Conserve School’s English and History classes combined this week to re-write the Wilderness Act, a document created in 1964 that helped to answer the question: What is wilderness?
History teacher Michael Salat set the scene, covering the societal movements that took place in the early 1960s. English teacher Jeff Rennicke introduced the environmental side of things, addressing the events that led up to the creation of the 1964 legislation. The students were then sworn in as Congresspersons and Senators, split up into groups, and charged with the task of creating their very own 67th draft of the Wilderness Act.
The legislative chamber/classroom filled with productive energy as student groups attempted to create concise, well-worded, and all-encompassing responses for each section of the legislation. First up was the creation of a title, next listing the reasoning behind the act, then creating their definition of wilderness, and finally determining what is and what is not allowed in a wilderness area.
After drafting each section, students shared their newly written legislation with the whole group and compared it to the original document, read by Representative Rennicke or Senator Salat. As will happen when 30 minds attempt to come to a common understanding, debates arose over inclusions to the legislation, especially when determining what can and cannot be done in a specified wilderness area.
Once all sections of legislation were completed, the Congresspersons and Senators perused the other groups’ bills and voted on the version they agreed with most. The members of the winning group were deemed President, Vice President, Secretary of the Interior, and Director of National Parks. The President signed the bill to the sound of much applause and cheering.
This is the first of many interdisciplinary lessons Conserve School students will encounter throughout the semester. As Jeff explained at the beginning of the lesson, wilderness exploration and wilderness voices go hand in hand. Many of the explorers students will learn about in History of Wilderness Exploration are also the important individuals heard in Wilderness Voices. This lesson gave students a chance to explore their thoughts and share their voices on behalf of the wilderness.
~ Graduate Fellow Maria Kopecky