Hollywood or History?

An Inquiry-Based Strategy for Using The Simpsons to Teach Social Studies

Edited by:
Annie McMahon Whitlock, Grand Valley State University

A volume in the series: Hollywood or History. Editor(s): Scott L. Roberts, Central Michigan University. Charles J. Elfer, Clayton State University.

Published 2023

The FOX television show The Simpsons has been around for over 30 years, with more than 700 episodes. A satirical, animated comedy, The Simpsons has millions of fans around the world and its numerous characters are instantly recognizable. Two of the main characters, children Bart and Lisa, are in elementary school and their educational experience is satirized frequently, with episodes taking place at Springfield Elementary and featuring their teachers, classmates, and administration—often with biting criticism of curriculum, privatization, and standardized testing, to name a few. The Simpsons also features episodes retelling historical events, where the family experiences different countries and cultures, and participates in the political process. The Simpsons is unique in that the show itself is also a historical source, having been on the air since 1989. Issues that were current in the early 1990s at the height of popularity of The Simpsons are now considered historical, and there is room in classrooms to critically analyze the show with students about whether the show has adapted well to the 2020s, particularly with the show’s use of cultural stereotypes.

This edited book offers a collection of classroom-ready tools based on the Hollywood or History? strategy and designed to foster historical inquiry through the careful use of episodes or clips from The Simpsons. This book will be organized by the 10 Themes of Social Studies as outlined by the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS, 2010). Each of these 10 sections of the book feature two or three lesson plans from the massive catalog of The Simpsons. There is also an 11th section featuring two lesson plans using episodes of The Simpsons that satirize public education more broadly, which can be used by teacher candidates in methods classrooms to examine the realities of the history of public education and current issues that affect the profession.

Acknowledgments. Introduction: The Longevity and Complexity of The Simpsons, Annie McMahon Whitlock. CULTURE. Immigration: South Asian Stories from the Past and Present, Ritu Radhakrishnan. “A Bootable Offense:” Satire or Stereotype? Annie McMahon Whitlock. Whacking Away at Holiday Origins, David A. Johnson. For Further Viewing, Annie McMahon Whitlock. TIME, CONTINUITY, AND CHANGE. “History Hath a Silver Tongue:” Protecting Our Ideals, or Refusing to Change? Martin Castro. Lewis and Clark’s Expedition to the West, Amy Allen. For Further Viewing, Annie McMahon Whitlock. PEOPLE, PLACES, AND ENVIRONMENTS. D’oh! Schools, Race, Segregation ... and Zip Codes? Timothy Monreal. “I Don’t Eat Anything That Casts a Shadow,” Annie McMahon Whitlock. For Further Viewing, Annie McMahon Whitlock. INDIVIDUAL DEVELOPMENT AND IDENTITY. “You Don’t Win Friends With Salad,” Annie McMahon Whitlock. “Ruthless Bader Ginsburgs,” Annie McMahon Whitlock. For Further Viewing, Annie McMahon Whitlock. INDIVIDUALS, GROUPS, AND INSTITUTIONS. “The Cause of, and Solution to, All of Life’s Problems:” The Simpsons and Prohibition, Jeffrey Koslowski. The Influence of Teachers’ Unions Purple Monkey Dishwasher, Annie McMahon Whitlock. For Further Viewing, Annie McMahon Whitlock. POWER, AUTHORITY, AND GOVERNANCE. The Simpsons State of Nature, Kymberli Wregglesworth. “Can’t Someone Else Do It?” Experience in Governing, Annie McMahon Whitlock. For Further Viewing, Annie McMahon Whitlock. PRODUCTION, CONSUMPTION, AND DISTRIBUTION. Is Competition Always Good? Timothy Constant. “No More PB or J for Me!” Microlending on The Simpsons, Annie McMahon Whitlock. For Further Viewing, Annie McMahon Whitlock. SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND SOCIETY. STEM, Human Capital, and the Future of Work, Erin C. Adams. “Trusting Every Aspect of Our Lives to a Giant Computer was the Smartest Thing We Ever Did:” Are Smart Technologies Worth the Cost? Daniel G. Krutka. “Well, Kids, Aren’t You Glad We Don’t Believe in Inoculations?” Does New Media Provide More “Real News?” Daniel G. Krutka. For Further Viewing, Annie McMahon Whitlock. GLOBAL CONNECTIONS. “Is Anything in This Bar Made in America?” Annie McMahon Whitlock. “It’s My First Day!” The Creation of the United Nations, Annie McMahon Whitlock. For Further Viewing, Annie McMahon Whitlock. CIVIC IDEALS AND PRACTICES. Springfield and the History of American Immigration, Anthony Salciccioli. “Down With Homework!” Annie McMahon Whitlock. For Further Viewing, Annie McMahon Whitlock. COMMENTARY ON PUBLIC EDUCATION. “Here’s Your Scientifically Selected Career,” Tiffany Craigie. “Why Do We Take So Many Tests?” The Pros and Cons of High Stakes Testing in the United States, Scott L. Roberts and Kate Van Haren. For Further Viewing, Annie McMahon Whitlock. About the Authors.