Friday, June 5, 2009

The American Dream: How Has It Changed?

I am excited to announce that I've succeeded in my quest to get a course proposal accepted! It will be offered next winter quarter, and I'm busy collecting all kinds of good things to share and discuss.

Here's a peek at the basic idea, subject to minor alterations.
As always, I welcome your suggestions.

The American Dream: How Has It Changed?

We'll engage in a bit of "dream analysis" as we examine this question. David Kamp's essay, Rethinking the American Dream, suggests there's been a shift in our national aspirations from “a set of deeply held ideals rather than a checklist of goals or entitlements.” Kamp, an editor at Vanity Fair, noted in April:

As a people, we Americans are unique in having such a thing, a more or less Official National Dream. (There is no correspondingly stirring Canadian Dream or Slovakian Dream.) It is part of our charter—as articulated in the second sentence of the Declaration of Independence, in the famous bit about “certain unalienable Rights” that include “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”—and it is what makes our country and our way of life attractive and magnetic to people in other lands.

We'll use several short readings to stimulate discussion about The American Dream, including passages from John Kenneth Galbraith's 1958 book The Affluent Society and Henry Luce's 1941 essay “The American Century” in Life. The class will also watch the Academy Award-winning documentary American Dream, and some popular culture films which depict the issue such as the classic Depression tale Grapes of Wrath, to The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet and The Honeymooners to Hollywood documentary Frank Capra's American Dream to the contemporary The Namesake about immigrants from India seeking a better life in the US.