Although stated with tongue firmly in his cheek, the lead guitarist for the consummate San Francisco psychedelic rock band is making reference to the role that drugs played among the leaders of the culture of the 1960s. In a larger sense, however, his statement reflects our society’s difficulty with understanding the decade that arguably brought about the most extreme challenges and changes to traditional American culture in our nation’s history. It was a car wreck of a decade, horrible to look at, yet fascinating. The powerful images of that decade; the tragedy of young John Kennedy Jr’s salute as his father’s funeral passes by, Martin Luther King’s powerful “I have a dream?speech, the deep greens and reds of the Vietnam War, the mayhem of the police and protesters clashing outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, the vibrant colors of Andy Warhol’s soup can, the rebellious sass of The Stone’s “Satisfaction,?and the glassy-eyed innocence of prancing “hippies,?have been the siren’s song to generations of students since that time. Their interest in that decade comes from empathy for its tragedies, a shared passion for its triumphs of social justice, a fascination for its extremes, and a widely-held appreciation for its music. The brief time that the schedule for Advanced Placement allows for the study of this period does not satisfy the curiosity, nor answer all the questions my students have about this period of time, so when I contemplated the direction for our class project I gravitated towards the Sixties.

The structure of the assignment followed a pattern I have used in earlier projects. Time constraints and a lack of access to serious sources for research have made the use of a single source for each student practical. My editors brainstormed seven themes that would encompass a wide range of topics about the 1960s. Each student was allowed to select one of our themes, and then search to find a book (a serious historical work) whose subject would fall within that category. The book was to be at least 200 pages, by one author, and written since 1985 (although as you will see some exceptions were made). After carefully reading the work, students had to write a four page, single-spaced critique. In order to give continuity to the papers in our book, my student writers had to follow a similar structure (summary, critical analysis, and common questions). Our hope was to create a series of critiques that would collectively shed some light on a complex era.

Upon reflection, it is as much for me as it is for my students that we reexamine the 1960s. Unlike Paul Kantner suggests, I remember the Sixties very well. I don’t know if it is true of every generation, but I feel a guardianship to the memory of my own era. I don’t want students to oversimplify my generation, and thus me. I want my students to look past the explosive rhetoric of the time and see that people; minorities, women, consumers, students, and other groups, can join together to bring about fundamental changes in our society, and that Presidential wars and Executive secrecy can have dire consequences internationally and domestically. It would be a shame if this generation did not try to remember the Sixties.

This book is only possible through the hard work and dedication of my student writers of the A.P U.S. History classes of 2005-6, and the extraordinary efforts of Lisa Nguyen and her editors.

Steve Sewell

?/2006 Irvine High School

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