Lara Maupin, teacher, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Alexandria, Virginia.
Students will understand the following:
1. Press conferences with politicians can be adversarial.
2. Reporters may skew the news by playing up certain parts of a news conference and playing down other parts.
For this lesson, you will need:
Access to reference materials about the United States during the Eisenhower years
Computer with Internet access
1. After students have familiarized themselves with the key events of the Cold War during Eisenhower's presidency, tell them that they are going to stage a presidential news conference that could have taken place on a specific date. Encourage students to agree on a date on which reporters, representing the citizenry, would have had urgent questions for the president.
2. Most of the students will act as reporters from a wide variety of newspapers and magazines or journals that were published in the 1950s, but assign some students to the following roles:
- President Dwight D. Eisenhower
- Secretary of State John Foster Dulles
- The White House press secretary
3. Everyone must do additional research to become as familiar as possible with events unfolding on the date picked for the news conference. In doing their research, students must distinguish information that became public at the time of the news conference from information that reporters and the public learned only later on. Students acting as reporters can ask about a wide range of domestic and foreign issues, but they must limit their questions to what they reasonably would have thought to ask about on the date selected for the press conference. Those playing the roles of president, secretary of state, and press secretary will, according to the historical record, know more than they are willing to divulge to their questioners. These actors must make sure not to “give anything away.”
4. During the press conference, the president, the secretary of state, and the press secretary will call on reporters. The reporters should identify themselves by their publication title before asking questions. The president, the secretary of state, and the press secretary may choose not to answer questions and to answer ambiguously, with reporters perhaps trying to pin them down further. It will also be up to the president, the secretary of state, and the press secretary to decide when to end the press conference.
5. After the press conference, each reporter should write up a news story based on his or her notes. Each writer must decide how much of the news conference to report on and what element to highlight in a lead. The three principals—the president, the secretary of state, and the press secretary—should write entries in their journals, reflecting on the news conference experience.
6. As a further step, lead students in a class discussion in which they compare and contrast their stories with actual news stories that appeared on or immediately after the historical date that students picked for their news conference.
ADAPTATIONS: Assign all students to the roles of reporters, and assume the role of President Eisenhower yourself.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: 1. Discuss how the 1950s were “dangerous years” for Americans and the world.
2. Analyze Eisenhower's appeal to Americans in the 1950s.
3. Explain the impact of Sputnik on Americans.
4. Explain how the Soviet threat affected American foreign and military policy during the Eisenhower years.
5. Analyze Eisenhower's leadership style in terms of his responses to the many crises which arose during his two terms.
6. Explain how decisions Eisenhower made at the end of his presidency affected his quest for an end to the Cold War.
EVALUATION: You can evaluate your students' written work using the following three-point rubric:
Three points:news story or journal entry clearly emphasizes one issue over the others but details all or most questions asked and answers given during the news conference; paragraphs demonstrate unity and coherence; writing contains no errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics
Two points:news story or journal entry covers some questions asked and answers given during the news conference but does not suggest which is most important; paragraphs demonstrate unity and coherence; writing contains some errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics
One point:news story or journal entry omits most questions asked and answers given during the news conference; paragraphs lack unity and coherence; writing contains many errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics
You can ask your students to contribute to the assessment rubric by having them determine the minimum number of questions and answers that should be included in each written product.
Americans in the 1950s lived through crisis after crisis. Direct students to imagine that they were living in America then. Break students into small groups that will each research one of the crises of the period. Then the students in each group should conduct a role-playing scenario in which they pretend to be members of a family discussing the chosen issue around a dinner table. Ask students to consider the following questions as background for their role-playing:
- What might they have thought of the news?
- What would they have wanted President Eisenhower to do?
- Would everyone have the same opinion?
- What fears and hopes will they display during the role-playing?
Cold War Leaders
Ask students to select two of the following leaders of the period so that they can research and then write a piece comparing and contrasting leadership styles during the Cold War period:
- Joseph Stalin
- Mao Zedong
- Dwight D. Eisenhower
- John Foster Dulles
- Gamal Abdel Nasser
- Nikita Krushchev
SUGGESTED READINGS: “An Early Champion of Unity”
by Stephen E. Ambrose. U.S. News and World Report, October 15, 1990.
One of this country's finest living historians is also one of Eisenhower's biographers. Read Ambrose's conclusions about the accuracy of Ike's expectations of and reactions to the Cold War as revealed by the president's influence on the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
“Learning from the Cold War”
Although the Cold War has ended, the examples of the actions of the presidents who maneuvered through it may be pertinent today. This editorial tells us how.
WEB LINKS: Cold War History
A summary of the Cold War's history with resource links.
Eisenhower and the Cold War
One professor's lecture outline on the Cold Warrior.
Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969)
Eisenhower texts and archives from Hanover College.
A feeling of longing to return to a past time.
Today it's easy to be nostalgic about the Eisenhower presidency—to think of it as an easygoing time between the horrors of World War II and the turmoil of the '60s.
The practice of pushing a dangerous situation or confrontation to the limit of safety, especially to force a desired outcome.
Dulles was very belligerent. He was always walking up to the brink—just talking about brinkmanship.
During the Eisenhower administration, the CIA's covert operations were greatly expanded.
A conference of highest-level officials (as heads of government).
Just weeks before the 1960 summit meeting in Paris, Ike approved another flight over the Soviet Union on May Day.
An informal alliance of the military and related government departments with defense industries that is held to influence government policy.
In the councils of government, we must guard against the complex acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.
ACADEMIC STANDARDS: Grade Level:
Understands the economic boom and social transformation of post-World War II America.
Understands influences on the American economy after World War II (e.g., increased defense spending, the U.S. economy in relation to Europe and Asian economies, the impact of the Cold War on the economy).
Understands the legacy of the New Deal in the post-World War II period.
Understands different social and economic elements of the Truman and Eisenhower administrations (e.g., postwar reaction to the labor movement and responses of the Truman and Eisenhower administrations to labor's agenda, civil rights program of the Truman administration, how Eisenhower's domestic and foreign policy priorities contrasted with his predecessors).
Understands the Cold War and the Korean and Vietnam conflicts in domestic and international politics.
Understands the origins of the Cold War and the advent of nuclear politics (e.g., the mutual suspicions and divisions fragmenting the Grand Alliance at the end of World War II, U.S. support for “self-determination” and the U.S.S.R.'s desire for security in Eastern Europe, the practice of “atomic diplomacy”).
Understands how the world is organized politically into nation-states, how nation-states interact with one another, and issues surrounding U.S. foreign policy.
Understands how and why the United States assumed the role of world leader after World War II and what its current leadership role is in the world.
Knows how the powers over foreign affairs that the Constitution gives to the president, Congress, and the federal judiciary have been used over time; and understands the tension between constitutional provisions and the requirements of foreign policy (e.g., the power of Congress to declare war and the need of the president to make expeditious decisions in times of international emergency; the power of the president to make treaties and the need for the Senate to approve them).
Understands the impact of significant political and nonpolitical developments on the United States and other nations.
Understands the effects that significant world political developments have on the United States (e.g., the French, Russian, and Chinese Revolutions; rise of nationalism; World Wars I and II; decline of colonialism; terrorism; multiplications of nation-states and the proliferation of conflict within them; the emergence of regional organizations such as the European Union).
Understands how new international power relations took shape in the context of the Cold War and how colonial empires broke up.
Understands relations between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War (e.g., causes and consequences of United States and Soviet competition for influence or dominance around the world; the “superpower” characteristics of the U.S. and U.S.S.R., how they gained these characteristics, and how the space race defined the competition between them).