Sarah Palin versus the National Park ServicePosted June 7th, 2011 by Thomas Norman DeWolf
It isn’t often that I intone the name of present-day political figures when I blog. I find that names like Barack Obama or Sarah Palin tend to elicit such emotional reactions from readers that the actual intent of the post is often lost as readers react with their feelings about the lightning-rod figure instead.
Today I’m making an exception. Having now driven more than 4,200 miles through sixteen states, Sharon and I have visited many historic sites, museums and interpretive centers. Our experiences with National Park Service sites and interpretive centers, in particular, stand out as one of the most significant discoveries we’ve made. We are exceedingly impressed with the work the NPS is doing to inform visitors of the many truths of history–including the ugly aspects that are often difficult to take–at interpretive centers across our country. We have found modern facilities that use current technology to great advantage. Interactive exhibits bring history alive. Well-trained staff offer interpretation and contextualization that help visitors recognize how that history continues to impact life today.
We learned a great deal about the Selma to Montgomery march for Voting Rights at the Lowndes County Interpretive Center. We discovered enlightening information about Abraham Lincoln at his home in Springfield, Illinois. Many other sites are operated by private organizations and some are better than others at exposing the truths of history. There is so much information available at one’s fingertips online that there is really no excuse for not learning more about the facts of history, its interpretation, context, and import for today.
Sarah Palin recently visited the Old North Church in Boston and mangled American history even more than Henry Wadsworth Longfellow did with his famous poem. Longfellow’s intentions in writing The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere were political. It was 1860 and the Civil War was looming. Longfellow wanted to unite people, remind them of the sacrifices of previous generations that led to the creation of the United States. He wanted to preserve the Union and so romanticized–and changed the facts about–history.
So did Palin. She didn’t get everything wrong. When Revere was captured by the British he did warn them about the numbers of rebels and the weapons at their disposal. But that wasn’t the purpose of his ride. Palin’s wording is misleading and confusing. When she then defends her words rather than clarifying them, the problem is amplified. Palin’s words are repeated on news broadcasts. She is spoofed by comedians, trashed by opponents, and lionized by supporters. The truth and its impact are sacrificed. Her political goals, unfortunately, appear more important to her than accurate reflections of history.
If I had a magic wand I would wave it over Sarah Palin’s tour across America and make sure she paid close attention to the well-educated National Park Service staff, the historians and interpreters at sites operated by other groups, and instill an interest in her to do a great deal more research before she speaks into the many microphones that are held before her.
Most of us, of course, don’t face the challenges Sarah Palin and other famous people face. We can take our time to learn more about our nation’s history. We can take our children and grandchildren to significant sites where history has been made. I suspect most people think of camping when they think about the National Park Service. I grew up visiting the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Crater Lake, and many other National Parks with my family. I’m blessed on this trip with Sharon to learn just how much the NPS has to offer at interpretive centers across our nation as well.
Oh, and the other thing I would do with my magic wand (I mean, if you have a magic wand you may as well get plenty of use out of it, right?) is wave it over every American and instill the interest and ability to visit historic sites and learn more about our nation’s history and what has brought us to the place we inhabit today.
Eastern Mennonite University
Harlem Book Fair
Phillis Wheatley Book Award
Post Racial Society
Summer Peacebuilding Institute
Tulsa race riot
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