Teaching Thrift: A Curriculum

Teaching Thrift: A Curriculum

Institute for American Values, 2014 - 111 pages

A curriculum for teaching thrift to high school students.

Subject: Thrift

Teaching Thrift: A Curriculum

Table of Contents | PDF

  1. Introduction | PDF
  2. Curriculum Overview | PDF
  3. Unit 10: Thrift Visionaries | PDF
  4. The IAV Thrift Collection: A Companion to the Curriculum
  5. Additional Resources for Teaching Thrift | PDF

About this Report

Through the efforts of IAV’s curriculum specialist, Bernadette McHenry, Teaching Thrift: A Curriculum is coming to life. In the Introduction and Curriculum Overview, Ms. McHenry explains the rationale for Teaching Thrift and guides the reader through the different units and their objectives. Her main goal is to give her fellow teachers (and all lovers of thrift) the resources and knowledge they need to teach high school students to invest themselves fully in planning for the future in an all-encompassing way through the practice of thrift.

Teaching Thrift's first complete unit is Unit 10: “Thrift Visionaries.” In the overview of the unit, teachers are given an explanation of the enduring impact, content, essential questions, skills, and key terms the students will master. In addition, a list of Pennsylvania’s mandated standards are provided — each lesson is linked to these common core standards (similar versions of which are used by many other states), primarily in the field of literacy and research, but extending also to math, science, and social studies as well as to career planning and domestic and fine arts. All units will eventually be added.

You can read and browse Teaching Thrift's Unit 10, download it in its entirety, or access the PDFs of its individual lessons below. All sources referenced in the unit are hyperlinked for your convenience or can be found in IAV's Thrift Collection. The Thrift Collection is the nation’s most comprehensive repository of thrift research and the world’s most extensive collection on the meaning, history, and possibility of thrift. Users can also enjoy many other items related to thrift such as books, audio and video advertisements, material culture artifacts, and photographs. Thrift: A Curriculum will fall short of its goal if it is not used alongside the Thrift Collection; the two should be used together.


1. Introduction

In the film The Great Debaters, Forest Whitaker, playing the African-American scholar James L. Farmer, Sr., advises his son, “We do what we have to do, so that we can do what we want to do.” This is as good an introduction to thrift as any. It reminds us that we must work in order to be comfortable, that we must plan for our futures if we expect to enjoy them. It holds the same meaning as, say, “A stitch in time saves nine,” or, “Necessity is the mother of invention,” or, “A penny saved is a penny earned.”

A Word

The word “thrift” comes from the word “thrive,” to live and grow and flourish. For many people in the 21st century, though, the word “thrift” has been diminished to imply miserliness, or to call forth images of second-hand goods widely considered inferior in these days of big box stores and Ikea-type warehouse stockpiles of inexpensive new goods. This modern view of thrift as dusty and quaint, though, exists in a modern social context that includes a landfill that can be seen from space and a world recovering from a great recession caused, most will agree, by unsustainable investment and borrowing practices. It is time, then, that thrift is dusted off and seen for what it is: a means of working for a sustainable future.

An Ethic

If the word itself has been forgotten, the practice of thrift has been resurrecting itself in the past several years. The practice of thrift can be seen in wide-spread recycling programs, the proliferation of credit unions, community gardens and co-operative workspaces. Bicycle commuters and car-sharing programs are thrifty. Public art is thrifty. Volunteering is thrifty. These diverse practices all embody the ethic of thrift because thrift means hard work, it means using personal and public resources wisely, and it means investing in our individual futures and the futures of our various communities. It means using what we have wisely to improve our lives so we learn to thrive and to come together to make the world a better place for everyone.

The practice of thrift has three basic pillars: industry, frugality, and generosity. The ethic of thrift teaches that by working hard, saving and spending wisely and giving back, people can create a bountiful and fulfilling life for themselves and their families and communities. This ethic can be taught.

The Need

Thrift education was a common curriculum in schools through the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It combined the skills of basic financial literacy with household management to teach children how to live sustainably. It taught children to plan for the future. These skills are still needed, and while some schools offer programs in Consumer and Family Sciences, financial literacy or career and technology education tracks, the overwhelming majority of schools are lacking one holistic program that combines all of these skills to teach children to fully invest themselves in planning for the future in an all-encompassing way.

Our Approach

This curriculum addresses this need. It challenges students to be thoughtful, even critical, in making every day decisions that will have an impact on their long-term plans for the future. It teaches thrift as an ethic and inspires the impulse to thrive, rather than to simply learn disconnected, piecemeal skills. Understanding, of course, the demand for academically rigorous lessons that every teacher and administrator strives to meet every day, this curriculum is rooted very firmly in mandated standards. Overall, it is interdisciplinary; however, at its base is a heavy foundation of literacy skills and history content. Each lesson is linked to common core standards, primarily in the field of literacy and research, but extending to math, science, and social studies as well, and even in parts to career planning and domestic and fine arts. It is constructed as a full-year academic plan, but nearly each unit of study and individual lesson is also structured as a module that can stand alone or be incorporated into pre-existing curricula. Each unit is also designed beginning with essential questions and enduring understandings, and each details the skills and content contained within so that teachers and administrators can easily align it within various disciplines and modes of study. Finally, it offers modifications for various levels and types of instruction, as well as suggestions for building a shorter, specialized thrift curriculum for use in shorter courses of study, to build nonschool-based workshops, or to incorporate it into tactile programs in non-core disciplines or courses of study.

2. Curriculum Overview

Unit 1: Wise Use

This unit seeks to introduce the meaning of thrift by defining thrift and its three basic pillars—industry, frugality, and generosity—contextualize it historically, and establish modern relevance. This unit also sets the tone for the curriculum by making clear connections between history and the present. By studying primary sources, students can analyze the documents as historical artifacts, then apply their meanings and messages to modern-day issues to find continuity between the past and the present, and to re-imagine the lessons of history to find solutions to modern dilemmas. This unit uses sources from the 20th and 21st centuries, including texts, essays, articles, illustrations, and fictional children’s stories. It relies heavily on student-generated content; in other words, it asks students to examine sources and then construct definitions, examples, and modernized interpretations of the material. In this way, this unit seeks to center the students within the material to give them ownership of the learning, to allow them to connect to the content by personalizing and internalizing it.

This unit is an in-depth examination of the basic meaning and principles of thrift. Because it is student-centered, it is constructed to fully engage students in the topic. Furthermore, its array of various types of sources from various time periods emerges students in over a century of thrift to provide a solid foundation of understanding and contextualization. Therefore, this unit functions as an introduction to the curriculum, as well as a cursory, yet thorough, introduction to the thrift ethic that can stand alone, or be used in conjunction with more tactile workshops or pre-existing curricula in other disciplines.

Unit 2: Anti-Thrift

Because thrift may appear to be such a simple concept, most students will find it obvious at first and either try to overcomplicate it, or else dismiss its importance altogether. By exploring and vividly illustrating anti-thrift, students will learn a greater appreciation of the simplicity and usefulness of thrift education. Indeed, the essay “How to Plan a Thrift Talk” published by the Government Printing Office in 1918, notes, “You can easily glorify thrift by talking of its opposite, waste. Waste is costly and useless and needless. … Frightful examples of it are on every hand; look for them yourself.” Of course, waste is only the first and most obvious way to look at the idea of anti-thrift: as thrift is thriving and growing, so waste is decay and decrease—the diametrical opposite.

Anti-thrift is also an umbrella term for institutions and practices that are antithetical to the life approach of hard work, wise use and generosity, as well as arguments against the practice of thrift. After defining waste, hoarding and extravagance as antonyms of thrift, this unit examines this broader definition of anti-thrift. It examines anti-thrift institutions such as payday lenders and casinos by providing literature about these types of institutions then allowing students to further investigate and evaluate the practices and impact of these institutions locally. Finally, this unit examines two polar major arguments against thrift, socialism and consumerism, and requires students to evaluate these arguments by studying primary sources and employing discussion and debate strategies to allow students to make a personal investment in the materials.

Unit 3: Industry

The first pillar of thrift may be stated simply as, “Work hard and honestly.” At first glance, this tenet of thrift may seem obvious, but every high school teacher knows it is not that simple. Most young people, particularly adolescents, need to be reminded persistently about due dates, planning and expectations. This lack of focus develops into habits in the formative years, and for many people, working hard becomes a struggle by early adulthood. While no one will deny the virtue of hard work, no honest person can deny the decay of the American work ethic in recent years. Though there are endless possible sources of blame, the simplest solution is to teach the value of hard work.

While young people often forget homework, procrastinate on large assignments, and find endless ways to distract themselves, they also demonstrate tremendous and even awe-inspiring attentiveness and diligence in pursuing their passions. Beginning with their personal relationships to work, this unit inspires students to build on their industriousness by helping them recognize their strengths, and transfer their capacity for dedication to long-term goals. In this way, it draws tremendously on personal reflection, goal-setting, and self-evaluation. It also introduces students to the history of the American work ethic using the document-based question format to promote close reading of the sources. Finally, this unit allows students to connect the history of the American work ethic to its contemporary incarnation, and to find its relevance in their personal lives and academic goals.

Unit 4: Frugality

The second pillar of thrift is “spend less than you earn,” or simply, save and spend wisely. Our contemporary consumer culture is out of control. With easy access to credit, the danger of unchecked impulse-buying online, and an abundance of predatory financial establishments and practices, Americans have wandered so far from the traditional wisdom of careful spending that our young people have precious little example or precedence or understanding of the concept of frugality. It has been said that over-spending is part of our contemporary financial crisis. In a 2010 editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Gerard P. Cuddy and David Lapp point to Americans’ lack of attention to this tenet for the recent and arguably on-going failure of our economy. Cuddy and Lapp ask, “Should we revert back to a personal savings rate of below zero—back to the mindless consumerism and independence-killing indebtedness that helped start this recession?”

In this unit, students study the wise-spending advice of the past while indulging their creativity to come up with ideas for practicing frugality in their own lives. This student-directed unit engages multiple-intelligences and encourages students to anchor themselves in the flourishing trends of DIY and life-hacks resurrected and re-invented by 21st century culture.

Unit 5: Generosity

The final pillar of thrift is generosity. Generosity can mean many things, but in the sense of thrift, generosity has a very specific meaning. Not to be confused with simple charity or giving, thrift generosity implies giving back, investing in the community, the earth, and the future. Because thrift means working hard and spending wisely, the generosity of thrift carries these same connotations. While its practice can touch nearly every aspect of our lives, thrift generosity teaches that by working hard together and spending resources wisely, small and large communities can help each other build a better future. Generosity is an almost universal human value that cannot be practiced without hard work and an accumulation of and respect for the resources one wishes to share. Furthermore, viewing personal possessions and community and public property as finite resources for which we are stewards or trustees changes the way we interact with the world and the decisions we make. The practice of thrift generosity can be seen as major themes in such diverse figures as Andrew Carnegie, who believed it was his duty as a wealthy man to reinvest his accumulated wealth into the society from which he drew it, and John Muir, who felt an almost sacred vocation to protect the natural places and wildlife in his country from the onslaught of industry, development, and pollution.

This unit challenges students to engage directly with this third pillar. Repeating instructional themes found in the previous units, this unit moves from student-generated definitions to a close-reading of primary sources to examine the historical tradition of American generosity, then instructs students to make contemporary connections with the historical materials. Finally, it encourages students to find personal relevance in the third pillar, by asking them to look for ways generosity can personally benefit people who give. This unit ends with the study of a universally accepted practice of the third pillar, that is, stewardship of the environment through conservation of natural resources. This final piece allows students to look at the third pillar as a holistic practice, through the scope of long-term planning, and universal care for all people, globally, present and future.

Unit 6: Individual Thrift: Practicing and Preparing for Work

There are several spheres in which thrift can be practiced. This unit addresses the first sphere, the individual practice of thrift. Again, this unit is student-directed. Revisiting some of the themes explored in Unit 3: Industry, it challenges students to set personal goals and develop important life skills. This unit is strongly pointed at driving students to seek out short- and long-term work and career goals and options. Its culminating purpose is to help students to research careers with respect to their interests and aptitudes, as well the preparation necessary to achieve entry into various careers and the return-on-investment various professions can provide. Additionally, students learn to investigate financing options, by comparing and contrasting bank loans with federal loans, and finding scholarships. Strong in real-world application and relying on cross-curricular cooperation, it helps students develop critical skills in professionalism and long-term planning. This unit is designed to work within a single classroom, but it could also be used as a workshop or series of workshops outside of the context of class.

Unit 7: Household Thrift: Spending and Savings

The second sphere in which thrift is practiced is the household. While the individual practice of thrift is about developing good habits and making personal choices, household thrift follows more logical and universal patterns. It requires all members of a household—whether an individual living alone, or a nuclear or extended family—to participate in its practice. This sphere of thrift is most reminiscent of the traditional domestic thrift practiced by visionaries Catherine Beecher and Lydia Child and preached by “Poor Richard,” but in this modern world, there are very immediate and scientific elements to this sphere of thrift. Thrift in the household sphere, too, becomes a holistic and team practice. It begins simply with good nutrition, moves through budgeting and stretches to include major decisions every household makes that have effects on the local and global communities. This unit is mostly hands-on as it tackles realistic and everyday decisions and problems, and relies on cross-disciplinary planning that touches several diverse fields of learning such as Consumer and Family Sciences, biology, nutrition, research, and mathematics.

Unit 8: Commercial Thrift

As individuals and households practice thrift, so do commercial enterprises practice thrift. This unit explores the delicate balances and complicated questions that challenge companies as they seek to increase worker productivity, overall output and profit, and still remain accountable to their workers and communities as they plan for the long-term. This unit, while markedly more advanced than prior units, still follows the same basic structure of challenging students to engage with primary sources and to draw parallels between historical examples and contemporary issues. It also provides teachers with a variety of instructional strategies with which to address multiple intelligences and differentiated skill sets. Thus, it builds on the routines well-established in prior units to allow students to feel comfortable as they engage with advanced ideas and open-ended social and economic questions.

In the first lesson in this unit, students will read about the scientific method of management introduced by Frederick Taylor in the beginning of the 20th century. Students will evaluate this controversial approach to the division of labor from the perspective of thrift, and then in the second lesson, they will apply their conclusions to the rapidly and radically changing landscape of work they will face when they graduate. In the third lesson in this unit, students will examine another complicated and personally relevant issue, that of the credit card industry. In this lesson they will trace the evolution of credit cards from a thrifty investment tool in their early inception to a major and highly profitably industry. They will then evaluate the industry as a whole and find ways in which individuals can still employ credit cards as tools of thrift. Finally, the last lesson in this unit invites students to explore the extremely politically polarizing question of whether companies have a responsibility to ecological responsibility and whether that can and should be imposed by federal legislation. Students will be encouraged to thoroughly explore this issue from all sides, evaluate it from a thrift perspective, and draw and defend personal conclusions.

Unit 9: Public Thrift

The fourth and final sphere in which thrift is practiced is the public sphere. In this case, the public sphere can mean a small community or national government, and so, like Unit 8, this unit challenges students to address advanced yet highly relevant topics. Like Unit 8, this unit builds on established conventions while challenging students to employ more sophisticated skills in critical thinking, research, and debate and argumentation.

In this unit, students will encounter complicated economic and governmental questions that are often potentially controversial. Because these topics are often divisive and polarizing, it is not the intention of this curriculum to proselytize, but to challenge students to examine these issues from various angles, to evaluate them in terms of thrift, and then choose and defend a position, or in some cases, be assigned a position to defend in a formal debate format. These issues include legislation promoting personal or privately organized generosity in the form of non-profits and foundations, tax codes that affect personal saving, spending, investment, and even family planning. In addition to controversial and complicated economic legislation, this unit introduces students to the Paradox of Thrift, and asks them to study the history of American Philanthropy as well as the history of welfare programs in the United States.

Unit 10: Thrift Visionaries

Throughout our national history—and particularly in the Progressive Era— thrift has been championed, practiced, and promoted by a variety of important leaders and public figures. This unit focuses on the rich history of American thrift leaders, and provides lessons that can be easily incorporated into any U.S. history curriculum. Some lessons may also be useful in diverse other disciplines, particularly tactile disciplines such as Art or Consumer and Family Science.

In the colonial and founding periods, thrift was an American ideal as revered as freedom and democracy. The private letters and public works of many of our founders are strewn with references to “industry” and “frugality” and “thrift.” None were so prolific in their written promotion of thrift, though, as Benjamin Franklin. Particularly in his Poor Richard’s Almanac, Franklin devoted a great deal of his public writings to encouraging the practice of thrift. However, Franklin’s writings reflected an overarching sentiment common in his time. The first lesson in this unit instructs students to compare and contrast his writings with important documents in the early years of the nation.

In the first part of the 19th century, women were particular apostles of thrift, with regard to household management. This theme resurfaced repeatedly for a century, as women advised each other and raised their daughters to be thrifty wives, to secure a good husband, or keep a bad one in line. Domestic thrift as promoted by early visionaries such as Catherine Beecher and Lydia Maria Child redefined itself after the first wave of feminism and the rise of the post-war consumer culture into Home Economics. The second lesson in this unit encourages students to contextualize the practice of domestic thrift prior to the rise of women’s political, social, and financial equality, and compare it with the thrift messages employed by modern women as they struggle to balance home life with professional work.

The third lesson in this unit focuses on the educational pioneer Booker T. Washington. Using his writings regarding industrial education, it challenges students to re-examine the first pillar of thrift, hard work, in the charged historical context of the decades immediately following emancipation. The fourth lesson in this unit focuses on another charged era, that of the rise of the great industrialists. In this lesson, students read Andrew Carnegie’s writings on thrift, particularly with a view to the third pillar, generosity. In both of these lessons, students must employ a great deal of critical analysis and historical perceptive, as they analyze and evaluate the work and messages of these champions of thrift who were both highly revered and fiercely criticized in their own time. These two men, who on the surface could not have been more different, were very similar in their endeavor to use their success to help generations of people after them. It is no wonder Carnegie once described Washington as “the most remarkable man living today.”

The final lesson in this unit introduces students to one of the most colorful of thrift visionaries, Elbert Hubbard. After spending his youth pursuing various careers in lines such as advertising and sales, Hubbard became a disciple of the English artist and socialist William Morris. In Morris’ spirit of “making beautiful things,” Hubbard settled in eastern New York in 1895 and built an arts and crafts community called Roycroft, where he devoted himself to a very practical life of thrift through bookbinding and handicraft. This final lesson instructs students to examine his writings, which often tended toward moralizing, evaluate his message of thrift, and find its application in the modern world.

Unit 11: Thrift Institutions

A thrift institution is any physical, tangible object, organization or society that promotes the active, regular, and continued practice of thrift. “Piggy banks” and other types of change boxes can be considered the most basic and fundamental of thrift institutions. Naturally, then, savings and loans, buildings and loans, mutual savings funds societies, can be thought of thrift boxes writ large. Most thrift institutions are built on a cooperative model, and therefore combine wise spending and savings, as well as a collective work-ethic, with the public, community-based aspect of thrift.

This unit begins with a hands-on activity to explore the meaning of “co-operative” as it applies within the context of the thrift ethic. It then provides primary sources and other materials to allow students to explore specific types of thrift institutions. Students will study the history and application of credit unions and scrutinize modern, local credit unions to compare them to corporate banks and find the valuable resources credit unions can offer that banks can not. In doing so, students will be encouraged to view them from the perspective of thrift, particularly in its community-building value. Next, students read the history of mutual savings and buildings and loans societies, trace their changes over time to their current incarnation as modern corporate banks, and evaluate both the modern and the historical versions in terms of thrift.

To demonstrate that not all thrift institutions are banking institutions, students will next examine the proliferation of ethnic fraternal societies during the Golden Age of Immigration. These fraternal societies were developed to encourage communities formed around national origin to pool their resources to further the financial and career aims of their members. Finally, students will research consumer co-ops to evaluate the way that combining work and resources empowers consumers and producers alike to promote wise use and ethical practices. In its entirety, this unit focuses students on the ways institutionalized practices of thrift can improve entire communities and encourage wide-spread cooperation for the greater good.

Unit 12: Thrift Movements

This final unit allows students to explore, analyze and evaluate the major thrift movements of the first half of the last century. In the 20th century, prior to the rise of the consumer economy, people organized around thrift practices and thrift institutions for several and diverse purposes: to educate children, to expose youth to savings and banks, to mobilize national sacrifice in wartime, and to unite internationally. National Thrift Week was celebrated annually from 1916 to 1966, including events across the country attracting participants from all walks of life, teaching Americans to become financially self-sufficient. Because history has largely chosen to forget the various thrift movements, this unit is arranged to rely heavily on a wealth of artifacts and primary source documents to put students into the role of thrift historians, to bring these movements to life for them.

3. Unit 10: Thrift Visionaries

Unit 10: Thrift Visionaries — Overview

Enduring Impact

  • Thrift is a historical national value.
  • Thrift champions came from diverse backgrounds, but shared common goals.


  • Benjamin Franklin and the Founding era
  • Economic democracy vs. political democracy
  • 19th century household thrift: women’s domestic role as described by Catherine Beecher and Harriet Beecher Stowe
  • Booker T. Washington and industrial education
  • Andrew Carnegie, the industrialists, and generosity
  • Arts and Crafts Movement in early 20th century America

Essential Questions

  • How was thrift championed by people from different walks of life and different periods in U.S. history?
  • How is the thrift ethic evident in the Founding era?
  • What common themes can be found in both thrift and industrialism?


  • To demonstrate comprehension of primary source texts by comparing and contrasting within and among texts, evaluating an author’s purpose and position, and applying historical context
  • To identify and analyze patterns of continuity and change
  • To interpret historical events using various sources
  • To analyze the role individuals played in the social, political, cultural, and economic development of the U.S.
  • To analyze inferences, citing textual support, drawn from a variety of documents
  • To write complex informational and persuasive pieces

Key Terms

colonial government • Founding • Benjamin Franklin • Harriet Beecher Stowe • domestic thrift • gender roles • Reconstruction • Tuskegee • industrialists • capitalists • philanthropy • handicraft • Arts and Crafts • Elbert Hubbard


Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening

1.1.9.AApply appropriate comprehension strategies to interpret and evaluate an author’s implied or stated purpose using grade level text
1.1.9.D Demonstrate comprehension of grade level text using before reading, during reading, and after reading strategies such as comparing and contrasting within and among texts, and evaluating an author’s purpose and position.
1.1.11.D Demonstrate comprehension/understanding before reading, during reading, and after reading on a variety of literary works through strategies such as comparing and contrasting text elements, assessing validity of text based upon content, and evaluating author’s strategies.
1.2.9.A Evaluate text organization and content to determine the author’s purpose, point of view, and effectiveness according to the author’s theses, accuracy, thoroughness, and patterns of logic.
1.2.9.B Differentiate fact from opinion using a variety of texts from public documents and all academic content areas by using accurate information and supporting arguments.
1.2.9.C Distinguish between essential and nonessential information across a variety of texts from all academic content areas, identifying bias or propaganda where present.
1.2.9.D Analyze inferences, citing textual support, drawn from a variety of public documents and all academic content area texts.
1.2.9.E Read, understand, and respond to essential content in a variety of informational texts and documents across all academic content areas.
1.4.9.B Write complex informational pieces (e.g. reviews, research papers, instructions, essays, articles). Apply purpose/audience appropriate methods to develop the thesis of the piece. Use discipline specific vocabulary, precise language, and relevant detail. Use relevant graphics (e.g. maps, charts, graphs, tables, illustrations, photographs). Evaluate the validity and significance of primary and secondary sources as related to the thesis.
1.4.9.C Write persuasive pieces. Include a clearly stated position or opinion with awareness of audience and topic. Organize ideas and appeals in a sustained and effective fashion. Clarify positions with precise and relevant evidence, including facts, expert opinions, quotations, expressions of commonly accepted beliefs, and logical reasoning. Anticipate and counter reader concerns and arguments.
1.5.9.B Develop content appropriate for the topic. Gather, organize, and determine validity and reliability of information. Employ the most effective format for purpose and audience. Incorporate specialized vocabulary for topic and audience. Write fully developed paragraphs that have details and information specific to the topic and relevant to the focus.
1.5.9.C Write with controlled and/or subtle organization. Sustain a logical order throughout the piece. Include an effective introduction and conclusion. Apply effective, subtle transitional methods within and across paragraphs.
1.5.9.D Write with an understanding of style using a variety of sentence
structures and descriptive word choices. Create tone and voice
through the use of precise language.
1.5.9.E Revise writing to improve style, word choice, sentence variety, and subtlety of meaning after rethinking how questions of purpose, audience, and genre have been addressed.
1.5.9.F Use grade appropriate conventions of language when writing and editing. Spell all words correctly. Use capital letters correctly. Punctuate correctly. Use correct grammar and sentence formation.


8.1.12.AEvaluate patterns of continuity and rates of change over time, applying context of events.
8.1.12.BEvaluate the interpretation of historical events and sources, considering the use of fact versus opinion, multiple perspectives, and cause and effect relationships
8.3.9.ACompare the role groups and individuals played in the social, political, cultural, and economic development of the U.S.
8.3.9.B Compare the impact of historical documents, artifacts, and places which are critical to the U.S.
8.3.9.C Analyze how continuity and change have impacted the U.S.: belief systems and religions; commerce and industry; technology; politics and government; physical and human geography; social organizations.
8.3.9.D Interpret how conflict and cooperation among groups and organizations have impacted the growth and development of the U.S.: ethnicity and race; working conditions; immigration; military conflict; economic stability.

Unit 10: Thrift Visionaries — Lesson 10-1

Benjamin Franklin: The First Champion of American Thrift
Grade Level: 9-12
Timeframe: 1 class period, 45-60 minutes
Materials/Resources: Excerpts from various readings, hyperlinked below.
Objective(s): Students will analyze and contextualize Benjamin Franklin’s philosophy of thrift by completing a document-based question (DBQ).
Quick-write/hook: In 1782, Benjamin Franklin wrote, in an open letter to Europeans considering migration to the United States, that in America, “People do not inquire concerning a stranger, What is he? But, What can he do? If he has any useful Art, he is welcome; and if he exercises it and behaves well, he will be respected by all that know him.” What does Franklin’s quote say about the kind of culture he was attempting to promote in his new nation?


  • Ask for volunteers to share out their responses to the journal prompt.
  • As necessary, explain the economic nature of democracy in the nascent United States, either using lecture/notes or a slideshow, making note of the following points:
  • The founders created legal framework for a political democracy: all the citizens theoretically had equal power of government through the election of representatives to create and enforce law.
  • Free residents of the colonies and later the states also enjoyed a type of economic democracy in contrast to the feudalism of European monarchies.
  • In feudal Europe, very few aristocratic landowners, known by their titles of nobility, possessed most of the wealth and political power, but the majority of citizens were peasants.
  • In the U.S., the majority of citizens were middle-class merchants, artisans, or subsistence farmers; in other words, there was little concentration of wealth as in Europe.
  • The absence of noble titles meant a free man had the ability to employ political power despite his social position, and to rise through the social classes through the accumulation of wealth rather than by being granted a title of nobility.
  • Students will complete a DBQ using the background information, their own prior knowledge, and excerpts from the following primary sources: What were Benjamin Franklin’s ideas on the necessity of the practice of industry and frugality in the new North American nation, and how were they reflected by or echoed in the political writings of his contemporaries?
  • Have students research critics of Franklin and summarize arguments against Franklin's philosophy of thrift.

Unit 10: Thrift Visionaries — Lesson 10-2

Catherine and Harriet Beecher: Thrift as Domestic Training
Grade Level: 9-12
Timeframe: 2 class periods, 45-60 minutes each
Materials/Resources: Catherine and Harriet Beecher, “Early Rising,” 1872 and Benjamin Franklin, “An Economical Project,” 1784.
Objective(s): Students will compare 19th century household thrift advice to messages found 21st century domestic magazines.
Quick-write/hook: “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise,” and, “Make hay while the sun shines.” What is the relationship between these two thrift maxims made popular by Poor Richard? What is it about early morning or sunshine that was so important to Benjamin Franklin and other 18th and 19th century people?


  • Ask for volunteers to share out their responses to the journal prompt. Encourage all responses, but particularly stress any responses that touch on the historical relevance, such as, the fact that prior to the Industrial Revolution, the national economic dependence on agricultural work made it necessary for people to complete the bulk of their workload during the light of day and during the spring and summer months.
  • Students may share other relevant responses such as: before electricity, work was most efficiently completed during daylight; natural circadian rhythms might make the human body more efficient earlier in the day; Western religious traditions often put an emphasis on early rising for morning services.
  • Ask, “Do you feel that the time at which you wake up has any effect on your productivity throughout the day?” Allow students a few minutes to discuss and argue.
  • Explain that many 20th century proponents of thrift often felt that there is a direct correlation between a habit of early rising and productivity, specifically, with regard to domestic/household work. Introduce the reading selection by telling students it was written in 1843 and argues the affirmative.
  • Students will read “Early Rising,” by Catherine and Harriet Beecher. Instruct them to jot down notes on the following while they are reading:
  • Gender roles: Why is this essay directed toward women and girls? What is the goal for which girls are preparing by developing good work habits?
  • Work: What kinds of domestic responsibilities and chores are referenced and how are those accomplished differently than they would be today?
  • Community: What sorts of social and familial dependencies existed in the Beechers’ worldview? How are those different today?
  • Post-reading discussion questions. Have students work in pairs or small groups to brainstorm answers to these questions, then allot 15 minutes (depending on the students’ levels of skill and of interest) for a large group discussion. Have students take notes on the ideas presented by other groups and classmates.
  • Why did the gender-based division of labor in the pre-industrial era make the practice of thrift more pressing for women than for men?
  • The Beechers were writing in a very different social structure than we know today. How are their values similar to our own?
  • Would you expect they are conservative and old-fashioned for their time or progressive and forward-thinking?
  • The Beechers, and many other advocates of thrift, became active in the abolition movement over the next twenty years. How do you think the tenets of thrift aligned with the ideals that ended slavery?
  • Instruct students to find a thrift article in a modern domestic consumer magazine or websites. Tell them to use their notes from during reading and from the large-group discussion to analyze the modern article in terms of the Beecher essay.
  • Students should be able to write a thoughtful and substantial constructed response or comparison essay based on the two pieces.
  • Distribute the short selection from “An Economical Project.” This satirical essay was written by Benjamin Franklin while he was living in France prior to the American Revolution and published in the newspaper The Journal of Paris. Instruct students to relate this selection to the Beecher text, then to find or devise modern, practical and logistical arguments in favor of early rising.

Unit 10: Thrift Visionaries — Lesson 10-3

Booker T. Washington: Thrift in Reconstruction Era Black Schools
Grade Level: 9-12
Timeframe: 1 class period, 45-60 minutes
Materials/Resources: Various readings from Booker T. Washington, hyperlinked below.
Objective(s): Students will analyze Booker T. Washington’s advocacy of industry by reading and responding to three of his speeches.
Quick-write/hook: In a speech delivered in 1903, Booker T. Washington said that after slavery, African-Americans had to learn that, “being worked meant degradation, while working means civilization; that all forms of labor are honorable, and all forms of idleness disgraceful.” What is this difference between “being worked” and “working”? What distinction was he making and why was he making this distinction?


  • Using a KWL, have students list everything they already know about Booker T. Washington, and what they would like to know about him.
  • Harvest collective prior knowledge using a whip-around or by asking for volunteers to share out some of their answers.
  • If the following information does not come out in the KWL, explain to the students:
  • Booker T. Washington was an African-American educator and leader during the Reconstruction era.
  • Washington was born a slave in Virginia in 1856, just prior to the start of the Civil War.
  • He helped build Tuskegee Institute, which started as a normal school (teacher training school) and grew into a renowned industrial arts institute.
  • It is not necessary at this point to explain Washington’s philosophy of industrial education or the arguments of his contemporary critics, as students will read primary sources and research criticism of his work later.
  • Using a pair-and-share, have students discuss the following question with a partner: Which is more important for young people to learn, academics or practical skills? Tell each pair to jot down a few of their ideas, then allow a few minutes for a brief class discussion on this question. Assume that some students may want to answer “both” and allow for some exploration and justification of this answer. Encourage students to jot down a few of their classmates’ ideas during the discussion for future reference.
  • Have students read the following excerpts (or full text, depending on time allotted and students’ skill level):
  • After students have read the pieces, have them re-connect with the prior pair-and-share question: Which, in Washington’s view, was more important for young people to learn, academics or practical skills? Do you agree or disagree with him? Do his arguments have any effect on your prior position on this question? Do you think the historical context has any bearing on this question, in other words, would your feelings on this topic be different if you lived in the Reconstruction Era? Allow time for class discussion on this point.
  • Give students a few minutes to fill out the “what I learned” section on their KWLs, then use a whip-around to give them an opportunity to share out their answers.
  • Have students respond to the following writing prompt in a short essay: “How does Booker T. Washington’s argument for industrial education exemplify the practice of thrift? Include in your answer an analysis of economic community building through practical labor.”
  • Extended activity: Have students research contemporary critics of Booker T. Washington, such as W.E.B. Du Bois, and hypothesize where both Washington and his critics would stand on thrift education in the modern era.
  • Extended activity: Students might compare industrial education in the Reconstruction Era with modern career training education programs in public high schools and/or post-secondary trade schools.

Unit 10: Thrift Visionaries — Lesson 10-4

Andrew Carnegie: Thrift in the Age of Capital
Grade Level: 9-12
Timeframe: 1 class period, 45-60 minutes
Materials/Resources: “Thrift as a Duty,” Andrew Carnegie, 1902 and Savage Wealth (commonly called The Gospel of Wealth), 1889.
Objective(s): Students will analyze the way thrift inspired and drove industrial capitalists using primary sources and collaborative learning. Students will compare industrial capitalists to pioneers of e-commerce by researching the latter to find the thrift inherent in their concepts and practices.
Quick-write/hook: “It is not the aim of thrift nor the duty of men to acquire millions. Hoarding millions is avarice, not thrift.” This quote is an obvious statement of thrift. Would it surprise you to know it was penned by 19th century steel magnate and multi-millionaire Andrew Carnegie? Why or why not?


  • Ask for volunteers to share out their responses to the quick-write.
  • Expand the discussion to include a collection of prior knowledge about Andrew Carnegie. If very little prior knowledge exists, explain to students that Carnegie was one of the 19th-20th century “robber barons,” that he was a poor immigrant from Scotland who amassed a fortune building a steel empire, was criticized for creating a monopoly and for overworking and underpaying his employees, that he retired from private industry at age 66 and spent the last 18 years of his life dedicated to philanthropy.
  • Break students into groups of four, then further break each group into a pair.
  • Distribute copies of two Carnegie texts: “Thrift as a Duty,” 1902 and the Gospel of Wealth, 1889. Depending on skill-set and reading level of students, excerpts can be used in place of the full texts, particularly on the Gospel of Wealth, the full text of which may require historical contextualization regarding certain politically incorrect language and attitudes.
  • Each pair of students will work on reading and analyzing one text. The former, “Thrift as Duty,” 1902 is written for the working class, while the latter is written for the extremely wealthy. Instruct students to annotate the texts as they read, and make notes, referencing specific passages, as they discuss.
  • After each pair has analyzed one text, have students switch partners within their groups, to share with each other, as in a jigsaw. Each pair can then compare the messages of thrift Carnegie delivered to two separate socio-economic audiences for consistency.
  • Next, the two pairs within each group will share and discuss their findings. Remind students to continue to annotate, take notes and reference specific passages.
  • Constructed response writing prompt: “Andrew Carnegie’s adherence to the principle of thrift inspired him as an entrepreneur and later, as a philanthropist. How did his message of thrift remain consistent through the socio-economic stages of his life? Which of the three pillars of thrift do you think he felt most strongly about and why? Cite specific passages in your response.”
  • Modification for advanced classes: Distribute a copy of “Thrift,” 1909 to each group and instruct students to examine the ways in which Carnegie sees thrift as a capitalist value, and why he classes socialism as anti-thrift. Ask them to agree or disagree, and to defend their position.
  • Extended activity: Have students research the work of successful pioneers of the internet to find modern parallels regarding how thrift inspires modern entrepreneurs. Allow students to choose founders of popular e-commerce, share economy, and monetized social networking websites and apps, such Amazon, Ebay, Etsy, Facebook, Instagram, Google, Craigslist, FreeCycle, AirBnB, KickStarter. Students will doubtless have several more ideas of their own.

Unit 10: Thrift Visionaries — Lesson 10-5

Elbert Hubbard: Thrift as Handicraft
Grade Level: 9-12
Timeframe: 1 class period, 45-60 minutes
Materials/Resources: David Blankenhorn, “A Person Who Makes Beautiful Things,” 2008; Elbert Hubbard, The Roycroft Shop, Being a History, 1908; “Consecrated Lives,” 1916; and “Declaration,” 1908.
Objective(s): Students will analyze Elbert Hubbard’s philosophy of thrift as handicraft through primary source readings and apply it by finding quality goods available in the modern day.
Quick-write/hook: “To remain on earth you must be useful, otherwise Nature regards you as old metal, and is only watching for a chance to melt you over.” What is the obvious thrift message in this Elbert Hubbard quote? Can you find some less obvious or more subtle allusions to the spirit of thrift in this quote?


  • Provide the following background information either as lecture/notes or as a slideshow:
  • In the U.S., the Victorian Era coincided with the Industrial Revolution, and Victorian style was considered a symbol of wealth in a period in which the social classes were becoming increasingly polarized.
  • ue to the growth of factories, mass produced consumer goods were readily available even to poor people to allow them to mimic the fashions of the upper classes.
  • Progressive thinkers and artists, following the English socialist William Morris, preached against the accumulation of useless consumer goods in the latter part of the Victorian Era.
  • In the United States, this protestation against Victorianism manifested in what became known as the Arts and Crafts movement, a style of design, manufacture, and architecture that stressed simplicity, handicraft, and usefulness in objects.
  • Have students read background information on Elbert Hubbard’s Roycroft community:
  • Ask students to assess the Hubbard’s arts and crafts community in terms of thrift.
  • Using the following sources by Elbert Hubbard, have them analyze the value of simplicity in artisanship and design inherent in the thrift ethic:
  • Document-based question: How is Elbert Hubbard’s life and work illustrative of thrift, with particular regard to the first pillar of industry? Cite specific examples from the texts in your response.
  • Have students find a modern product that illustrates simplicity and useful design, or, describe or design one of their own. Students must be able to justify why this product or object would conform to Hubbard’s standards, which means they also must be able to define Hubbard’s standards of quality, usefulness, and beauty.
  • Extended Activity: Elbert Hubbard’s Roycroft community started as a printer and a book-bindery. With simple supplies and instruction, students can learn to hand-bind simple craft books. Refer to this video for instruction, or collaborate with an art teacher: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-r6c_trSxY
    Required materials:
  • Several sheets of blank or colored paper for the pages, two pieces of thicker paper, cardstock, or chipboard for the covers, ruler or straight-edge, and a pen or pencil
  • Awl or screwpunch (thumbtacks can be substituted to punch holes)
  • Needle
  • Thread (waxed bookbinding thread is preferable, but regular sewing thread can be substituted by doubling it)

Unit 10: Thrift Visionaries — Lesson 10-6

Independent Research
Grade Level: 9-12
Timeframe: 1-2 class periods, 45-60 minutes each
Materials/Resources: Andrew Yarrow, 2014.
Objective(s): Students will conduct their own research, using “Leaders of Thrift Movement” and the Thrift Collection (http://www.americanvalues.org/thrift-collection/) on a leader of the Thrift Movement, and based on the format of lessons 10.1-10.5, create and share a lesson on that leader with the class.

The IAV Thrift Collection


The IAV Thrift Collection is the nation’s most comprehensive repository of thrift research and the world’s most extensive collection on the meaning, history, and possibility of thrift. All sources provided in Thrift: A Curriculum can be found in the Thrift Collection. Users can also enjoy many other items related to thrift such as books, audio and video advertisements, material culture artifacts, and photographs. The Thrift Collection enriches and amplifies Thrift: A Curriculum; the two should therefore be used together.

Online visitors to the Thrift Collection can navigate through the Collection in the following ways:

  • Categories – allows users to search the Collection by themes or subjects related to thrift, such as household thrift, wartime thrift, teaching thrift, and environmental thrift
  • Item Types – allows users to search items in the Collection by type, such as advertisements, books, cartoons, and thrift box/bank
  • Authors – allows users to search the authors of the publications within the Collection, such as Benjamin Franklin, Bolton Hall, Elbert Hubbard, and Samuel Smiles
  • Dates – allows users to search the Collection by time period, such as before 1500, 1800-1899, 1900-1980, and 2000s

Visitors also have the option to search the Collection by keyword. We hope that the Thrift Collection becomes a valuable and much-visited tool that puts original, historical, and contemporary resources on thrift into the hands of teachers, students, scholars, and anyone interested in the concept of thrift as a public virtue.

Additional Resources for Teaching Thrift

Blankenhorn, David. 2008. Thrift: A Cyclopedia. (West Conshohocken: Templeton Foundation Press). Available online at: http://americanvalues.org/search/item.php?id=79.

Blankenhorn, David, Barbara Dafoe Whitehead and Sorcha Brophy-Warren. 2009. Franklin’s Thrift: The Lost History of An American Virtue. (West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Foundation Press). Available online at: http://americanvalues.org/search/item.php?id=72.

Blankenhorn, David and Andrew F. Kline. 2013. American Thrift: A Reader (New York: Broadway Press). Available online at: http://www.americanvalues.org/search/item.php?id=1982.

Cuddy, Gerald. 2011. “Thrift Is the Social Movement for the Great Recovery.” Propositions, no. 2, Winter 2011. (New York: Institute for American Values.) Available online at: http://www.americanvalues.org/search/item.php?id=88.

Institute for American Values. 2008. For A New Thrift: Confronting the Debt Culture. (New York: Institute for American Values). Available online at: http://www.americanvalues.org/search/item.php?id=69.

Institute for American Values. November 20, 2011. Video: “Beyond Our Means: Why America Spends While the World Saves.” Available online at: http://americanvalues.org/search/item.php?id=2008.

Institute for American Values. 2012. Why Thrift Matters: How Thrifty Are Americans? The Thrift Quiz and Thrift Index (New York: Institute for American Values). Available online: http://www.americanvalues.org/search/item.php?id=85.

Institute for American Values. January 18, 2012. Video: “Why Thrift Matters.” Available online http://www.americanvalues.org/search/item.php?id=2559.

Institute for American Values. January 18, 2012. Video: “Thrift Week 2012: Keynote Speech by Jeremy Nowak,” President and CEO, William Penn Foundation and Chairman, Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. Available online at: http://www.americanvalues.org/search/item.php?id=2554.

Institute for American Values and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. August 1, 2012. Video: “Is Thrift Good for America?” Available online at: http://www.americanvalues.org/search/item.php?id=2009.

Institute for American Values. 2014. Evaluating Thrift: A Report. (New York: Institute for American Values). Available online at: http://www.americanvalues.org/thrift/.

Lapp, Amber, Charles E. Stokes and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead. 2012. Why Thrift Matters: 20 Propositions. (New York: Institute for American Values). Available online at: http://www.americanvalues.org/search/item.php?id=84.

Lapp, Amber et al. 2014. The Way to Wealth. (New York: Institute for American Values). Available online at: http://www.americanvalues.org/search/item.php?id=2147.

Yarrow, Andrew. 2014. Thrift: The History of an American Cultural Movement. (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press).


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