Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Opportunities to Jazz up Cold War Lessons
Having read Penny M. Von Eschen's, "Satchmo Blows up the World," for History Connected's book discussion group, a few lesson ideas for teaching Cold War history came to mind. The Cold War is a dynamic period to teach as tests and scrutinizes American democracy at home and abroad. The struggle of Civil Rights is an essential component in understanding American policy in these two arenas. Von Eschen's work integrates these arenas by focusing on the experiences of Jazz musicians organized by the State Department in an effort to sell itself and its values to the world as a free and great democracy while Jim Crow presided in the US. Though the book describes countless episodes of government officials and the press neglecting the value and talent of African American musicians, as well as instances of gender discrimination towards female artists, they needed Jazz as an original, American-made art form and evidence of racial equality. A perplexing dilemma, what a wonderful hook for a lesson on American domestic and foreign policy during the Cold War.
I didn't get 5 pages into Von Eschen's book before I needed to hear these great Jazz songs whose titles and artists kept coming up. Using Jazz as a connection between domestic and foreign policy during the Cold War is an incredible opportunity to integrate music into lessons. And just in case a simple audio clip of this Jazz music doesn't have the same infectious effect as it did to it's 1950's audiences, there are a few resources that incorporate visuals with wild crowds and joy-filled faces.
A great place to start is Ken Burns' documentary on Jazz. Another idea is to have students track domestic and foreign affairs on parallel timelines. To get students to internalize the conflict and hypocrisy on the timelines, have them role play the identities of the different Jazz artists who served as ambassadors. Direct them to biographical resources, or select passages from Von Eschen's book, and have them, in small groups, discuss whether or not they should serve as ambassadors representing "racial freedom and equality" in the US, and come up with a list of pros and cons in serving in this role. If time and interest allows, students can use Jing to combine pictures, narration, and music, like this NPR segment on Dr. Curtis Sandberg and the Meridian International Center's exhibit on Jazz ambassadors. Another extension activity would be for students to design a 21st century ambassador program considering the questions, what image does the world have of the US? What image would the US (government?) like them to have? who should be targeted? how should they be reached -who to send and what would the medium of their message be? Students could work in groups and then "pitch" the ideas to you/the class.