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Teaching Guide

Teaching Cold War: McCarthyism & Red Scare

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Teaching this topic, you might feel a little…paranoid. But we're not coming to get you, we swear. Instead, we're coming to help you with all the info you need about Joseph McCarthy, his blacklist, the red scare, and propaganda. We've got your back.

In this guide you will find

  • activities exploring the connections between McCarthyism and Hollywood.
  • essay questions to put your students into the mindset of a spy.
  • reading quizzes to be sure students know that people weren't scared of the color red.

The Cold War may have caused tons of anxiety across the globe, but this topic doesn't have to.

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Inside each guide you'll find quizzes, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more—all written by experts and designed to save you time. Here are the deets on what you get with your teaching guide:

  • 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.

Instructions for You

Objective: Harry Truman does not match many of our established notions about American presidents. He had no college education and he was a haberdasher, not a lawyer. He entered the Oval Office after serving fewer than three months as Vice President. And during those 82 days, President Franklin Roosevelt kept him at arms' length.

He is considered to be one of the most unpopular presidents in history, and yet... historians rank him as one of the best presidents. Ever. 

Today your students will take a closer look at Truman's presidency as well as the role of the Vice President in U.S. governmental structure. After examining the way in which the Vice Presidency is defined in the Constitution, they'll try to determine whether or not this role needs greater definition, greater guaranteed involvement in the political process, both, or neither.

Length of Lesson: 1 class period (plus an optional homework assignment)

Materials Needed:

Step One: Share some basic facts about Harry Truman with your students. 

  • Harry Truman served only 82 days as U.S. Vice President before Franklin Delano Roosevelt's unexpected death elevated him to the presidency.
  • Harry Truman was the last American president to have no education beyond high school.
  • He had no college education and he was a haberdasher, not a lawyer
  • Rank of Harry Truman among most unpopular U.S. presidents since World War II, as measured by contemporary public approval ratings: 1st
  • Rank of Harry Truman among presidential historians asked to rate America’s best presidents: 6th

Step Two: Have your students read Shmoop's Politics Lens. Follow up with them to make sure they understand that Roosevelt excluded Truman from the most critical negotiations surrounding the war and did not tell him of America's nuclear program. (Vice President, Vice Shmesident.)

Step Three: Now it's time to engage in a bit of analysis. Begin by asking your students, based on what they have read, to offer theories as to why there is such a discrepancy between the public's and historians' assessments of Truman's presidency. Give them a chance to go back to the reading to find evidence to support their assertions. 

Step Four: Once you've wrapped up that discussion, you can begin to explore the role of the Vice President in U.S. government. First, ask your students to weigh in on Roosevelt's strategy of keeping Truman at arm's length. Was this wise? Appropriate? Right? Wrong? See what they think.

Step Five: Next, have them check out the U.S. Constitution’s brevity on the vice-president's role. 

Share with your students this portion of the Constitution pertaining to the Vice Presidency:

Article 1, Section 3
The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no vote, unless they be equally divided.

Amendment XXV
Section 1. In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.

Follow up with a class discussion the questions below:

  • Should the Constitution do more to clarify the Vice President's role?
  • Should the Vice President have other official duties?
  • Should the president be obligated to fully incorporate the Vice President within the responsibilities and decision-making processes of the presidential office?

Step Six (Optional): Ask students to take a look at the current U.S. Vice President and analyze the role as it exists today. Some questions they could answer include: 

  • What accomplishments are attributed to the Vice President? 
  • What responsibilities does the Vice President appear to have? 
  • How is the current Vice President's relationship with the current President similar to or different from Trumans' relationship with Roosevelt? 

(Lesson aligned with CA History-Social Sciences 9th-12th grade historical research, evidence, and point of view standard 3; historical interpretation standard 4; 11th grade American History standard 11.8.3)

Instructions for Your Students

Harry Truman does not match many of our established notions about American presidents, and not just because his middle initial was fake

He had only a high school education, and he entered the Oval Office after serving fewer than three months as Vice President. 

He is considered to be one of the most unpopular presidents in history, and yet... historians rank him as one of the best presidents. Ever. 

Today you'll take a closer look at Truman's presidency and at the role of the Vice President in U.S. governmental structure. In the end you'll offer your opinion on the role of the VP: does the VEEP need: 

  • greater definition? 
  • more responsibility? 
  • guaranteed involvement in the political process? 
  • all of the above?
  • none of it? 

You make the call. 

Step One: Go over some basic facts about Harry Truman with your teacher and classmates. 

  • Harry Truman served only 82 days as U.S. Vice President before Franklin Delano Roosevelt's unexpected death elevated him to the presidency.
  • Harry Truman was the last American president to have no education beyond high school.
  • He had no college education and he was a haberdasher, not a lawyer
  • Rank of Harry Truman among most unpopular U.S. presidents since World War II, as measured by contemporary public approval ratings: 1st
  • Rank of Harry Truman among presidential historians asked to rate America’s best presidents: 6th

Step Two: Take some time to read (or re-read) Shmoop's Politics Lens. Be sure to focus in on Truman's role as both Vice President and President. Consider the way in which Roosevelt involved (or didn't involve) Truman in the most critical negotiations surrounding the war. Also, what did Roosevelt tell Truman of his plans for America's nuclear program? (Mm hm. Seems like Roosevelt may have been thinking, "Vice President, Vice Shmesident.")

Step Three: Now it's time to engage in a bit of analysis. Based on what you've read, offer up your theory as to why there is such a discrepancy between the public's and historians' assessments of Truman's presidency. How could such a publicly unpopular president simultaneously be one of the best presidents in history? 

Be sure to go back to the reading to find evidence to support your assertions. 

Step Four: Once you've wrapped up that discussion, you can begin to explore the role of the Vice President in U.S. government. First, talk with your teacher and classmates Roosevelt's strategy of keeping Truman at arm's length. Was this wise? Appropriate? Right? Wrong? Discuss. 

Step Five: Next, check out the U.S. Constitution’s brevity on the vice-president's role. 

Here's the portion of the Constitution pertaining to the Vice Presidency:

Article 1, Section 3
The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no vote, unless they be equally divided.

Amendment XXV
Section 1. In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall become President.

And... that's it. So, riddle us this: 

  • Should the Constitution do more to clarify the Vice President's role?
  • Should the Vice President have other official duties?
  • Should the president be obligated to fully incorporate the Vice President within the responsibilities and decision-making processes of the presidential office?

Step Six (Optional): If you want to take things a step further (or if your teacher wants you to) take a look at the current U.S. Vice President and analyze the role as it exists today. Some questions you may consider in your analysis include: 

  • What accomplishments are attributed to the Vice President? 
  • What responsibilities does the Vice President appear to have? 
  • How is the current Vice President's relationship with the current President similar to or different from Trumans' relationship with Roosevelt? 

WANT MORE HELP TEACHING COLD WAR: MCCARTHYISM & RED SCARE?

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