The 1950s are now more than a half century in the past, yet the decade is familiar, at some level, to all of us. Leave it to Beaver and Happy Days have left hundreds of half-hour snapshots of the era. But we all know, it was more complex and even paradoxical than these shows suggest—a president who believed that national security was best achieved by the threat of all-out nuclear massive retaliation, but who also warned against the dangers of the military-industrial complex; a scientific community that built ever-more destructive bombs while more quietly developing a vaccine for polio; a culture that produced the bland formulas of mass television entertainment but also the jagged howl of the Beats.
The paradoxes within the period should allow you to explore the complexity of history often buried beneath nostalgia. To draw attention to this fact you might begin your study of the decade by asking your class what they already know (or think they know) about the 1950s. Generate a list of descriptors for the decade and revisit the list at the end of the unit—if we have all succeeded in our tasks, the new list should be different.