Closer Readings Commentary

Mission US: Mission 5 “Up from the Dust”

Opening image from Mission US: Mission 5 'Up from the Dust'
Photo caption

Opening image from Mission US: Mission 5 “Up from the Dust”

“Life in the galloping flatlands was a pact with nature. It gave as much as it took, and in 1935 it was all take.”

—Timothy Egan, The Worst Hard Time

You are a teenager growing up on a wheat farm in the Texas panhandle in the 1930s. How will you weather the terrible dust storms that will blanket your farm and survive the coming hardships of the Great Depression? Will you tenaciously fight to remain on the bone dry land of the Great Plains or hop a freight train to seek the golden promise of California? 

Mission US: “Up from the Dust” is the latest installment in the Mission US historical interactive educational game series from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and WNET. In this iteration of the game, students will assume the role of one of the twin protagonists, Frank and Ginny Dunn, who help run the family farm. In the guise of these characters, students must make decisions about how to cope as they witness their thriving crop-filled land become a parched, barren dust bowl.

Mission 5 Educator’s Guide: Overview poses a number of essential questions to guide your students’ experience:

  • What was the experience of family wheat farmers on the southern Great Plains during the late 1920s and early 1930s?
  • What conditions did ordinary Americans face during the early years of the Great Depression, and how did they respond?
  • How did President Roosevelt and his New Deal programs try to ease the economic hardships many Americans experienced?
  • Why did some people from the Dust Bowl migrate to California?

There are activities to match each of the five parts of the game—document-based tasks, vocabulary exercises, and writing prompts as well as review questions to use before, during and after the students play “Up from the Dust.”

The Mission 5 Educator’s Guide: Background section offers valuable resources to fill in contextual information on the events leading up to the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression of the 1930s, as well as the national response to this twin crisis. These include a timeline and a primer on this historical period designed especially for teachers, while the “Myths and Misconceptions” and “Top 5 Things to Know before You Play” articles are geared to students.

The Mission 5 Resources tab leads to a host of primary sources that relate to the different parts of the game and present first-hand accounts of the hardships the country encountered during this period. These sources come in a variety of formats including charts, graphs, photographs, film transcripts, cartoons, pamphlets, speeches, advertisements, memoirs, etc. They cover multiple subtopics that encompass the political and economic, as well as the social and personal dimensions of America in the 1930s—ranging from the Report of the Great Plains Drought Area Committee data on “Acreage of Harvested Crops in the Plains, 1879-1929” to a report on the “Social Effects of Migratory Labor.”

Additional multimedia resources

The following resources help students understand the human story behind the Depression era headlines and iconic WPA photographs to encounter the resiliency of the American spirit that sustained the nation through this dark chapter.

Legend: (A) Article, Blogpost; (L) Lesson, Curriculum Unit; (V) Video

EDSITEment lessons (L) and articles (A) on the Great Depression

Suite of Resources on Ken Burns’ documentary film: The Dust Bowl

Suite of Resources on John Steinbeck

Related EDSITEment-reviewed websites