Ken Burns Classroom

The Spirit of John Muir

Ken Burns Film: The National Parks

Collections: Emergence of Modern America (1890-1930)

Subject: Science

Grade Level: 6-10

Run Time: 1 class period

Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike. This natural beauty-hunger is made manifest… in our magnificent National Parks – Nature’s sublime wonderlands, the admiration and joy of the world.

—John Muir

John Muir was introduced to what would become Yosemite National Park in 1869. During a 40-year career, Muir extolled the virtues of America’s scenic wonderlands and the need to protect such treasures in a national park system. Writing for leading national magazines, he traveled throughout the American West from Alaska to New Mexico and told in vivid spiritual terms the wonders of nature and man’s connection with it.

Have students think about a natural place they’ve experienced in their lives. This might be a park or wilderness area. Have them write an article about what the area means to them. They can write an introspective piece on the virtue of the place and its spiritual nature or they can write a persuasive article calling on citizens to take action to conserve the area. In their article they should describe the place, plant and animal life, the importance of its conservation and the importance of its existence to all people who visit.

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