Exploring the McCarthy Era through Film
Have you ever been falsely accused? If so, you know how helpless and demoralized you feel. And yet American history as well as human history is filled with examples of those in government abusing their power to accuse the innocent of false charges. Reputations and careers have been destroyed by these events.
From the Salem witchcraft trials through the HUAC and the McCarthy hearings to the controversial Patriot Act and the NSA scandals of today American history is replete with examples of those abuses of power.
The purpose of this course/unit is to show that the McCarthy period was not an historic anomaly, but has happened before and could happen again.
The essential questions underlying the course/unit are:
How does the legacy of the McCarthy Era impact us today?
Is it true that those who do not learn from history repeat it? Could McCarthyism return?
Who was at fault for the McCarthy era?
How can we prevent the abuse of power?
Students will describe past historic periods of “McCarthyism” and show similarities and differences between those periods and McCarthyism.
Students will describe the culture of the “50s” and compare that culture with today’s culture.
Students will research an earlier culture, e.g. Puritanism or the rule of Alcibiades, and compare and contrast that culture with the culture of the “50s.” or another topic as listed in Appendix B.
Students will demonstrate an understanding of how today’s culture could potentially create a new McCarthyism.
The student will complete a 3-5 page research paper due at the end of the course/unit. This paper will support a thesis, and show 3-5 references and use APA formatting. (See Appendix B)
Students will work in teams to prepare an oral history presentation of an ordinary American who lived during the McCarthy Era.
Students will research various topics such as: HUAC, The Hollywood Ten, The Red Scare, Joseph Stalin and the purges, etc Each group will do a ten – fifteen minute presentation to the class.
Students will work in teams to will design a crossword puzzle using people, places, etc. from the McCarthy Era. The puzzle should have at least 15-20 items across and down. Each team will give copies of the puzzle to another team. Allow 20 minutes for the teams to complete each other’s puzzle.
Traditionally, history courses consist of five practices: lectures, taking notes, reading papers and tests. Students find these methods tedious, toilsome and tiring. Using film as a teaching medium is a method that in today’s world of texting, email, and other social media is usually well-received by students who more often than not are easily distracted and bored.
This course/unit uses two films. The first, The Crucible, is based on a play by Arthur Miller. The Crucible interestingly was written in the early 50s as the McCarthy hearings were held. The second film, Good Night and Good Luck, directed by George Clooney is more recent. It is the story of how Edward R. Murrow and CBS fought McCarthy. Not only the story but also the music in the film is reminiscent of the times.