The purpose of this lesson is to gain deeper knowledge of the 1981 PATCO strike, and to provoke you to engage with current events and outlets of expression. You are encouraged to participate with political or public figures and to realize they have a voice. By emulating the format of correspondence in the PATCO collection, you will understand the different technological effort required to communicate in the 1970s. You may find that contemporary avenues of communication are modeled on the traditional analog letter, with options to reference and carbon copy for example, but that electronic correspondence is more convenient. Conversely, you might find that a traditional letter inspires a different sense of voice, and perhaps a different sense of effectiveness. You might investigate the emotional influence of an email and its electronic (im)permanence compared to the emotional quality of a handwritten or typed letter and its permanence.
You will discover upon reading the PATCO correspondence that most of the public was very unsupportive of the strike, but PATCO received strong support from many labor unions and other professionals in the field. As these letters might indicate, it is difficult to articulate the need for improved working conditions or quality of life to those outside one’s own circle. This lesson hopes to be a tool to hone communication and explore the articulation of personal experience. These letters are also wonderful artifacts of the economic and political climate of the time.
Specific examples of correspondence are included in the resource packet for this lesson, but entire PDFs may be accessed at Georgia State University Digital Collections for browsing, downloading and distributing in class. Also, for related radio interviews and videos see “Additional Materials” in the Lesson Resource Packet for Correspondence.
SUGGESTED GRADE LEVEL: 9-12
Instructor will distribute copies (electronic or analog) of correspondence sent to PATCO during their 1981 strike.
Investigate the physical attributes of the letters.
Discuss the letter writing.
Compose letters to PATCO President Robert E. Poli and former President Reagan.
Correspond with a public figure.
Write a short paper describing who you have corresponded with and why.
Discuss in class your various methods of correspondence and contact with the public figure.
This lesson operates under the assumption that the class has been lectured on the history of labor unions (and/or PATCO) and the political socioeconomic events leading up to and surrounding the 1981 PATCO strike. You should be advised to think critically about the strike, and to express yourself clearly in your letters. You are encouraged to get creative with the assignments and to correspond with an individual, or about an issue, in which you feel passionate or want to learn more.
Learning is measured by engagement in the assignments, creativity and clarity of expression. You should be able to articulate reasons for length or brevity of the letters you compose, but you are also allowed a comfortable place to express their beliefs and opinions on the PATCO strike and your “open” topic.
You can expect to investigate how you feel about the PATCO strike or a current event, and to express yourself. You are also expected to think critically about correspondence now and thirty years ago. The goal is to come away from this lesson thinking about access to political and public figures, and what the ease or difficulty of that access suggests. Consider that heated emotions often fuel political and economic events with repercussions that are not clear until decades later.
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