Senate Debate on Scientific Racism
6-8, 9-12, College 100 level
Students will watch the segment of “The First Measured Century” tape on scientific racism. They will collect data on the two views (eugenics and its opponents) and research immigration laws resulting from the debates of the time period (1924). The class will be divided into three groups for a re-enactment of the debate on the floor of the U.S. Senate in 1924 about restricting immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe, believed by some at the time to be the home of inferior races.
By fully participating in this lesson, students will be able to:
(1) explain the ideas of “scientific racism”;
(2) explain the counter-argument by anthropologists;
(3) explain the empirical test of these two ideas by Franz Boas;
(4) explain why America restricted immigration in 1925; and
(5) develop their own version of laws resulting from the arguments.
This lesson is expected to require approximately 7 hours of class time.
Materials and Resources
NOTE: You will need to have Adobe Acrobat installed on your computer to access the Student Worksheets. You may download Adobe Acrobat free of charge at http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep.html.
For this lesson you will need:
1. Computers connected to the internet for conducting research and to access “The First Measured Century” website.
2. Television, VCR, and videotape of the first hour of “The First Measured Century,” which can be purchased at http://www.shop.pbs.org , ordered by phone by calling 1-800-PLAY-PBS, or recorded during the broadcast:
Schools are permitted to tape The First Measured Century and use the program for educational purposes for one year following each PBS broadcast. Additional information about teacher taping rights can be found at PBS Teachersource: http://www.pbs.org/teachersource/copyright/copyright_trights.shtm.
Class Session 1
1. Prepare for the lesson by queuing “The First Measured Century” tape 1 to the “Scientific Racism” segment which is approximately 16 minutes into the tape and begins with Ben Wattenberg played bocce in Little Italy. The first segment last around 18 minutes.
2. Once the video is set to begin, prepare students for learning by discussing
3. Watch the video segment.
4. Hold a post-viewing discussion to see how well students learned the concepts of scientific racism. Questions might be:
Class Sessions 2, 3 and 4
1. Divide the class into two groups of senators to debate the arguments, one group that will take on the opinion of the eugenicists, and the other will take on the viewpoint of anthropologists who think the eugenicists are wrong.
2. Provide the handout with the information about the positions and instructions for the two groups. Review with each group their understandings of each of the positions along with techniques for arguing a position that one may not believe in for the purpose of demonstration.
3. Direct students in conducting research on their argument. Additional information about scientific racism from the segment transcript and interviews can be found at the First Measured Century website at http://www.pbs.org/fmc.
Class Sessions 5, 6 and 7
1. Conduct the debate between the senators. Each side gets to present their case in turn, with rebuttals. Each student should speak at least once to present the findings of the group. Presentation of arguments by each student should be developed based on The National Origins Act (pro or con). Students should use posters created by the group to present data collected by the eugenicists or anthropologists to support their argument.
2. With the information provided by the two groups, each senator should then vote on the question presented.
For further discussion:
1. Students should all participate in the discussion. You may wish to call on students who do not volunteer questions or responses during the discussion. Students should be able to provide answers to the discussion questions based on viewing the video.
2. Assess students participation in the debate. Students should be able to present convincing, well-researched arguments in favor of their position. Students should be able to present arguments based on the positions of the group represented regardless of their personal feelings on the subject. Each student should present data collected by the group presented.
3. Observe and assess how well students communicate, resolve differences and work together to accomplish the task.
immigration legislation including the National Origins Act of May 26,
Super websites of resources about immigration to the United States;
The official Teacher Resources page at the U.S. Government’s Immigration and Naturalization Service: http://www.ins.usdoj.gov/graphics/aboutins/history/teacher/Resources.htm
The Library of Congress webpage on “Immigration in American Memory”:
National Immigration Forum
Super website about Jane Addams and Hull House: http://www.uic.edu/jaddams/hull/hull_house.html
Short, valuable webpage about Franz Boas: http://kroeber.anthro.mankato.msus.edu/information/biography/
You may extend this exercise by examining the present debate over immigration. Have the students discover the arguments made for and against immigration to America today.
For younger students you may provide them with printed research materials from which each student chooses one fact to create a visual of and present instead of developing a full argument.
Stephen Jay Gould, The Mismeasure of Man, revised edition (New York: Norton, 1996) Softcover ISBN: 0393314251
Franz Boas, Changes in the Bodily Form of Descendants of Immigrants Washington, DC: Government Printing Office: 1911
Standards for School Mathematics
National Standards for History