After learning about Horatio Alger, his stories, and the time in which
he lived, you are going to create a fictional modern-day up-by-your-bootstraps story, from the third-person perspective, using
yourself as a model hero or heroine; participate in debates about child labor; and compare social mobility in different cultures.
II. The Task
When you have completed this WebQuest, you will:
o Know a great deal about 1900s America, the Progressive Era, and
the cultural values of that time;
o Be able to describe child labor conditions then, and now;
o Be familiar with the American cultural value of being a self-made-man
or woman and the idea of “picking yourself up by your bootstraps”;
o Be able to apply this information to your own creative work, by
reproducing Alger’s style and values to a fiction of your own creation, and seeing how – and whether – they
transfer to contemporary American life;
o Compare the American belief that we control our own social and
economic destiny, to attitudes in other cultures and at other times.
III. Read and Compare
A. Read Alger's Works and some from his
Project Gutenberg E-Texts of Horatio Alger’s Works – Scroll down the page to Alger, Horatio and click on the book(s) you would like to download and read. They’re short and easy – read at least two. Read about Horatio Alger’s Life
Mark Twain’s Parody of Alger’s Books – The Story of the Good Little Boy and The Story of the Bad Little Boy
Myths about social mobility (or the lack of it) are important in every
culture. How does the Alger formula for success in life compare to Charles Dickens’
Great Expectations or Oliver Twist? How about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The
Great Gatsby? How about the Danish folktale of The Little Mermaid
(the real folktale, not the Disney version)? Cinderella? Little Orphan Annie (or the musical Annie)?
Compare Alger’s works to what has been available for girls
Learn about how the books were made and marketed
Uh, oh! The
darker side of Alger’s life
B. Child labor at the turn of the
o If you didn’t watch Disney’s movie “Newsies” when it was shown
in class, borrow or rent it.
o Click here to learn about the real newsboy strike of 1899
o Read about daily life for New York’s poor children around 1900, and then see what it looked like. Here are some more photos of child labor a hundred years ago.
o There was an Orphan Train movement that tried to move New York’s children out of the city and into the country
out west. Did it work?
o Think abusive child labor is over?
Learn about child slave labor around the world and how it is touching your life this very minute
Take this quiz
to find out what you really know about child labor in the world today.
C. Learn about Social Mobility
The characters in these novels are trying to change their social standing
through a combination of hard work and smart thinking. However, in some cultures
people are unable to change their economic or social level no matter what they do.
“Social mobility” is
the ability of individuals to move up or down in social, educational, and economic status.
Most great American authors (including Alger, and Twain– and Dickens in England) have written at least one major
work that deals with this issue, because social mobility is considered an important measure of freedom. Most immigrants to America are coming specifically because they value this freedom, but other cultures
do not share this value, or even provide this opportunity.
If you come from a culture that does not support class mobility, or if
your parents do, ask them what it’s like to be born into an unchangeable social status.
Social scientists call this the study of Social Stratification. Every nation in the world demonstrates social stratification – some more, some less, and several
that are completely rigid. Here are some very interesting graduate-level papers on social stratification.
India’s “caste system”
is the best-known form of stratification, but India is not unique. This site
explains how the Indian caste system began, but each ethnicity has its own unique history. If you are very interested in learning about India’s caste system, you may
want to visit this very interesting Caste System WebQuest
IV. Your Assignment
You may work by yourself or in groups of two or more, but you
must multiply the length of the project by the number of people participating.
a. at least one of Horatio Alger’s novels;
b. both of Mark Twain’s parodies;
c. It is expected that you have already read
a Dickens novel; If you have not, please read a selection from above.
2. Watch either the movie “Newsies” or “Ragtime”
3. Follow the links above to learn about child labor, then and now
4. Learn about caste systems
5. Complete any one of the following projects – selection made by lottery.
All projects are to be presented before the class either as “performance” or display (including written
a. Create a display documenting treatment of
child laborers in the past and/or present, or about the Orphan Train (one large three-part display board per person);
b. Become a persuasive business
person presenting a case on purely economic and political grounds not moral ones (ten minutes
class lecture time per person, and limit of one person per point of view, per class);
Child labor doesn’t exist for its own sake – there are people who benefit. Who are they? Lead a classroom debate about the positive and
negative consequences to a culture and economy of child labor – You’ve got thirty minutes to keep the class arguing
BOTH sides of this issue, so come prepared with a lot of controversial ammunition to feed the fire. See me to schedule – one person per class;
d. Alger’s children’s novels appealed to a vision about “making it” in America.
In an essay, explain “pick yourself up by your bootstraps”
values. Do you feel that all can be successful in America, no matter who they
are? What truth – and untruth – is there to what Horatio Alger is
saying? Do these ideals apply to everyone, regardless or culture,
gender, or immigrant status? Can you provide examples? (750 words minimum per person).
e. Dickens and Alger
both wrote in the English language, but their works reflect the specific values of each continent. From these works, what can you determine about the British take on social mobility? How is social mobility treated in the literature of other cultures?
(750 words per person).
4. CULMINATING ASSIGNMENT:
Write your own real or fictional tale of social mobility in America. You may
write the story first or third person, and the sky’s the limit. This portion
may not be done as part of a group – you must do your own work. 1,000 –
1,200 well-thought-out words (about four pages typewritten). Acceptable alternate
formats include screenplays and films (as long as the film has a written plan and is at least five minutes long).