During the 1950s in America, conformity to group norms was the common behavior of the majority of people, both young and old, as they settled back into their traditional roles with the ending of World War II. Not everyone, however, chose to conform to the cultural norms, and the postwar era in America also became a time for sowing the seeds of great, even revolutionary social change. In my curriculum unit, I plan to focus on three particular social movements that drastically changed America's perspectives on music, on civil rights, and on the environment,. Each movement has its human catalysts, without whom the great momentum may well have eventually dissipated. These seminal figures--Elvis Presley, Malcolm X, and Rachel Carson--were children of their times and, so, in an effort to better understand postwar America, we should not refer only to history textbooks (which provide the 'bare bones' facts but not necessarily the full significance of the spirit of the 1950s), but also to biographies that can 'flesh out' the times with more personal, human events.
Biography is like a versatile lens by which we can examine in detail a human being's life. But it can also be used to focus on the world in which that person lived. The reader comes away not only knowing about the person's life, but also about the social, economic and political fabric of the time. Everyone would agree that biographies can inspire us. After reading such stories, we tend to emulate the admirable qualities we saw in that figure, but we may also better identify with the subject because the story, the biography, has included his/her weaknesses that make them human, like us. Students need to be exposed not just to fiction but to good representative examples of nonfiction, particularly in history and science. One of the most effective ways to do this is through biography. In my experience as a teacher, I have found that young students enthusiastically respond to the literary and the more broadly humanitarian features of biography. Three figures, unrelenting and often flamboyant, will lead our study of the postwar era in America: Elvis Presley, Malcolm X, and Rachel Carson.