Teaching With Documents, Volume 1


Schools for Americanization

Historical Background

At the close of World War I, public pressure mounted to assimilate immigrants more rapidly into American culture. The postwar influx of Southern Europeans into America—immigrants who differed in religion and culture from many of those who had come before—fueled that pressure.

In the 1920s, local and state governments actively encouraged a policy of Americanization, to which English-language instruction was basic. Previously, churches and social clubs founded by immigrants had offered such language instruction without support from public funds. With the Americanization program, the Federal Government prepared appropriate textbooks that local communities could use to teach English and citizenship to immigrants, both young and old. Localities opened classroom space in public schools to the newest Americans and recruited volunteer teachers from service clubs, immigrant social organizations, and even labor unions. The remarks of a young Armenian high school graduate in Watertown, Massachusetts, capture the spirit of the Americanization movement:

I was only seventeen years old when I first came to America, the land of heroes and great men. My dream was always to come into this great and free country, to live as a free man, without fear that my life was in danger…. I was not able to speak English at all, but today, with the aid of the night school, I can speak and read and write very well the English language. I love and admire America because she helped me many times and because she is the only unselfish nation in the world.

During the period 1919-20, according to the Department of Commerce and Labor fiscal year 1920 report, more than half a million immigrants took their seats in classrooms to learn English; of these, 26,000 were adults. The concentration of new Americans within each state determined the number and type of programs offered. By the end of World War I, twenty towns in Illinois, for example, offered English instruction; and the ranks of students numbered over 4,000. Granite City, Illinois, a steel-producing town north of East Saint Louis, where the program announced in this document was located, offered English instruction through the Americanization program to its immigrant population of mostly Hungarians. The poster reproduced here appeals to immigrants in Granite City to attend classes at one of four Americanization schools.

Today, an Americanization school concept persists, retaining the character of its early years. The Immigration and Naturalization Service continues to provide adult immigrants who are not regularly enrolled in public schools with textbooks and home study materials. However, the initiative for Americanization, while affected by waves of political refugees like the South Vietnamese and Haitian boat people, remains a local and state responsibility. Across the country today, communities provide space for classes in public schools and recreation centers, and voluntary organizations recruit instructors for citizenship and English classes.

The poster reproduced here is from file 27671/44, Americanization files, Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Record Group 85.

Teaching Activities

Provide each student with a copy of the document or post it on the bulletin board for easy reference.

1. Assign students to develop a list of all the reasons, stated and implied by the poster, for attending the Granite City Americanization School. Discuss the meaning of the statement: "If the people that come to America do not become Americans, this country will soon be like the old country." According to the evidence in the poster, what is "the American Dream"?

2. Ask students for their definitions of the American Dream. Classify these definitions by types of dreams: e.g., economic, political, social, educational, and so forth. Assign students to solicit a parent’s definition of the American Dream. In class, compare and contrast the types of dreams described by each generation and consider: Do members of the same family seem to have the same dreams? Does the age of the parent seem to affect the dream? How have the dreams changed over time?

3. Direct the students to redesign the center square of the poster to illustrate their visions of the American Dream and to appeal to new Americans today.

4. America has been described both as a "melting pot" (a blend of the elements of many cultures into a new culture) and as a "nation of nations" (a mixture of many cultures, each retaining its unique elements). Discuss with students each of these descriptions and consider which is more accurate and which creates the fewest problems in national life.

5. At various times in our history, different political groups have acted to ensure access to the American Dream for all Americans. Direct students to identify the following terms and to indicate that aspect of the American Dream that each seeks to protect: affirmative action, equal employment opportunity, Head Start, unemployment compensation, social security, main-streaming, and bilingual education. Direct students also to investigate government actions that ensure access to the American Dream: e.g., amendments to the Constitution, Supreme Court decisions, and Congressional acts.


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Chicago: "Schools for Americanization," Teaching With Documents, Volume 1 in Teaching With Documents: Using Primary Sources from the National Archives, ed. United States. National Archives and Records Administration and National Council for the Social Studies (Washington, D.C.: National Archives Trust Fund Board, 1989), 108–110. Original Sources, accessed September 25, 2020, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=FW85CLU3CQ38WKZ.

MLA: . "Schools for Americanization." Teaching With Documents, Volume 1, in Teaching With Documents: Using Primary Sources from the National Archives, edited by United States. National Archives and Records Administration and National Council for the Social Studies, Vol. 1, Washington, D.C., National Archives Trust Fund Board, 1989, pp. 108–110. Original Sources. 25 Sep. 2020. originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=FW85CLU3CQ38WKZ.

Harvard: , 'Schools for Americanization' in Teaching With Documents, Volume 1. cited in 1989, Teaching With Documents: Using Primary Sources from the National Archives, ed. , National Archives Trust Fund Board, Washington, D.C., pp.108–110. Original Sources, retrieved 25 September 2020, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=FW85CLU3CQ38WKZ.