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Children of the Dust Bowl by Jerry Stanley
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Children of the Dust Bowl

by Jerry Stanley

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The most obvious use for this book in a high school English class would be to use it in a unit on "Grapes of Wrath." The book is short enough that you could do short read-alouds throughout the unit. It might be interesting to read parts of James Agee's "Education" chapter in "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men" alongside "Children of the Dust Bowl" as well. This would also provide students with varying text complexities on the subject. ( )
  Tables | Apr 10, 2014 |
When I read this book I immediately thought I would use it as a companion nonfiction text when teaching the verse novel Out of the Dust. When I taught the novel this year I found that it was a little difficult for my students to fully grasp the historical, geographical and environmental context of the Dust Bowl; we read articles and looked at several primary sources online, but this text would certainly help to relate the situation to younger students and get them to connect with it. My only concern would be that there are no African Americans represented in the text and my students are all African American. When we did study the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, they wanted to also know more about life for African Americans in the west during this time and I didn't have much information to give them. When reading this book, I also did wonder if Mr. Hart was more successful in building the school because though they faced discrimination, it wasn't racial discrimination. Though classism can be just as insidious, I was curious about how different forms of discrimination in different teachers might impact the success of a teacher differently.

There were a few things I found odd and disjointed about the book -- specifically on page 48 the author discusses the various materials and things that were donated for the school but then tries to contrast it by switching to a list of things that were left there for them out of spite. It's an odd juxtaposition that doesn't have a very natural transition and sounds really weird: "One day there would be an unexpected give, such as the metal lathe left in the field by someone driving a pickup truck. Then five dead cats would be discovered in the field by the Okie children." I was very confused when I read that.

I also didn't like that the book did not address the fact that the Dust Bowl was a man-made environmental disaster created by the Homestead Act and other U.S. governmental policies that promoted the displacement of Native American tribes in favor of homesteading/ farming/ ranching to settle the west -- this led to massive land-use change and all the hardy native prairie grasses being ripped out so nothing was left to hold down the dirt -- pretty much like Wangari Mathai's Kenya.There was another nonfiction book in the UNO library on the Dust Bowl with an entire chapter explaining the human-caused eco disaster.

There were several things I learned, though, that I didn't know as well :
For example on page 3-- by 1932, 1,000 families PER WEEK were losing their farms to the bank. Before I read this book I also didn't know anything about the camps that the government set up for the migrant families. I only knew about the farming interventions and the loans to keep farmland.

I did find it odd that when describing the school's tenure until 1944 there was no mention at all of WWII even though the time overlapped. I wonder if there was any kind of impact on Okies in California during the war as well, and what that would've meant. ( )
  Sandert1 | Apr 9, 2014 |
Children of the Dust Bowl: The True Story of the School at Weedpatch Camp will definitely be a remarkable addition to my classroom. Heck, this book will be an amazing addition to my personal library. This little book packs a mighty punch. What makes this book so powerful is its ability to cross disciplinary boundaries.

Before using this book, I will present the topic of the Great Depression to my class. Students will first learn the basic principles economics and the economic failures that caused the country’s financial system to collapse in 1929. From there, they will study the effects of the collapse.

We will incorporate geography to focus on those states not only affected by the Great Depression, but those also hit hard by the Dust Bowl (1936-1940). We will incorporate science to help understand the climatic change and the poor farming techniques that caused the Dust Bowl.

Using the introduction, I can introduce students to John Steinbeck’s controversial book, The Grapes of Wrath. This will enable me to integrate literature into my lesson. The book’s ban will also prove to be a great topic of discussion among students.

I will lead a guided discussion about push and pull factors, issues that cause people to move away from or move toward an area. I will instruct students to list reasons why farmers moved out of Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas and into California in the late 1930’s. (This is a concept heavily stressed on iLEAP and LEAP Social Studies tests.)

Students will then focus on the troubles of migrant farm workers. This will be a great opportunity to teach students how to conduct a comparative study. Using the article Fields of Tears (The Economist, Dec. 2010), the class will compare and contrast the struggles of the “Okies” in the 1930s to that of migrant Mexican farmers today.
The class will then conduct a second comparative study. Students will compare and contrast discrimination faced by blacks in the early 1900s to that faced by the “Okies” in the 1930’s. Students will focus on why white Americans were discriminated against.

This book is also a great way to introduce students to the different programs of President Franklin D, Roosevelt’s Great Deal. Students will focus on the role of the Farm Security Administration (FSA). Student will discuss whether or not such a program was needed in the 1930s.
I will then slip a little art into my lesson. Students will then view photographs taken by the FSA. Students will discuss the contents of these photos and their impact. I will then instruct students to search for other photos and paintings of the Dust Bowl. Each student will discuss his or her findings.

The focus will then turn to the children at the Weedpatch Camp. Students will discuss the role of education in the 1930s and why “Oakie” students were easily discriminated against. Students will also discuss how Leo Hart was able to create a self-sufficient school at the Weedpatch Camp and why many of its students were successful.

This book speaks to me. Teaching at Phoenix High School, a “D” school forgotten by most and unknown to many, is a struggle. The students here are not expected to become anything more than fishermen. This is not only a great book that will enable me to incorporate economics, geography, science, and art into my social studies class. This book will prove to my students that they can accomplish more than what is expected. ( )
  bdharrel | Apr 9, 2014 |
Sadly, my instruction about the Great Depression during high school was a short blurb about the stock market crash, and reading Of Mice and Men in English class. This point in history is so often overlooked due to time constraints. Yet now, more than ever, it is something students need to learn about. I began this book by only looking at the pictures and reading their captions. These images were so powerful that I knew the entire story before I even began reading the text. Using the iconic photos of Dorothea Lange brought so much emotion. This is the real strength of the book. Even on a tight schedule, using this book in a classroom, be it history, or a literature class tied to reading The Grapes of Wrath or Of Mice and Men, will give the readers a greater understanding of the utter hopelessness that the people faced. At the same time it will show them that positive things can come from the worst situations. The building of a community school for the camp dwellers, and changes that it brought to the school system in California are a wonderful thing to see come out of such a dark time. ( )
  BJPetrie | Apr 7, 2014 |
"Children of the Dust Bowl" by Jerry Stanley is a nonfiction account of the Okie migration from the Depression-era Great Plains droughtlands into California emergency labor camps. In many ways, it is a nonfiction account of the same setting portrayed in John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath," but the story of this account centers around the formation of a makeshift school for the children of these migrant workers.

Because of its recounting of a similar setting as "The Grapes of Wrath," I can see this story being useful to use in conjunction with Steinbeck's novel. Common Core asks for students to compare and contrast various texts, and this would be a great text to center around Steinbeck's masterpiece. There are a lot of source materials that indicate how Steinbeck used nonfiction resources to inform his writing as well, and while he wouldn't have used this source, it can be presented as a way fiction often uses very real settings and time periods. By having students analyse the realism of Steinbeck's setting, they can determine how much literary license he used in the formulation of his account.

Additionally, "Children of the Dust Bowl" could also be used as either a beginning of the year book, or return-from-crisis book in schools. The story accounts in chapter seven of the ways they created a makeshift school can be an important lesson to students who feel they are in an under-resourced school. My students often feel cheated by the lack of "nice things" around them, but presenting education as being simply a community of people trying to make a better life for themselves, as presented in this book, could be a useful way of teaching this text. The following paragraph from p. 62 tells this lesson well:

"Because attendance at the school was sometimes sporadic and because many students were learning from scratch, Leo recalled, 'There were no quantum leaps in knowledge. There were only little victories, when a student understood addition or learned to write a complete sentence. But the main thing was they were learning.' And they were. As weeks stretched into months and months into year, addition led to subtraction, English led to literature, and American history led to world history."

This paragraph embodies a spirit that is rich in this story: learning happens in small and unusual ways. Students may end up out of school for months at a time because of circumstances beyond their control, but they can learn, no matter how slowly. This could be an important introductory texts to students in high-risk situations as the students in this story. ( )
  JonathanToups | Apr 7, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0517880946, Paperback)

Illus. with photographs from the Dust Bowl era. This true story took place at the emergency farm-labor camp immortalized in Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. Ostracized as "dumb Okies," the children of Dust Bowl migrant laborers went without school--until Superintendent Leo Hart and 50 Okie kids built their own school in a nearby field.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:00:55 -0400)

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Describes the plight of the migrant workers who traveled from the Dust Bowl to California during the Depression and were forced to live in a federal labor camp and discusses the school that was built for their children.

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