The Board of Directors for the new proposed Museum of Natural History in Waynesboro, Virginia held an evening meeting with people from the area who might be interested in supporting the proposed project. One of the board members invited me to attend with him based on my interest in the natural world. I had only recently heard of the project and being new to the area, I knew none of the people in attendance. The gathering was held on top of one of the local mountains at a magnificent mansion built back in the early 1900’s. What a beautiful structure and view!
The project being proposed would serve as a satellite facility to the main museum located in Martinsburg, Virginia. The evening involved meeting potential supporters and several presentations designed to inform everyone of the required financing and the future goals for the facility. The two major purposes of the museum are the preservation of historical objects and information related to the local natural world and the opportunity to use these collections for educational presentations. The long-range goal is to establish other satellite locations throughout the State to reach the largest population possible. One of the people in attendance was a well-known geologist that assists the main museum in the presentation and interpretation of the geological exhibits. He demonstrated how the material and information can be presented in story format by explaining how the Appalachian Mountains were formed when the North American continent collided with the African continent 600 million years ago. A very interesting story that would catch the imagination of most people.
This project would be an obvious benefit to the State of Virginia and the community of Waynesboro however, my mind immediately began imagining how a facility like this might be able to initiate a new educational process. I thought about the story the geologist presented and although very interesting, how would young folks from the urban cities react? I remembered a situation in the 1980’s, where the Forest Service was attempting to introduce young urban children to the outdoors by busing them to various sites on the National Forests and interacting with them about the importance of forests and the natural world. The project was a failure because it did not understand the everyday needs of the urban children or their parents. Not only were the children afraid but, they had very different concerns on their minds. Were their parents going to be there when they got up to provide and protect them, would there be food for breakfast, was it safe to walk to school, and could they depend on their parents being there after school? They were totally focused on everyday issues of living and safety and had no interest in things outside that world.
A co-worker and I decided we needed to introduce our forest supervisors to the children’s world so future endeavors might realize the importance of understanding the driving motivations of these urban children. We set up a meeting in the inner city of Detroit with key leaders to discuss and to understand how we might relate our interest in nature to these children. Surprise! Our supervisors were not comfortable participating in this endeavor due to their fear of the inner city conditions.
Success comes when we are able to relate science, nature and human needs so the young person visualizes how the information relates and affects them. This exciting new project could be the opportunity to revolutionize our education process by linking science, human needs and relationships, in the interpretation of stories about our natural history. The stories need to explain, why it is important to me, today, and how does it help me live a better life. The title of the children’s book I just published explains the concept, “I’m Just A Tree-Life Depends on Me “. This story does not present the uses of the wood we take from the forests or how the tree grows but, presents the relationships we share with trees that sustain life, including human beings. WHAT AN OPPORTUNITY THIS PROJECT COULD PROVIDE!