Happy 100th Birthday to the National Parks!

Image courtesy National Park Service/Tim Rains
Image courtesy National Park Service/Tim Rains

The National Park Service is celebrating the 100th birthday of our national parks. In case you missed it, BJ McCracken discusses a climate change unit taught at Great Falls (Montana) High School and how schools can—and should—play a central role in educating students to be well-informed and proactive citizens.

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Glacier National Park had 125 recorded glaciers in the 1850s. Today there are 25 glaciers. It is predicted they will all disappear by 2030.

Citizenship and an individual’s responsibilities to society and global well-being should be a purposeful part of all curricula, not just social studies. There is a social contract within democracy that requires individuals to be informed citizens who seek quality information especially when determining what to believe in situations involving conflicting viewpoints. Basic citizenship skills should include knowing how to locate quality information, being able to apply that information to problem analysis or solutions, and using critical thinking skills. These are used in daily life.

Verb Citizens

This idea of personal responsibility for national or global issues and that an individual’s personal decisions can affect society, is often a foreign concept to freshman high school students. While they may have encountered concepts such as social contracts, citizenship, and stewardship in an abstract way, they often do not see what they personally can do to make a difference. In other words, these concepts are perceived as nouns, not verbs.  And unfortunately, education too often fails to clearly identify and emphasize that the choice to be a well-informed citizen is central to being an active citizen in a democratic society. Making the choice to be informed is just as proactive as choosing to recycle. Both actions require intent and effort. Education should be modeling the same intent and effort to proactively promote citizenship as an ongoing process of making informed choices.

Our Foundations of Science teacher at Great Falls (Montana) High School, Beth Thomas, wanted her climate change unit to move beyond the mechanics of science and into that awareness of personal citizenship responsibilities. To implement this unit she pulled together a collaborative planning and presentation team that included a literacy specialist, a classroom technology specialist, and what she calls an information specialist, the librarian. One of the team goals was to assist students in viewing themselves as “verb” citizens. Continue reading “Happy 100th Birthday to the National Parks!”