Social Studies Teachers — Lessons of Mt. Rushmore
Mt. Rushmore: Stories of Determination
By Carol Johnston —
What qualities do most parents and teachers hope to encourage and nurture in their children? How about determination and strength of purpose? The story of Mt. Rushmore, its artist, its workers, and the presidents carved into that mountain tell varied and exciting stories of determination.
If you visit Mt. Rushmore or you’re studying the monument, presidential history, or artists, you could frame your learning around this one question: How were these people able to succeed at such monumental tasks? How did Doane Robinson (the idea man), Gutzon Borglum (the artist), George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln (the presidents) accomplish what many would describe as insurmountable achievements?
The Men of Mt. Rushmore
Doane Robinson had a vision of creating a monument that would bring people to his state of South Dakota. He contacted Gutzon Borglum in the 1920s about coming out to South Dakota and carving a monument. Teamwork from a group of men made the monument possible.
John Boland helped raise funds for the project and kept the bills paid. Congressman William Williamson was instrumental in convincing Congress to appropriate funds for the monument, and he persuaded President Calvin Coolidge to come visit the site of the monument. They had to get financing, equipment, and men to help Borglum accomplish his artistic vision on Mt. Rushmore. Part of this fundraising had to happen during the Great Depression which hit the United States in 1929 and didn’t end until World War II. That is quite a feat!
When my family visited Mt. Rushmore this summer, we were amazed at the route men had to take up to the mountain every day to begin their work. You needed courage, determination, mountaineering skills, and explosive experience to be on that mountain every day. About 90% of the mountain was carved with precisely placed dynamite.
Gutzon Borglum worked on Mt. Rushmore until his death in March of 1941 and then his son Lincoln took over the project until it was completed in October of that same year. Nearly 400 workers toiled on Mt. Rushmore from 1927 to 1941 and no one was killed in those 14 years. Teamwork, determination, artistry, and hard work made the carvings of the four presidents possible.
Touring the Lincoln Borglum Visitor Center and hiking The Presidential Trail will give you and your kids insight into the history behind Borglum’s choice of these four presidents now depicted in stone.
George Washington’s leadership of the Continental Army during the American Revolution and his strong leadership as the first president made him an easy choice.
Thomas Jefferson was chosen because of his determination to expand the United States westward. He sent the Lewis and Clark expedition westward to explore unchartered territory, and this resulted in the Louisiana Purchase.
Abraham Lincoln represents the preservation of the country. Throughout the Civil War, he was determined to preserve the Union.
Many decades later, Theodore Roosevelt came to symbolize the expansion of our country onto the world stage with big projects like The Panama Canal. Along the trail, you will find excellent interpretive displays about each of these presidents and their accomplishments. It’s only .4 miles but has approximately 450 stairs, so bring water along the hike. The park is environmentally friendly and has water bottle filling stations in the restaurants and restroom areas.
On one section of the Presidential Trail is the Lakota, Nakota, and Dakota Heritage Village. This was closed when we were visiting, but I would definitely recommend you spend time discovering the cultural roots of the native people from the Black Hills.
Helpful Hints for Educators and Parents
If you can’t visit the park, but want to bring the park into your classroom, you can download a free student guide at www.nps.gov/moru/learn/kidsyouth/upload/MORU-Student-Guide-2014.pdf. You can also find a Kids Fun Page at the National Park Service website, great photos, and teacher lesson plans. The lesson plan that caught my eye was for artists! Student artists are encouraged to design their own monument and pick the four people they would choose to represent on their mountain. In addition to this lesson, you can find two math lessons and a lesson on preservation of the monument. Most of these lessons were geared toward secondary students, but you could adapt some of the lessons for upper elementary school children.
Have fun exploring the parks and all they have to offer!
7th Grade Social Studies
Boyne City Middle School