Tag Archives: FDR

Decoder Ring Theatre – Your Home for Adventure, Golden Age of Radio-style

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Decoder Ring Theatre is a new obsession of mine.  I found it by accident–one of those websites a friend liked and thus caught my attention, but it took me a while to actually explore it.  I was thrilled with it when I finally did so.

Even when I was a kid, I had a fondness for old timey radio programs.  Maybe it was because I wasn’t allowed to watch cartoons on Saturday mornings and so watched old school westerns.  Maybe it was because I used to watch the old Batman TV series starring Adam West and Burt Ward.  Maybe it was my interest in the Green Hornet, which I followed in comic books.  Hard to say, really.  Hard to know what led to the other, too.

The programming available on Decoder Ring Theatre is the style of the old noir detective shows and superhero programs from the Golden Age of Radio.  I heart Black Jack Justice and his fellow-P.I. Trixie Dixon, girl detective.  I most enjoy those shows, but the real superhero is the Red Panda and his sidekick Flying Squirrel who keep the streets of Toronto safe from mad villains in the 1930s.  Each pair has their own show that can be downloaded as a podcast or played on your computer and smart devices.

The style of the shows are in the classic style of radio dramas, before TVs largely replaced the medium.  (And yet, coming full circle, perhaps, so many of us seek out the book-on-tape option to sneak texts into our busy lives.)  Certain aspects, common in this early style of story-types, whether in comic book, pulp fiction, dime novels, or radio programs, have been modernized.  The women are not uniformly helpless–in fact, Trixie Dixon, while still a knockout worthy of centerfold, is a pretty darn tough gun-toting sleuth, and the Flying Squirrel can rumble with any back-alley thug–and have key roles to play in the crime fighting and detecting.

This factor makes them rather more palatable than some of the classics they otherwise emulate.   While the programming is genuinely entertaining, the era is also recreated in an accessible manner.  For this reason, I think they have real potential in education.  Not only do they reproduce the era in their sordid tales of crime and justice, they also reproduce one of the major cultural experiences of the era: radio programming entertainment and news.  So, you could create a playlist that the students can access using one of Franklin Roosevelt’s Fire Side Chats and one of the shows from Decoder Ring Theatre.

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I wholeheartedly approve of teaching about other eras through experiences.  Reproducing the later years of the Depression through role-playing in built-in class scenarios is an excellent way to bring home the difficulties of the age.  For example, you could easily set aside a couple of classes and recreate the 1930s life within a scenario such as a town hall meeting or recreate a social gathering.  You could also recreate a fictional town and assign each student a character with a particular goal, for example:

  1. a few characters with different backgrounds can each search for a job from other classmates who own businesses
  2. several standard business-owners: bank, grocery, newspaper, etc.
  3. pick a blue-collar industry that supports the town and have the various roles filled: owner, foreman, workers
  4. standard town services: police, postman, doctor, etc.
  5. CCC/WPA project workers

In this way, the Decoder Ring Theatre could actually be assigned as homework along with a handful of other leisure activities that fit the bill–marbles and other games, baseball or football games on the radio, newspapers and comics, etc.  Other activities could be done in the class, such as canning–yes, I’m serious, just find a parent with a hot plate and a pressure-canner–sewing old clothes into new sizes (like letting a pair of pants out for someone who is growing or shortening them for a younger sibling), watch a news reel and movie from the era, hold a pot luck and have everyone bring in Depression-era recipes, etc.

Experiences are a great way to bring things home to students.  When a student takes on the role of a character, the real-life troubles of the character become much more real to him or her.  Assign primary sources to help the characters come alive.  And, leverage student interests–one of the real values of this approach to teaching.  If Suzy plays the trumpet she can take a look at the music of the era and be a musician as with other types of artists, many of who were specifically sought out by various federal programs.  If Carl is into cars, then make him a Packard dealer or a mechanic and let him study the historic forerunners of today’s automobiles.  Etcetera, etcetera.  Help them learn and get excited about it.  It’s ok if they have fun!  *wink*

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Filed under art, Drama/Theater/Cinema, Experiences, Experiencing History - Project Based Learning, Fiction, Historian's Journal

Big government, small government, and citizen action Close Up

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Talking about small government at the Jefferson Memorial

Beautiful day in Washington, DC, today!  A little blustery–most of the cherry blossoms have blown off and collected in petal clusters along the paths–but the sun kept us all warm and the climate was otherwise quite accommodating.  A great day to use historical examples to talk about civics and government!

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FDR Memorial: big government, big memorial... also, a long presidency

I had an awesome day with my students.  Our workshop has students from Alaska, Arizona, Minnesota, Montana, and North Dakota.  24 strong and mostly self-identifying as conservatives or “depends-on-the-issue” with a few genuine “I-don’t-knows.”  I’ve had to play a little liberal devil’s advocate to represent the “other side.”

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Different backgrounds, different states, evaluating the "depressing facts" of the Great Depression and the government's responses.

We hit the Jefferson, FDR, and MLK memorials, today.  We discussed the merits and demerits of small and big government.  Then we discussed the role of the citizen–naturally, not restricted to government of one size or another.  Particularly, we discussed the methods of King in response to injustices entrenched in government policy, comparing and contrasting those with others, such as Malcolm X.

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Entering the MLK Memorial and his quotes, evaluating citizen-responses to government injustice.

After we hit these memorials, our bus had lunch at the National History Museum.  Students had time to eat and explore before checking out the Hall of Evolution and how the concept is portrayed by public institutions–in other words, should it acknowledge debates–while drawing some parallels with public museums and public education.

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Close Up participants get to be students and tourists while on program.

We finished up our Smithsonian visit and headed up to the Carnegie Institute for a seminar with Politico’s Senior White House Writer, who talked with students about media, driven by their questions.  Subjects covered the viral news stories, finding reliable reporting, following politics in today’s media world versus the pre-internet world, his belief in investigative journalism which he feels is on the decline, and the merits of major news outlets that are clear about the side of the aisle they stand on.  A useful seminar to follow the earlier issues raised in active citizenship as information is key to citizen response.

My workshop had another engagement covering federalism and the criteria students have for whether national or state governments should be in charge of specific responsibilities.  Then I was off for the evening, but  I am looking forward to hearing about the domestic issues debate between DC insiders Barry Piatt (liberal) and Ken Insley (conservative), debating the issues the students introduced, tomorrow morning!

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