High School Lesson Plan: Conformity in the 1950's

By Andrew Otocka

This lesson plan is the first in a series of five on domestic happenings, trends, and events in the 1950's. It deals with the homogenization of American culture during the decade, from suburb development to McDonald's and TV.

Father Knows Best cast 1959 Following World War II, vast changes swept American society. People moved to the suburbs in large numbers. Chain restaurants like McDonald's changed the experience of dining in a restaurant for millions. Finally, television became America's favorite form of entertainment, passing both radio and the movies.

Objectives: Students should be able to describe some of the changes in American society in the 1950's.

Materials

  • An internet-enabled computer and a projector.

Lesson Procedure

1. Show students the New York Times slideshow of Levittown, New York and its history, which can be found here:

http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2007/10/12/nyregion/20071013_LEVITTOWN_SLIDESHOW_index.html

2. While you are presenting the slides, talk about where Levittown "came from". Include discussion of returning GI's after World War II, wartime savings bonds, the housing shortage that the country faced, and the prevalence of the automobile and new interstate systems. Profile William Levit, who came up with the idea

3. Ask students what their favorite fast food chain is. Have them group themselves according to taste. Then have them agree upon their favorite meal. If you wish, have them list their choices on your white-or blackboard, along with how much the meal would cost. Then show them the image of the original McDonald's menu, found here:

http://the305.com/2012/04/29/photo-the-original-prices-of-mcdonalds-food-back-in-the-50s/

Talk about the McDonalds brothers, their partnership with Ray Kroc, and how their menu and franchising impacted restaurants.

4. Show students an "I Love Lucy" episode. One can be found here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ivysnBvpM48

There are many others available on youtube.com. Tailor the amount that students watch to your time constraints. After watching, discuss the differences between TV today and in the 1950's. Explain that part of TV's allure lay in its novelty, but that advertising dollars that had previously gone to radio proved to be more productive when spent on TV. Show some old TV ads from here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NeZSXx-iq6Q

(The first one is a doctor endorsing Camel cigarettes.)

Finish with the fact that TV became part of many peoples' time together with their families, much as radio had been in the thirties and forties.