Thursday, August 25, 2016, marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service #NPS100. The Organic Act of 1916 created a new agency with the mission to “….to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”
The Marshall Library and Literacy Volunteers of Southwest Minnesota love to celebrate, but we especially want to celebrate the National Park Service because, in the words of author Wallace Stegner, “National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.”
The NPS oversees 412 areas throughout the United States and its territories. These places offer to all of us recreation and education. They preserve natural lands and culturally and historically significant sites.
The kids and tree in the photo above represent all of us. Many of us do not know the names of the plants and animals in our immediate environment, and we are not making connections between our actions and the environmental costs of these actions. In a 2013 Benchmark Survey Report by the National Environmental Education Foundation, only 23% of adults surveyed said they had a somewhat higher knowledge than average about environmental issues. On cultural and historical issues, a 2014 Annenberg Public Policy Center survey revealed that 36% of adults surveyed correctly named the three branches of the federal government, but 35% could not name one of the branches. The kids in the photo above, by the way, could name all three branches, at least during our leadership learning unit! They were not so good at naming plants, birds, or arthropods.
We need to have both environmental and cultural literacy in order to uphold the democratic idea that Wallace Stegner highlights and to ensure our young people have the legacy preserved by NPS. Public libraries like the Marshall Lyon County Public Library are likewise the product of democratic ideals, intended to provide access to information and ideas that promote an educated citizenry. Not everyone is going to be able to travel to Acadia in Maine, the Dry Tortugas in Florida, Denali in Alaska, or Haleakalā in Hawaii, but we can learn about them and experience them through the print and digital resources of our local public library.
For LV*SW*MN, celebrating the National Park Service relates to our mission. The literacy goals of our learners include improving their historical, cultural, and scientific literacy. In creating our curriculum, we draw upon resources created by the National Park Service (as well as state parks and historical societies) and upon the firsthand experiences of our tutors and learners who have visited these sites. Our learners who are immigrants and refugees want to know about U.S. history and geography to better understand their new home. We consider the NPS as a natural partner in supporting our learners.
The final part of our mission statement, advocacy, means that we advocate for literacy and the people and organizations that make the various forms of literacy available to all people. This includes environmental and cultural literacy as well as citizenship education. NPS plays a crucial role in promoting these literacies, so we need to advocate for continued support for the work they do and for the infrastructure of the physical NPS sites. Happy Birthday NPS!