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Teaching Guide

Teaching The Roaring Twenties

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The Roaring Twenties is more than just a retro fashion statement. But the good news is that you won't need a time machine to transport students back to this decade—it's going to feel very familiar.

In this guide you will find

  • historical and literary connections to World War I, the Great Depression, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway, among others.
  • discussion questions about politics, culture, race, and the economy.
  • an activity for students to create a 1920s timeline with all the important details.

With Shmoop, nothing is prohibited in your discussion of the Roaring Twenties. (Well, except alcohol. Keep that out of the classroom.)

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  • 3-5 Common Core-aligned activities (including quotation, image, and document analysis) to complete in class with your students, with detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes to be sure students are looking at the material through various lenses.
  • Resources to help make the topic feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop's teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the topic and how you can overcome the hurdles.

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Instructions for You

Resolved: "These men of many nations must be taught American ways, the English language, and the right way to live." -- Henry Ford, speaking of immigrants

As your students read in Shmoop's Immigration in the Roaring Twenties, Henry Ford welcomed immigrants but believed that they needed to be aggressively introduced to "Americanism" -- the English language, American customs, values, and behaviors. To promote this, inspectors from the "Ford Sociological Department" were dispatched to workers' homes (usually with an interpreter to facilitate discussion with the foreign-born employee) to ensure that a proper American household was being maintained. That meant the couple must be married, free of debt, and moderate in their use of alcohol. Proper housekeeping was encouraged and keeping boarders (an old world and "low-class" practice) was discouraged.

To a certain extent, Ford treated his immigrant workers much like every other part of the production process at his factories. He endlessly tinkered with his assembly lines to make them more efficient. Intruding on employees’ private lives was aimed largely at making them more efficient workers. Moreover, he rewarded them for adopting "American lifestyles" (or punished them if they did not). A passing grade from the inspector was necessary for an employee to receive Ford’s top pay rate of $5 a day.

Today, many view Ford’s approach as heavy-handed and disrespectful of the immigrants and the cultures they brought with them. Diversity is now often celebrated as a source of cultural richness rather than a threat to prevailing American values. Rather than demanding acculturation, many public institutions make concession to the languages and traditions immigrants bring with them to the United States. For example, government manuals, voter guides, and school materials are today offered in several languages.

Many, however, argue that Ford had it right -- that both America and its immigrants are better served by rapid acculturation.

In debating this resolution, you may take several approaches. One possibility would be to focus narrowly on Ford’s program and similar company acculturation programs.

  • Is this an appropriate role for employers?
  • Should pay be linked to lifestyle?
  • Are employers, and the marketplace, the entities best suited to bring about rapid adaptation to American life?

You might alternatively, however, decide to focus the debate more broadly and philosophically: Is America and its immigrant population best served by encouraging/demanding acculturation or accepting a culturally, and even linguistically, diverse population?

(Lesson aligned with CA History-Social Sciences 9th-12th grade chronological and spatial thinking standard 1; historical research, evidence, and point of view standard 4; historical interpretation standards 1, 3, 4; 11th grade American History standard 11.5.2)

Instructions for Your Students

As you listen to your teacher describe the details of Henry Ford's "Americanization" campaign, imagine yourself as an immigrant worker at one of his auto plants. Would Ford's methods help you and your family adjust to life in America? Or would you feel that your privacy and freedom to live as you wish had been violated? Should a similar "Americanization" plan be developed for immigration to the United States today? Why or why not?

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Intro    Summary & Analysis    Timeline    People    Facts    Photos    Best of the Web    Citations    Test Review    
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