Joseph A. Corsetti
"Eugenics is the science which deals with all the influences that improves and develop the inborn qualities of a race" argued Sir Francis Galton in an editorial published in Nature in May 1904. The brief article is a not a scientific study, but serves as a succinct treatise of Galton's work and his motivations. His argument is persuasive, as his intentions are genuine and aimed at creating a better society, a society that would not be plagued by disease and immoral behaviors.
Eugenicists called for the improvement of the human race through better breeding. In Heredity and Eugenics, Charles Davenport postulated that with proper application, Eugenics could solve the social problems that were plaguing society at the beginning of the 20th century. Most importantly, Eugenics was used to justify the separation of the different races to ensure that the population of the US would not become more "mercurial and darker in pigmentation". The Eugenicists would win their ultimate victory in 1924 with the passage of a sweeping immigration reform bill limiting the number of immigrants from what some Eugenicists considered to be the less desirable corners of the Earth.
This unit will have three main themes. First, it will examine the social conditions that existed in the late 19th century that allowed the Eugenics Movement to emerge and flourish. Part of this effort will include looking at the writings of Charles Davenport, Sir Francis Galton, and other early eugenicists. Also included in this historical piece will be an examination of the 1924 immigration law that created the quota system that would be used for than 40 years. Second, this unit will examine how the Eugenics Movement influenced other social constructs of the time period including methods of controlling the less desirable. This includes the Supreme Court decision in Buck vs. Bell (1927) and the sterilization of mentally incompetent individuals. The third part of the unit will focus on the way eugenic science creeps into our present day life. This will mainly take the shape of examining the use of prenatal genetic testing and its impact. It will examine the social, ethical, and moral issues associated with genuine hereditary diseases, and the best way to address these valid and genuine concerns.
To approach controversial moments in history with dignity, it is imperative that the teacher remains unbiased. Of particular concern with this unit is not the history being studied, but the present day debate over genetic testing. In the unit design and classroom instruction, it will be necessary that the conversation and lessons are structured enough to allow all voices to be heard and validated.