Grade: Elementary
Subject: Social Studies/History

Essential Question

How did the Grateful Dead reflect new ideas about life and society in the 1960’s?


In this lesson, students explore the significance of the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in the 1960s by watching clips from the documentary Long Strange Trip and analyzing archival documents. They then apply their learning to determine if hippies were trying to change American society, or simply escape it. 

After World War II, The United States entered into a period of enormous economic growth and prosperity. New technologies and industries were developed, union membership was high, and the U.S. government invested in social projects such as public schools, housing, highways, welfare, and veterans benefits. As a result, millions of Americans gained access to meaningful employment, invested in homes, and stocked them with families and new commodities. The birth rate skyrocketed and the nation’s population rose almost 20 percent. The generation now known as the “Baby Boomer” was born.

There were some, however, who were troubled by the effects of this “Golden Era of Capitalism.” Social critics like Herbert Marcuse feared that a growing obsession with consumer goods wasn’t actually liberating people, but rather controlling them. For him, TV shows, popular music, and the newest dishwasher were little more than distractions to placate the masses and keep them distracted and uninterested in the rampant militarization and a world that was spiraling ever closer to nuclear war.

By the time the Baby Boom generation was coming into adulthood in the mid 1960s, Marcuse’s ideas were increasingly being embraced. Many of the young adult “Boomers” became disenchanted with the types of consumption valued by their parents’ generation, and began experimenting with varied modes of thought and styles of living.

One of the most famous of such experiments culminated at Haight-Ashbury, a district of San Francisco, California. Between 1965 and 1967, young people from across the country arrived to Haight-Ashbury, drawn in by cheap rent and the bohemian reputation of the neighborhood. A vibrant counterculture developed, made up of a community of what some would later refer to as “hippies” — people who rejected the pressure to live as workers, earners, and consumers within a singular family unit.

Rock and Roll was the primary musical language of Haight-Ashbury. Free concerts proliferated in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park and on the city’s streets, and venues such as the Matrix and the Fillmore showcased bands that personified the “San Francisco Sound”: Jefferson Airplane. Quicksilver Messenger Service, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and others. The band that came to most represent this moment in Haight-Ashbury, however, was the Grateful Dead.

While the Grateful Dead and their fans maintained some elements of countercultural ideals well into the 1990s, much of the idealism of Haight-Ashbury as a utopian location did not survive the 1960s. Following the publicity of the 1967 “Summer of Love,” thousands flocked to the neighborhood, overrunning the area, and, in the language of the day, “burning out.” American corporations saw the value of “flower power,” and absorbed key elements of the movement for marketing purposes, turning much of it into nothing more than a fashion trend that could be found in stores across America. Record companies too saw opportunity, and some of the San Francisco bands ultimately became the Top-40 artists they were so critical of earlier in their careers. Some suggest that by the time the country embraced the counterculture, it was already over.

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  1. Know (knowledge):
    • Learn about the concept of the “American Dream”
    • Connect the ideas of the Hippie movement with the Grateful Dead
    • Find out how new ideas and beliefs and actions spread in the late 1960s
    • Understand the historical significance of San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood
  2. Mastery Objective:
    • Students will identify factors that led to the Hippie Movement, and apply learning to explain the significance of The Grateful Dead in igniting the spread of new ideas in the 1960s.


Motivational Activity:

  1. Show Image 1, American Dream Definition. Ask a volunteer to read the definition aloud to the class, then ask students to list things that might show that a family is living “The American Dream.”
  2. Ask students to share their list with a partner.
  3. Pass out Handout 1 – Birth of Hippie Culture Vocabulary Terms. Inform students that they will be writing their own definitions to these terms by the end of the lesson.


  1. Tell students that today they will be learning about how a group of people in America decided to pursue their own dreams instead of following what they felt was “The American Dream.”
  2. Play Clip 1, Television Commercial from 1960. While watching, ask students to think about what the commercial might tell us about the early 1960s. Then ask students:
    • Who are the people in this commercial?
    • Why do you think they are dancing?
    • What might this commercial be telling its audience?
    • How do you think the woman in the commercial feels? Why?
    • What does this commercial tell us about the life of women in 1960?
  3. Tell students that in the 1950s and 1960s, the United States experienced an economic boom. For the first time, millions of people could afford their own house, and nice cars, furniture, clothing, among other products.
  4. Show students Image 2, The American Dream. For 30 seconds, ask them to tally the number of things that they see in this image.
  5. Have students share the number they came up with. Then ask by a raise of hands:
    • Does this family have not enough things?
    • Does this family have the right amount of things?
    • Does this family have too many things?
  6. Tell students that in the mid 1960’s, while many people celebrated “the American Dream,” others were critical. They said that Americans were becoming mindless workers and consumers who were only thinking about buying new things.
  7. Split students into groups of three. Tell them that each group will be analyzing a statement made by Herbert Marcuse in his 1964 book One-Dimensional Man, which was written in 1964 and was critical of consumerism.
  8. Show Image 3, Excerpts from One-Dimensional Man. Number student groups 1, 2, or 3, and assign the first, second or third statement in the image. Ask students to discuss the meaning of these statements among their groups, using context clues to help understand words they might not know. Because these statements are complex, it’s recommended the teacher walks around the classroom to work individually with students groups when required.
  9. For each quote, have student groups share their interpretation, then seek consensus from groups that all had the same quote. Then ask students:
    • What might Herbert Marcuse think about the “The American Dream”?
  10. Tell students that they will watch a clip from 1968 filmed in San Francisco, California. Play Clip 2, Introducing Haight-Ashbury. Ask students:
    • What was appealing to the “Hippies” about the neighborhood of Haight-Ashbury? What do you think the “Hippies” thought about the “American Dream”?
    • The reporter describing Haight-Ashbury in the clip claims that the neighborhood attracted young people “seeking something new and significant for themselves.” What do you think these young people hoped to find?
    • What do you think life might have been like for the young people who moved  to the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood? Would you want to live in that kind of environment? Why or why not?
  11. Tell students that they are about to see a video of The Grateful Dead, a band that started in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in 1965. Play Clip 3, Introducing the Grateful Dead. Then ask students:
    • What did the Grateful Dead’s daily life seem like when they lived in Haight-Ashbury?
    • What might have Jerry Garcia meant when he said at the beginning of the clip, “We’d all like to be able to live an uncluttered life, a simple life, a good life?”
  12. Print out Gallery Walk: A Time of Contrasts and hang the images throughout the classroom. Ask students to walk around the classroom examining the images, and making notes of the differences they observe between the “Hippies” and “Mainstream America.” Then ask students:
    • What are some of the differences you noticed between the “Hippie” images and the “Mainstream America” images?
    • Based on the images you saw, how would you describe the “Hippies”? How would you describe “Mainstream America?”
    • In your opinion, is one of these cultures better than the other? Why or why not?

Summary Activity:

  1. Have students write their own definitions for the vocabulary terms in Handout 1, and share their definitions with the class.
  2. Then, ask students to create a Venn Diagram comparing and contrasting Mainstream American Life with Hippie Life in Haight-Ashbury. Encourage Students to make their Venn Diagrams detailed and colorful.
  3. Ask students to think about their favorite band or musician. Ask them to design a concert poster for that musician or band in the style of 1968 Mainstream America and another one in the style of 1968 Haight-Ashbury, as seen on page three of the Gallery Walk. Use this handout for guidance.

Extension Activities:

  1. Interview a member of your family that was either a teen or adult in the late 1960s. What memories did they have at that time? Did they know about the hippies in Haight-Ashbury? Do they remember having an opinion of the hippies at that time? Has that opinion changed today?
  2. Listen to music from bands that constructed the “San Francisco sound.” Summarize what you see as the defining characteristics of this style of music, and consider the ways those musical characteristics might represent the attitudes among the hippies in Haight-Ashbury. Bands could include the Grateful Dead, the Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe and the Fish, and Quicksilver Messenger Service.


Common Core State Standards

College and Career Readiness Reading Anchor Standards for Grades 6-12 for English Language Arts

  • Reading 1: Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
  • Craft and Structure 4: Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
  • Craft and Structure 6: Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.
  • Integration of Knowledge and Ideas 7: Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.
  • Reading 8: Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening for Grades 6-12

  • Comprehension & Collaboration 1: Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
  • Comprehension & Collaboration 2: Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
  • Comprehension & Collaboration 3: Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.
  • Presentation of Knowledge 4: Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Language for Grades 6-12

  • Language 1: Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
  • Vocabulary Acquisition and Use 6: Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression.

Social Studies – National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS)

  • Theme 1: Culture
  • Theme 2: Time, Continuity, and Change
  • Theme 3: People, Places, and Environments
  • Theme 4: Individual, Development and Identity
  • Theme 5: Individuals, Groups, and Institutions
  • Theme 7: Production, Distributions, and Consumption
  • Theme 10: Civic Ideals and Practices

National Standards for Music Education

Core Music Standard: Responding

Analyze: Analyze how the structure and context of varied musical works inform the response. Describe how the elements of music and expressive qualities relate to the structure of pieces, including contrasting works and programs of music.

Enduring Understanding: Response to music is informed by analyzing context (social, cultural, and historical) and how creators and performers manipulate the elements of music.

Interpret: Support interpretations of musical works that reflect creators’/performers’ expressive intent. Describe a personal interpretation of works or contrasting works and explain how creators’ and performers’ application of the elements of music and expressive qualities, within genres, cultures, and historical periods, convey expressive intent.

Enduring Understanding: Through their use if elements and structures of music, creators and performers provide clues to their expressive intent.

Essential Question: How do we discern the musical creators’ and performers’ expressive intent?

Core Music Standard: Connecting

Connecting 10: Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experiences to make music. Demonstrate how interests, knowledge, and skills relate to personal choices and intent when creating, performing, and responding to music.

Enduring Understanding: Musicians connect their personal interests, experiences, ideas, and knowledge to creating, performing and responding.

Essential Question: How do musicians make meaningful connections to creating, performing, and responding? Demonstrate how interests, knowledge, and skills relate to personal choices and intent when creating, performing, and responding to music?

Connecting 11: Relate musical ideas and works to varied contexts and daily life to deepen understanding. Demonstrate understanding of relationships between music and the other arts, other disciplines, varied contexts, and daily life.

Enduring Understanding: Understanding connections to varied contexts and daily life enhances musicians’ creating, performing, and responding.

Essential Question: How do the other arts, other disciplines, contexts and daily life inform creating, performing, and responding to music?

National Core Arts Standards


  • Anchor Standard 7: Perceive and analyze artistic work.
  • Anchor Standard 8: Interpret intent and meaning in artistic work.
  • Anchor Standard 9: Apply criteria to evaluate artistic work.


  • Anchor Standard 10: Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experiences to make art.
  • Anchor Standards 11: Relate artistic ideas and work with societal, cultural and historical context to deepen understanding.

Career Technical Education Standards (California Model) – Arts, Media and Entertainment Pathway Standards

Design, Visual and Media Arts (A)

  • A1.0 Demonstrate ability to reorganize and integrate visual art elements across digital media and design applications.
    A1.1 View and respond to a variety of industry-related artistic products integrating industry appropriate vocabulary.
    A1.4 Select industry-specific works and analyze the intent of the work and the appropriate use of media.
    A1.9 Analyze the material used by a given artist and describe how its use influences the meaning of the work. ia, and Entertainment |
    A3.0 Analyze and assess the impact of history and culture on the development of professional arts and media products.
    A3.2 Describe how the issues of time, place, and cultural influence and are reflected in a variety of artistic products.
    A3.3 Identify contemporary styles and discuss the diverse social, economic, and political developments reflected in art work in an industry setting.
    A4.0 Analyze, assess, and identify effectiveness of artistic products based on elements of art, the principles of design, and professional industry standards.
    A4.2 Deconstruct how beliefs, cultural traditions, and current social, economic, and political contexts influence commercial media (traditional and electronic).
    A4.5 Analyze and articulate how society influences the interpretation and effectiveness of an artistic product.
    A5.0 Identify essential industry competencies, explore commercial applications and develop a career specific personal plan.
    A5.1 Compare and contrast the ways in which different artistic media (television, newspapers, magazines, and electronic media) cover the same commercial content.
    A5.3 Deconstruct works of art, identifying psychological content found in the symbols and images and their relationship to industry and society.

Performing Arts (B)

  • B2.0 Read, listen to, deconstruct, and analyze peer and professional music using the elements and terminology of music.
    B2.2 Describe how the elements of music are used.
    B2.5 Analyze and describe significant musical events perceived and remembered in a given industry generated example.
    B2.6 Analyze and describe the use of musical elements in a given professional work that makes it unique, interesting, and expressive.
    B2.7 Demonstrate the different uses of form, both past and present, in a varied repertoire of music in commercial settings from diverse genres, styles, and professional applications.
    B7.0 Analyze the historical and cultural perspective of multiple industry performance products from a discipline-specific perspective.
    B7.1 Identify and compare how film, theater, television, and electronic media productions influence values and behaviors.
    B7.3 Analyze the historical and cultural perspective of the musician in the professional setting.
    B7.4 Analyze the historical and cultural perspective of the actor and performance artist in the professional setting.
    B8.0 Deconstruct the aesthetic values that drive professional performance and the artistic elements necessary for industry production.
    B8.1 Critique discipline-specific professional works using the language and terminology specific to the discipline.
    B8.2 Use selected criteria to compare, contrast, and assess various professional performance forms.
    B8.3 Analyze the aesthetic principles that apply in a professional work designed for live performance, film, video, or live broadcast.
    B8.4 Use complex evaluation criteria and terminology to compare and contrast a variety of genres of professional performance products.

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