Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Rolling Back the Years: History through High School Yearbooks

By Jeff Burns

Students walked into my classroom to find their desks arranged in groups.  At each group of desks, they found two school yearbooks, one from the early 1960s and one from the early 1970s.  Of course, they start exploring.  The first question they ask is “Are you in these?”  Seriously.  I know you think I’m 75 but seriously?

But seriously, this is how I introduced the counterculture and the tumultuous changes in American society that occurred in the 1960s and early 1970s.  We had already delved into the conformity the 1950s and the challenges to the status quo that started erupting.  I heard the idea to use yearbooks, pre and post 1965, from another teacher at a conference, and I was fortunate to find 10 yearbooks, dated 1963- 1973, at a local estate sale.  Well worth $1 each.

I put the books on the desks and my instructions were to look them over and discuss.  Compare and contrast pre 1965 and post 1965.  Compare and contrast then and now.  It was a hit.  All were involved. Of course they immediately commented on clothes and hair (Beehive pictures are always a big hit.), but their group discussions hit on all topics. Then we all shared as class.   It was quite a fun activator.

One drawback with my yearbook find is that they were all southern schools, and a couple were from private Christian schools, so the differences between the two time periods were kind of subtle but it also led to productive questions and discussion about regional differences and integration.  I’ll continue to be on the lookout for more varied books in the future.