Tuesday, November 30, 2004

National Park "Services"

What "services" does our National Park Service really provide? We spent a good part of our Thanksgiving break visiting some of the aforementioned's most prized possessions. I am always interested in visiting these places, not so much for information, though, as for bemusement. My gripe with many of the National Parks (Fort McHenry, Sagamore Hill, Independence Hall) is that I don't think they do a good job teaching history. Good history teachers, in my opinion, should leave students with more questions than answers. Not so with many of our nation's landmarks. These places simply tell a narrative. And they tell it in a way that suggests that it is the only interpretation, as if there was no contraversy surrounding any of it at any point in history. It also feels, sometimes, as if questions that aren't trivial are unwelcome. There is always someone in the crowd who tries to get a rousing game of "stump the ranger" going by asking a question about an obscure person or event. The park rangers take all of those in stride. In my experience, though, if you ask a question that might be interpreted in an even slightly negative way, the ranger looks at you like an alien and changes the subject.

In other words, I feel like the National Park Service is a peacetime Committee on Public Information. It's all propaganda, folks. Why is it that people think the only patriotic history is a purely positive history? Don't those that love the U.S. most want to see it improve? And don't we have to know our weakness before we can begin that step? Admitting it is the first step, and I feel like so many Americans are short-changed. They think they are getting an education by attending these places, that they are enriching their lives (and I guess to a certain extent they are, but not it the way they expect). They are misled, though, and missing the most valuable, but most difficult, part of history: reflection.