What We Really Miss About the 1950s

Read: Looking for Work (page 19) Answer Questions: Engaging the Text 1 – 5 AND… Read: What We Really Miss About the 1950s (page 25) Answer questions: Engaging the Text 1, 2 & 4 Exploring Connections 5 & 6 Extending the Critical Context 7 AND… Read: The Color of Family Ties: Race, Class, Gender and Extended Family Involvement (page 44) Answer questions: Engaging the Text 1 – 4 Exploring Connections 6 ENGAGING THE TEXT Why is the narrator attracted to the kind of family life depicted on TV? What, if anything, does he think is wrong with his life? Why do his desires apparently have so little impact on his family? Why does the narrator first go looking for work? How has the meaning of work changed by the end of the story, when he goes out again “in search of an overgrown flower bed and the dime that would end the day right”? Explain. As Soto looks back on his nine-year-old self, he has a different perspective on things than he had as a child. How would you characterize the mature Soto’s thoughts about his childhood family life? (Was it “a good family”? What was wrong with Soto’s thinking as a nine-year-old?) Back up your remarks with specific references to the narrative. Review the story to find each mention of food or drink. Explain the role these references play. Review the cast of “supporting characters” in this narrative — the mother, sister, brother, friends, and neighbors. What does each contribute to the story and in particular to the meaning of family within the story? ENGAGING THE TEXT According to Coontz, what do we really miss about the 1950s, and what don’t we miss? Explain how it might be possible for us to miss an era that’s now half a century in the past. In Coontz’s view, what was the role of the government in making the 1950s in America what they were? What part did broader historical forces or other circumstances play? Although she concentrates on the 1950s, Coontz also describes the other decades from the 1920s to the 1990s, when she wrote this piece. Use her information to create a brief chart naming the key characteristics of each decade. Then consider your own family history and see how well it fits the pattern Coontz outlines. Discuss the results with classmates or write a journal entry reflecting on what you learn. EXPLORING CONNECTIONS The mythic nuclear family of the 1950s included kids. Do you think people today place less emphasis on raising children, and if so, why? How might Coontz respond to the “Future Salmon” cartoon on page 24 or to the frontispiece to this chapter (p. 15)? Review “Looking for Work” by Gary Soto (p. 20). How does this narrative evoke nostalgia for a simpler, better era for families? Does it reveal any of the problems with the 1950s that Coontz describes? Look at the image on page 525 and discuss which elements of the photo — and of the 2016 Trump-Pence campaign more generally — could be considered nostalgic. Do you think the title “What We Really Miss about the 1850s” would be an apt one for this image? In paragraph 1, what might politicians and social commentators mean when they describe black and Latino/a families as “more disorganized” than white families? How accurate is this label in Gerstel and Sarkisian’s view? Why might a politician find the term “disorganized” useful? What evidence do Gerstel and Sarkisian give that social class is even more important than ethnicity in understanding differences among families? Why is this a critical distinction to the authors? What examples of “extended family solidarities and caregiving activities” (para. 1) do the authors provide? How common or uncommon are these in your own family or community? Do your personal experiences and those of your classmates tend to support, refute, or complicate Gerstel and Sarkisian’s analysis? Explain why you agree or disagree with the claim that “social policy should explicitly aim to rectify economic disadvantages” (para. 20). What would this abstract language mean in practice? Carefully study the frontispiece to Chapter Four on page 341. What symbols of affluence does the photograph contain? How might Gerstel and Sarkisian read the importance of family background in the man’s level of economic achievement?

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