Is the American Dream Accessible to Students?

By Pattie Sloan and Joan Flora

Before we begin, test yourself and your students on local and global poverty.  Go ahead.  We’ll wait until you take it.


How did you do on the quiz?  To be honest, we both did horribly on it–at least the first time we took it.  Performance isn’t the point–you don’t have to have all the answers to journey with your students (see “Do Something Uncomfortable Everyday“).

Or maybe you rocked local poverty.  If so, challenge yourself with this global quiz.

Take a tour of poverty from Poverty USA’s site:

Need a bigger picture?  See SEDAC’s poverty mapping.

Now that you have the “proper poverty schema,” let’s apply what we know to our English classrooms with …drum roll…

Lesson Plan for Of Mice and Men:

Essential Question:  How does poverty and lack of education and resources impact the lives of the characters in the book?

As we read the book, we watched the characters attempt to survive poverty through a series of heart-wrenching decisions that changed our view on the struggle for survival.

How is Of Mice and Men reflected our own community?

Consider Salem, Oregon:

  • 59% of the students in the district are living in what is considered poverty;
  • 928 students last year were identified homeless and at the beginning of this school year; 300 already have been identified.
  • IMPORTANT:  This is not a number:  This is us!

Below is a list of social agencies that exist to help students and families through the difficult times. Their goal is to provide services to families and individuals, helping and bringing comfort.

Social Agencies:

Your Challenge:

  • Each team (3-4 students per self-selected team) will choose a different agency.
  • Each team will research the agency and prepare a PowerPoint, a pamphlet and an advertising poster and present this to the class.
  • Create a plan to support and promote your agency.

Your Goal:  Persuade the rest of the class that your agency meets so many needs that it deserves more funding.

Your Reward:  As a class, we will vote for the most compelling argument, and as a class, we will adopt your agency  and support your plan to support your agency.  What a Thanksgiving lesson!

We will invite your agency to the school, and we will present our efforts to them.  Be passionate: someone is relying on you to care!

Project Questions:

  • What group of people does your agency serve?
  • What services do they provide?
  • What is their mission?
  • How do they raise their needed funds to provide their services?
  • How many do they serve a week? A month? A year?
  • What impact does this agency have on the community?
  • Where are they located?
  • What can the class do to help?
  • How is this related to Of Mice and Men and how would this agency had impacted the characters in the novel?


Pattie’s NoteAs a child, I grew up in what would be considered poverty by our standards today.  No one judged me because everyone in my small town was just like me.  And we all worked and made it out.  I don’t know if that is true today that people can work themselves out of poverty, but what really helped me through the process is that no one judged me.  Remember, this is not about whether you have and they don’t.  This is about us.  Anyone could be put in poverty by the change of circumstances beyond their control.


Pattie’s Second Note: IF you are teaching the lesson that the American Dream is dead, please send a memo to the thousands who come to our country every year, working to attain that dream in one of the few places The Dream is still attainable.



About Teaching it Forward

We are high school language arts teachers in Oregon.
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