“I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees for the trees have no tongues.”
― Dr. Seuss, The Lorax
A generation of "boomers" were children during the 1950s. Many were brought up on the clever and charmingly rhythmic cadences of Dr. Seuss children's books such as "The Cat in the Hat" and "Green Eggs and Ham," but more serious issues of the 1960s had them put away their childish things. However, if the best-selling baby doctor of the 1950s, Dr. Benjamin Spock, could be a leading spokesman against the Vietnam War, perhaps another "doctor" could be relevant to the tumultuous 1970s, for it was in 1971 that Theodore Geisel (his middle name was Seuss) published his gentle anti-corporate fable about a little creature concerned about the destruction of the environment. Although there was little that was gentle about the seventies, a time of Watergate, Kent State, the fall of Saigon, stagflation and the Iran hostage crisis, it was the beginning of a new era of identifying limits; limits to the capacities of the earth in terms of pollution and population, limits to the power of the United States and to the President, limits to debt and the dominance of the American economy, and limits to the natural resources of the world, in particular, fossil fuels. So the story of the Lorax, as a harbinger of this new era, is a nice place to start in my classes' investigation of this "tumultuous" decade, the 1970s.
Every year since 1985 my A.P.U.S. History classes spend the month after the AP exam creating and publishing a book of thematically organized student research papers. U.S. history themes have included wars, biographies, art, women's history, black history, recent immigration, California history, or like this year's project, a decade. We have done the thirties, forties, fifties and sixties in recent years and this year I gave my two classes a choice of either the seventies or the eighties. They chose "disco" over "new wave," or maybe it was Nixon and Carter over Ronald Reagan. The project begins with the selection by application of a skilled team of six editors who help select a list of topics that pertain to the most significant aspects of the decade or theme. The remaining students select a topic that interests them, then they are off on a quest to find a recent historical book about the subject. After a careful reading, they will produce an eight-page paper that will summarize the historical work in detail and analyze it, using their own critical tools as well as professional reviews. A team of editors organize and design the look of the book from the cover to the chapter pages, and create a template to create a common look to each student paper. They put the student writers through three rounds of revision, and then spend the final week desktop publishing, then printing the final product. This book is a tribute to the excellence of the student authors in my two A.P.U.S. History classes, and to the team of dedicated editors led by their amazing editor-in-chief, Prosperity Fields.
Although the decade began with the famous words of the Lorax, words that reflected the activism of the 1960s, it seemed to end in a quite different tone, reflecting a disillusionment of an American electorate chastened by "limits" and economic and political turmoil. In 1979 President Jimmy Carter said "The symptoms of this crisis of the American spirit are all around us. For the first time in the history of our country a majority of our people believe that the next five years will be worse than the past five years. Two-thirds of our people do not even vote." This was a different America, ready for change, perhaps ready for the conservatism of Ronald Reagan.
Irvine High School