, 1923, a diatribe against the teaching of evolution.
Monkey Trial: Bryan's Last Speech, American Experience, PBS
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/monkeytrial/filmmore/ps_bryan.html
Excerpts from William Jennings Bryan’s undelivered speech at the ScopesTrial in which he articulates the conflict between science and religion underlying the Scopes Trial.
Monkey Trial: Gallery, American Experience, PBS
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/monkeytrial/gallery/gal_monkeytrial_06.html
Another political cartoon; use the back button on the upper right corner to see 5 additional cartoons.
Tennessee Evolution Statutes, University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law
http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/scopes/tennstat.htm
State of Tennessee laws banning the teaching of evolution and then overturning the ban.
The Passing of Evolution
http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Parthenon/6528/fund69.htm
Critique of evolution from the fundamentalist point of view.
Anthony Comstock's "Chastity" Laws, American Experience, PBS
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/pill/peopleevents/e_comstock.html
A secondary source summarizing the Comstock Law’s ban on contraceptives. Comstock’s anti-vice crusade is another example of the backlash against modernity.
Pluralism and Unity, David Bailey, David Halsted and Michigan State University
http://www.expo98.msu.edu/
A 1915 interview with Anthony Comstock about his anti-vice campaign.