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Poverty in America

The Tale of Two Americas

The United States: Land of Opportunity, where anyone can achieve The American Dream...right?

Then why does a huge percentage of the population remain stuck in poverty? This short course explores the causes and drivers of poverty, inequality, and social mobility in modern America, and how we can best kick 'em to the curb.

With the help of Common Core-aligned activities, projects, and lessons, you'll be able to

  • explain the origins of the American Dream, poverty, and class.
  • describe inequality, structures of violence, and the underdog story.
  • identify the systemic (political, educational, cultural) challenges to achieving the American Dream in the U.S.
  • understand theories of conflict that help explain poverty and inequality.
  • apply conflict resolution theories and practices to real life situations.
  • compare and contrast Darwin, Marx, and Freud, and how their theories apply to Barbara Ehrenreich’s modern Nickel and Dimed America.
  • dissect the American Dream and reassemble it to see how it applies to us today.

Course Breakdown

Unit 1. A Tale of Two Americas

This short course digs into the tough topic of poverty and the American Dream. With the help of the book Nickel and Dimed, we'll discover what poverty looks like in America today, how the cycle of poverty gets started, and what we can do about it.

Sample Lesson - Introduction

Lesson 5: The Tale of Two Americas: Part I

"You never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them."
- Atticus Finch, To Kill A Mockingbird

Just like snowflakes, all of our experiences are different. We all see and experience the world differently. And we're not just talking about how some people like Burger King and others like McDonalds. We're talking how some people grow up in gated communities where the biggest issues are what college to go to while others grow up in communities full of gun violence where they feel lucky if they make it to their 18th birthdays without getting arrested or shot. You'd better believe that these different experiences make for some different perceptions of the world.

Both Simon and Ehrenreich spoke about two very different realities in the United States. For many, it's wealth and livin' la vida loca. For others, it's a hard knock life. In any case, both of these realities coexist in the U.S. under the same systems.

Not very nice to visit, and we wouldn't want to live there.

Consider Baltimore, home of "crab cakes and (Raven's) football." In this city, cozy suburbia is just a few miles down the road from the projects. On one street you have brick houses with backyards and two car garages; two miles down the street you have brick houses with broken windows and no electricity.

The people that live in that part of Baltimore are raising their kids, going to school, buying groceries in a city with a seriously high crime rate.

In this lesson, we'll journey to Chicago, another city that experiences shockingly high crime and violence. We'll listen to an episode of This American Life and then walk around in someone else's shoes until our feet hurt.

  • Course Length: 3 weeks
  • Grade Levels: 9, 10, 11, 12, College
  • Course Type: Short Course
  • Category:
    • History and Social Science
    • High School

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