Dr. Sol Taylor

Coins in the Classroom

By Dr. Sol Taylor
"Making Cents"
The Signal
Saturday, March 3, 2007

or the past several summers, the American Numismatic Association has been offering a weeklong class just for teachers on the use of coins and paper money as educational tools. This is not an abstract of the course curriculum, but some of the more practical uses for coins and paper money, especially in grades 4-6.
    For understanding the metric system, two of our coins fit the bill: a nickel weighs 5 grams, and two cents also weigh five grams (2.5 grams each). If the classroom has a metric or gram scale, this is a simple exercise and point to make. Next, our cent is one millimeter thick. Stack up ten cents and use a small metric ruler to see that the stack is 10mm tall.
    For historcial value, each coin has its own story to tell. Starting with the Lincoln cent, point out the first ones were minted in 1909 to honor Lincoln's 100th birthdate. Since each coin bears similar mottoes, each one can be identified and explained. The motto "E Pluribus Unum" refers to "One out of many," referencing the 13 original British colonies united into a single republic. It appears on all our current coinage.
    The word "Liberty" also appears on all of our regular coinage (except the new presidential dollars, which show the Statue of Liberty); its symbolism is the fact that early on, the Revolutionary War was fought for independence from colonial rule and individual liberty. It also borrows from the French revolution of the same era with its motto: "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite" (liberty, equality and brotherhood).
    The motto "In God We Trust" started with the 2-cent piece in 1864 and has appeared on most of our regular coinage since then, and on all of our current coinage. It coincides with the Founding Fathers' belief in God as the higher power. (To avoid possible controversy in some cases, this motto can be sidestepped if the school administration feels it is a sensitivity hot button).
    The Jefferson nickel came into being in 1938, coinciding with his 200th birthday. His home at Monticello is featured on the back of most issues (except the 2004 and 2005 issues).
    The Roosevelt dime was issued on FDR's birthday, Jan. 30, 1946. He died the year before, on April 12. He was chosen for the dime since he founded and was a major sponsor of the March of Dimes, an anti-polio campaign. As a polio victim, he championed programs to defeat polio and to aid its victims.
    The Washington quarter started in 1932 on the 200th birthday of George Washington, Feb. 22, 1932. It is currently our second longest running coinage type after the Lincoln cent.
    The Kennedy half dollar was issued on his birthday, May 30, 1964, just six months after his assassination.
    If one wishes to go into the dollar coins, we have the Eisenhower dollar, which came out the year after Eisenhower died. It was issued only until 1978 when its large size and lack of wide use caused the Treasury to cancel its issuance and came up with a smaller design honoring Susan B. Anthony, an early champion of women's voting rights. Since it was not much larger than a quarter, the coin faded from popularity right away, and only two regular years of issue were made: 1979 and 1980. The 1981 issue was mainly for collectors. A supplemental issue came out in 1999 and also is barely seen in public.
    A more recent attempt to get us to use $1 coins was the golden-colored Sacagawea dollar starting in 2000. It, too, has met with little success. Sacagawea became known for her work with the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1804-05 (also a worthy topic for American history study).
    Today the Mint is making another attempt at a circulating dollar, this time featuring the presidents in their order of succession, starting with George Washington on his birthday, Feb. 15. Four different dollar designs are to be issued each year.
    Naturally there are many more coins for classroom study, such as the current state quarter series, due to be completed in a couple of years, and the 2004 and 2005 Jefferson nickels with different Lewis and Clark-related designs.
    There are many more facets of "Coins in the Classroom" that can benefit the average grade school teacher and students ages 9-12. Teachers interested in the ANA summer course can inquire at money.org.

    Dr. Sol Taylor of Sherman Oaks is president of the Society of Lincoln Cent Collectors and author of The Standard Guide to the Lincoln Cent. Click here for ordering information.