Kudos to Rep. Scott Tipton for recommending that a good government program be made permanent.
The Every Kid Outdoors Act, introduced by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, asks the Department of the Interior to maintain a program that provides fourth-grade students, along with their families, free access to federally managed lands, waters and historic sites.
Especially in a time such as this, when politics are impassioned and divisive, the United States of America may seem more like an ideal than a physical place, where those politics are driven by the vastness and stunning diversity of the landscape. Between one shining sea and the other, from Canada to Mexico and outward to Alaska and our island states and territories, there is a lot to see and a lot to understand.
Rep. Niki Tsongas, a Democrat from Massachusetts, said, “Our nation’s public lands protect, celebrate and give access to the many places that have shaped and defined who we are as Americans.”
She’s right. The nation’s formative history did not take place only in the 13 original colonies. As the frontier moved westward, governing concepts that made sense in seaboard cities had to be adjusted.
The National Anthem sounds different to children who have visited Fort McHenry. The costs of war seem real at a Civil War battlefield or the Little Bighorn. Cultural parks and monuments from Mesa Verde to Independence Hall to Birmingham put American history in a broader perspective. The science and natural history of places like Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon are almost incomprehensible until viewed up close.
We never know what will pique a student’s interest, but among our forests, parks and monuments, there is something to interest every child. A park pass is an invitation to explore and experience; it is an invaluable partnership with parents and teachers.
A similar strategy, giving free season ski passes to fourth-graders, has turned Colorado students into lifelong skiers. Let’s turn American youngsters into lifelong learners who recognize, understand and appreciate the country’s trove of wonderful places and stories.
That is education at its finest, and it only costs the government the price of admission.