Presidential Elections in Song, Verse, Commercials, and More

Article excerpt

IN THE LAST ISSUE OF SOCIAL EDUCATION, we took a serious look at the role that "values" (in their many interpretations) are playing in the 2004 presidential election. In doing the research on that column, I came across several websites with content somewhat less serious, but just as illuminating, and perhaps even more interesting to students and teachers. I found sites with music, photography, primary documents, political cartoons, and other non-traditional content that was related to contemporary and historical presidential campaigns and presidents. I've had a great time exploring these sites and think you will enjoy them too.

When I do these columns, I seek sites that will be useful to both teachers and students. First, I identify and describe sites that classroom teachers and supervisors will use in their instruction--either because the sites provide teaching plans and ideas for teaching, or because they provide documents that can be used as student handouts or bulletin board displays. I also hope teachers may be able to recommend these sites to students as part of an assignment or because the students will learn from the site. The second part of my imagined audience is comprised of students in K-12 social studies classrooms. I try to find sites and information that will appeal to student interest and span the elementary, middle, and high school grade levels. I probably select more middle and high school information, just because I think that, in most schools, use of the internet as part of instruction is more often found at those grade levels.

Most of these sites look at presidential elections, the presidents themselves, and their administrations throughout U.S. history. However, many of them have content that can be used to help students compare issues that determined history, such as Lyndon Johnson's decision not to run for re-election in 1968 because of the Vietnam War. The sites that include inaugural addresses by the presidents can be used to compare what a president promised with what actually happened during his administration. The ones that include campaign songs, many of which can be heard on most computers, also provide a (sometimes whimsical) look into what issues were important at that time.

Presidents of the United States

www.presidentsusa.net This has to be the ultimate U.S. presidential website. It has everything a teacher, or for that matter a doctoral candidate in political science, could want. It has links to all academic centers in the nation, lists of the cabinets and top staff of all presidents, pictures of coins, currency, and presidential stamps, and even different presidential nicknames. Did you know that Grover Cleveland's nickname was the "Hangman of Buffalo?" Or, that Millard Fillmore and John Tyler were both called "His Accidency?" There is a listing of all White House pets, portraits and photographs of First Ladies, and copies of the actual tax returns of recent presidents. There are links to sites with all inaugural addresses, audio files of speeches given by presidents, and presidential commercials run on both radio and television.

The Living Room Candidate

livingroomcandidate.movingimage.us Television commercials from every election since 1952 are included on this site. A superb cross-index makes it easy to view commercials from various years that have a similar theme (such as "trust" or "family"). I watched the 1964 Lyndon Johnson commercial with the little girl plucking daisy petals as a booming voice starts a missile launch countdown just before the world explodes in a mushroom shaped cloud. It gave me the same queasy feelings as when I had seen it in the past. Johnson's voiceover at the conclusion is intriguing: "We must either love each other or must die." Barry Goldwater's best commercial that year shows alternating views of a middle school class reciting the Pledge of Allegiance with shots of Nikita Khrushchev shouting "We will bury you! …