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Mind Mapping the Path of the American Dream through History

Nice NY Times LP


Developed in Partnership with
The Bank Street College of Education in New York City

I DREAMED A DREAM IN TIME GONE BY: Mind Mapping the Path of the American Dream through History

What Happens to the American Dream in a Recession?, By KATHARINE Q. SEELYE,May 11, 2009

Sarah Kavanagh, The New York Times Learning Network


American History

In this lesson, students will research how the American dream has been experienced throughout history and then create a comprehensive mind map illustrating their findings.

1-2 class periods

Have students write responses to the following prompt: "What is your definition of the 'American dream?' Describe some examples of people you know, have heard about, or have read about that have dreamed an 'American dream.'" Once all have responded, ask students to share their answers.

-What do the people they described have in common?
-Do students think that the American dream is specific to the United States in some way? If so, how and why?
-Why does the American dream have such a prominent place in our nation's self identity?
-Do people often see the American dream realized? Why or why not?

During this discussion, ask two student volunteers to write words and phrases from students' comments that say something significant about the American dream on the classroom board. Keep these words and phrases on the board for the entire period for students to use later in the lesson.

As a class, read and discuss the article "What Happens to the American Dream in a Recession?" focusing on the following questions:
a. According to this article, what is the "classic definition" of the American dream? Do you think that this dream (as it is classically defined) often comes true? Why or why not?
b. Why do you think more people believe in the American dream today than they did four years ago when our economic outlook was much brighter?
c. Describe the shift in the definition of the American dream over the past four years? What do you think accounts for this change?
d. Which definitions of the American dream resonate most with you? Why?
e. Why do you think Barry Glassner believes that it would be difficult to find a different country where so many people believe in possibilities even in dire circumstances? Do you agree with him? Why or why not?

Depending on the size of your class and how many groups you wish to have for this activity, split the class accordingly. Provide each pair or group a different archival New York Times article. Each article is from a different era in American history and embeds the idea of the American dream as it relates to the time period in which the article was written.

Group 1: Times article from January 1, 1933: "America Faces 1933's Realities"

Group 2: Times article from May 13, 1951: "The Most Powerful Idea in the World"

Group 3: Times article from August 9, 1959: "Essence of America"

Group 4: Times article from March 7, 1965: "The American Dream"

Group 5: Times article from January 26, 1969: "Youth in Revolt"

Group 6: Times article from October 17, 1974: "Pre-Election Mood: 'There's No Time for Dreams'"

Group 7: Times article from December 2, 1979: "The Looming 80's"

Group 8: Times article from June 23, 1996: "Testing the Resonance of the American Dream"

Group 9: Times article from June 24, 2001: "Our Towns; A Chance to Live, and Then Describe, Her Own American D...

Group 10: Times article from May 21, 2005: "You Really Can't Be Too Rich"

Instruct all groups to read their assigned article while completing the handout "American Dreaming" in which students are asked to examine how the American dream is presented and discussed in their assigned article and then directed to compare and relate this historic conception to contemporary interpretations of it.

Once groups have finished this activity inform them that the class will be creating a mind map. Instructions for creating a mind map can be found at what is mind mapping. Many examples of mind maps can be found by conducting a Google image search for "mind map." Using the images you find, show your students examples of mind maps before beginning the project. When creating their section of the class mind map on the American dream, encourage students to use color coding and illustrations using, perhaps, different types of media: text, magazine and newspaper cut-outs, original drawings, designs, 3-D objects, etc.

Create the center of the mind map before class on a piece of poster board. Then offer each group a piece of poster board. Show students how their piece of poster board will connect to the central piece that you created before class. Draw a mark on their poster board at the exact spot their mind map drawing will touch the central piece's drawing. Let students know that their section of the mind map should meet the following criteria: it should inform viewers of the time period they read about and how the American dream was interpreted during that period; it should be visually interesting and the visuals should support the content (if the content is depressing and/or tragic, the visuals should match); it should make connections between the contemporary conceptions of the American dream and historic ones.

Have students work in their pairs or groups to complete their section of the mind map for homework. In a future class, put all pieces of the mind map together and have students present their section to the rest of the class. Follow these presentations with a class discussion about what students notice when they look at that mind map as a whole. Does examining the American dream in this way make them think differently about it? In what ways?

Related Times Resources:

  • ADDITIONAL TIMES ARTICLES AND MULTIMEDIA: Video: Defining the American Dream Image: The American Dream's Rising Cost Special Section: Class Matters

  • LEARNING NETWORK RESOURCES: Lesson Plan: American Dreaming Telling Our Own Versions of the Story of the United States of America Teaching with The Times: Class Matters
    Lesson Plan: That's the Spirit
    Examining Historical Perspective on Commercial Ambition in the U.S.

  • ARCHIVAL TIMES MATERIALS: See the body of this lesson for links to related articles from the 1933-2005.
  • TIMES TOPICS: United States Immigration and Emigration United States Economy

  • OTHER RESOURCES: Novel Reflections: The American Dream PBS's American Masters' American Novel Web site examines the American dream in American literature Deepening the American Dream
    Bill Moyers collects video responses of Americans' discussing their conception of the American Dream
    What is the American Dream?
    The Library of Congress's "The Learning Page" defines the American dream and links to lesson plans on the topic.

    Language Arts – Respond to an American novel that you are reading in class by addressing the tensions between the realities presented in the story and the dreams held by the characters. How do the characters manage to strive for possibilities that seem out of their reach in the midst of harsh realities? This response can take the form of a paper, a journal, a mural, a monologue, a book review, a drawing, a collage, a poster, poetry, a scrapbook, or a form of your own creation.

    Journalism – poll your school's community to find out their take on the questions presented in the Times article you read in class. Write an article comparing your school's position on the American dream to the nation as a whole. If the polling results at your school are significantly different than the national results, be sure to address possible reasons for this discrepancy.

    Grades 6-12
    Civics Standard 9- Understands the importance of Americans sharing and supporting certain values, beliefs, and principles of American constitutional democracy
    Civics Standard 11- Understands the role of diversity in American life and the importance of shared values, political beliefs, and civic beliefs in an increasingly diverse American society
    Historical Understanding Standard 1- Understands and knows how to analyze chronological relationships and patterns
    Historical Understanding Standard 2- Understands the historical perspective
    History Standard 31- Understands economic, social, and cultural developments in the contemporary United States
    Language Arts Standard 1- Demonstrates competence in the general skills and strategies of the writing process

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