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Student Work

Social Security: Paper B

Historians agree that Social Security is at the heart of New Deal reform. Given that, what does Social Security tell us about the set of policies and programs called the New Deal?

Student B

Social Security tells us multiple things about the policies of the New Deal. Throughout social securities beginning stages it was criticized and praised by different groups of people 1. . . .

One of the big issues with Social security was that it [set] a time limit for those who received it. The time limit made it so that when you got your social security for the month, you had to spend it within the month to get it back into circulation.2 This tells us that the New Deal wanted to get money into circulation to try and recover by what the government received from the taxes.

Another thing that Social Security tells us is that the New Deal didnít pay much attention to minorities. This was shown by the fact that most blacks couldnít receive social security because they didnít really have an employment status.3

  1. Here the student recognizes a specific similarity between the two programsónamely, that both were criticized and praised. This similarity is supported by the "LA Times," "Stealing," and "Mirage" documents.
  2. The student has not sourced the Townsend pamphlet and consequently thinks it is part of the Social Security program.
  3. The student continues to make specific connections between the two programs that are supported by the documents available, in this case, the "NAACP" document.


The Social Security inquiry asks students to consider the question: "Given that historians agree that Social Security is at the heart of New Deal reform, what does Social Security tell us about the set of policies and programs called the New Deal?" With background information on the New Deal and careful reading of the document set, students can draw comparisons between the Social Security Act and FDRís New Deal. Both of these programs

  • heralded a new role for government in the U.S. economy;
  • faced criticism from the Right and the Left;
  • excluded groups of Americans from their protections and programs; and
  • responded to grass-roots movements calling for change.

Above is one of two examples of student work in response to the inquiry question. In both examples, the students make connections between the Social Security Act and the New Deal and both use the "Townsend pamphlet" in their essay. Interestingly, Student A succeeds at using the source, while Student Bís work above is more successful with his overall comparison. This demonstrates that students advance in their historical thinking skills unevenly and there can be analytic successes and mis-steps in the same piece of work.

Above, Student B does not source and note the date and author of the pamphlet. Hence, the similarities between Townsendís proposal and the Social Security Act lead him to equate these two different plans. However, in the same excerpt above, Student B is more specific in his comparison of Social Security and the New Deal than Student A, who draws a more general connection less grounded in the texts of the document set.