Go West, Kids with Pioneering Lewis and Clark

By McAlister, Nancy | The Florida Times Union, November 3, 1997 | Go to article overview

Go West, Kids with Pioneering Lewis and Clark


McAlister, Nancy, The Florida Times Union


America's school children will be talking about the explorations

of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark this week. To coincide

with Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery (8

p.m. tomorrow and Wednesday, PBS), many classes in grades 5-8

will use study guides that chart what filmmaker Ken Burns calls

the greatest American odyssey -- surpassing the moon landing.

Why such superlatives? The famous expedition between the spring

of 1804 and the fall of 1806 saw America's future in the first

official exploration into unknown spaces.

What drew this unlikely crew, Burns said, was a sense their

country's destiny lay in the West, a land of infinite variety

and possibility.

In the study guides, students are given clues about its

magnitude. For example, one exercise is a word-find of some of

the 122 new animals Lewis and Clark discovered. The list

includes condor, coyote, gray wolf and grizzly bear. The

assignment is a reminder that a primary objective of President

Jefferson was scientific discovery.

But always at the forefront was the quest to find a water route

across the continent. Classes will be encouraged to plot their

course on land and rivers to witness the many obstacles that

stood in the way.

As another exercise, classes are invited to consider the impact

of a journey that paved the way for westward expansion, Indian

diplomacy and a continental nation.

Burns, a filmmaker in love with American history, is obviously

taken with this story of adventure and friendship. He calls the

finished four-hour film a valentine to the extraordinary

landscape that, in some cases, is unchanged since the

expedition. "We came to realize that the real star of our

biography was the land itself and the promises it held," he

said.

And since every school child in America knows the explorers

made it back safely, Lewis & Clark makes the most of every

dramatic turn: The tense confrontation with the Teton Sioux

along the lower Missouri, their freezing cold first winter in

North Dakota, their first joyful glimpse of the Pacific Ocean,

their desperate fight with the Blackfeet Indians on their

return, and the ecstatic welcome home as heroes. …

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