Direct students to read Article I, Section 2 of the United States Constitution and ask them to explain why enumeration of the population was important to the framers of our government.
Write the words census, enumerator, canvass, and population schedule on the board and ask students to define them.
Tell students to pretend that it is 1930 and that they each are applying for a position with the Bureau of the Census to be an enumerator. Prior to photocopying the document for students, cover up the italicized sections. Distribute copies of the partial document to students, explain to them that one of the requirements for being an enumerator was the successful completion of a test schedule. Direct students to read the narrative and independently fill in the form based upon it. When they are finished, provide students with copies of the document (including the italicized sections) and ask them to compare their answers with the completed test schedule.
Lead a class discussion about the test schedule by posing the following questions: What skills did you employ while completing it? Was some information more difficult than other information to record? What conclusions can you draw from the data you recorded?
Remind students that the information they recorded on the test schedule was based on a hypothetical narrative. Ask them consider the similarities and differences between the demographic make-up of the United States in 1930 and today. Instruct students to draft a hypothetical narrative describing a community today. Encourage volunteers to share their narratives with the class.
Provide students with information from the background essay about the 1930 census, the work of the enumerators, and the questions asked in the 1930 census (see figure 1). Divide students into 14 smaller groups and assign them to conduct research into each of the 14 previous censuses. Ask a spokesperson from each group to share with the class the type of information gathered in their census. Record this information in a large chart on the board. Ask students to consider the purpose of the questions being asked and compare it to the purpose of the census as described in the Constitution. Encourage students to write a one-page explanation as to why they think the questions asked in the census became so much more detailed.
Remind students of the 2000 census, how it was taken, and the questions that were asked. (This information is available online from the Bureau of the Census at http://www.census.gov/dmd/www/2000quest.html). Ask students to write a one-page position paper revealing their opinion about the value of the information gathered in 2000 and the information gathered in 1930. Invite student volunteers to share their papers with the class.
Inform students that although the Bureau of the Census released statistical summaries based on the census schedules in 1930, due to a 72-year privacy law [92 Stat. 915; Public Law 95-416; October 5, 1978], the actual schedules themselves have been closed to researchers. They will become available on April 1, 2002. Ask students to consider the differences between how these documents were used and by whom in 1930, and how the documents will now be used and by whom.