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
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
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. …