Friday, August 17, 2012

The American Citizens Handbook: Part 1

"You, at this moment have the honor to belong to a generation whose lips are touched by fire... The human race now passes thru one of its great crises. New ideas, new issues - a new call for men to carry on the work of righteousness, of charity, or courage, of patience, and of loyalty - all these things have come and are daily coming to you. When you are old... however memory brings back this moment to your mind, let it be able to say to you: That was a great moment. It was the beginning of a new era... This world in its crisis called for volunteers, for men of faith in life, or patience in service, of charity, and of insight. I responded to the call however I could. I volunteered to give myself to my master - the cause of humane and brave living. I studied, I loved, I labored, unsparingly and hopefully, to be worthy of my generation."  - Josiah Royce
This is the introductory quote found in the 6th edition of The American Citizens Handbook. First published in 1941 by the National Council of Social Studies (a department of the National Education Association) it was written to coincide with National Citizenship Day and continued to 1968 with the last edition I currently posses. The book is broken out into multiple sections in order to highlight what made the United States of America what it is, why patriotism and citizenship is so important, and the foundations of our liberty and freedom. I thought it would be interesting to discover what students were being taught in the mid-twentieth century through a five part blog series.  

The founding of this book can be attributed to Joy Elmer Morgan who from 1920 to 1954 was editor of the Journal of the National Education Association. Eventually becoming President of the Senior Citizens of America she wrote the introduction to this book entitled 'Your Citizenship in the Making.' Morgan lays out the main objective of this book which is to "become active and responsible citizens we can help to build a future worthy of the pioneer men and women who made possible the opportunities we now enjoy." Morgan then lays out all the aspects of being an active citizen which includes: historical leadership, our national documents, foundation of Christianity, free public education, and active participation. The NEA really surprises me here on the stance they take politically, religiously, and socially. It very much would today be considered a Conservative stance. Examining their website, you see their mission and values have some basic similarities for instances their support that education is the foundation of a strong republic. Beyond that however you see nothing mentioned of historical emphasis on foundation leaders and documents as well as nothing mentioned of Christianity or religion at all. 

All aspects of this section focus on the idea of what we can do as good citizens to make America great. Morgan closes out this section with a challenge to everyone reading this book. She writes, "As you read this book, ask yourself what you as a citizen can do to pass on the torch of democracy and to make the nation better and stronger. Determine to do your part to keep democracy true to the ideals of its founders." So as we look at this book and what it offers we can get a glimpse into the mindset and ideals of people in the 1940s and 50s. We can see what students were taught and what perspective people had at that time. When we hear Baby Boomers mentioning the "good ole days" we can see that it was not just what they were taught in the home but what they were being taught in school. 

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