2—Heroes are not giant statues framed against a red sky

Before becoming Oregon’s 30th Governor (1967-1975), Tom McCall was a journalist and political commentator on Portland’s KGW-TV. In 1962 KGW aired McCall’s famous documentary Pollution in Paradise. In this film, McCall called attention to the horribly polluted Willamette River and the poor air quality caused by industrial pollution. Quality of life, livability, became part of the discussion in regards to jobs and the economy.

To many Oregonians, Governor Tom McCall is a hero for his pioneering work and call to action to protect the environment. However, McCall considered the real heroes to be the people who rallied around an issue, those who worked diligently to create better communities and protect Oregon’s quality of life.

In an interview with author Studs Terkel, McCall said, "Heroes are not giant statues framed against a red sky. They are people who say: This is my community, and it is my responsibility to make it better."

In his farewell address to the Oregon Legislature, McCall said, "May we forever prove (by our action) that people can join together for mutual benefit and greater good."

This curriculum guide is based on the belief that young people gain much from the merger of classroom learning with community action. Through service learning, students develop leadership and problem solving skills. They practice being thoughtful, active community members, and learning becomes deeper, more personal.

Essential Questions

What is special about Oregon?

What does it mean to be a hero?


Classroom learning focuses on helping students understand the Beach Bill, the Bottle Bill, the Bicycle Bill and Land Use Planning, and Tom McCall's role in their passage.

The Community Action part of this unit reflects McCall's belief that only ordinary citizens can sustain the livability and environmental concerns that make Oregon special. Students work together, applying reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills, to address a real community need.

Common Core State Standards

Student Objectives

Students will be able to

  • Interpret Tom McCall's quotes through writing/drawing/dramatic recital.
  • Identify/understand the major policy issues associated with McCall's time as Oregon Governor, i.e., The Bottle Bill, The Beach Bill, The Bicycle Bill and Land Use Planning.
  • Understand how these policies are intertwined with issues of livability and environmental protection.
  • Identify community members, heroes, who work for "the greater good".
  • Work together to identify, plan for, and address community issues/problems.


Literary Texts

  • Poems
William Stafford, Oregon Poet

Informational Texts

  • Tom McCall Biographies & Speeches
  • Original Text of

Art, Music, Media

Sample Activities and Assessments

Classroom Learning

Video Response and Written Journal Reflection: Watch eleven minute video montage of Tom McCall. Students keep a journal entry of questions and emotional response to the video. What video snapshot do you want to know more about? Which piece had the most emotional tug? What questions were you asking as the video was playing?

Class Discussion: Using the video as a starting place, Introduce the policies most closely associated with Tom McCall: Beach, Bottle, Bike, and Land Use Planning. (mnemonic device: BBBLUP).

Internet Research: Students discover additional information about the policies. Use Oregon Blue Book, Oregon Historical Society, and/or Oregon Archives. Students differentiate information as coming from primary or secondary sources.

Class Discussion: Share learning through small group activities such as share/pair.

Poetry Response/Journal Write/ Class Discussion: Read William Stafford's poem, With Kit, Age 7, at the Beach. Students write about beach experiences, outdoor experiences. What is there about Oregon's beaches that draw people in? If Oregon's beaches were privately owned, how would personal experiences be different?

Video Analysis: Watch the video a second time. Students look for direct references to the BBBLUP bills. How is the second viewing different from the first? Refer back to journal writing from first viewing. Are there any snapshots that students want to see again? Students really listen to McCall's voice. What words are pronounced oddly? What does he appear to be most passionate about?

Quotes Study/Discussion/Journal Response: Using McCall's quote about heroes, students identify the attributes of a hero and consider the heroes within their own community, the ordinary people who make the world a little bit better. Is Tom McCall a hero? Students read additional McCall quotes, select one to respond through journal writing.

Blog: Create a classroom blog site to document service-learning work.

Dramatic Interpretation:What would Tom McCall Say? Students memorize a quote or a piece from the video, and give a dramatic interpretation of it. Students could also look at current issues through the eyes of Tom McCall and create "quotes" for him. Students have access to the video on OHS website.

Music:Use the CD of Time and Rivers Flowing, by Mason Williams as the theme music for this unit. Mason Williams used music to protect the North Fork of the Willamette River from proposed hydro-electric dams. Is Mason Williams a hero? Do you have enough information to make the determination?

Reflective Essay:Write a response to the essential questions: What does it mean to be a hero? -or- What is special about Oregon? Use and site appropriate Tom McCall quotes.


Using the service-learning model, students identify a need in their community to address. Students conduct research, propose solutions, and act upon them.

  • Identify the ordinary people in the community who are heroes. Interview them, create a document of their work for placement in the local library.
  • Work with local Watershed Councils on projects to clean rivers and streams.
  • Team with Soil and Water Conservation Districts to protect land and water resources.
  • Create poetry for a local trail that describes trail sites and animals. Create a brochure to be left at the trail head.
  • Create a Tom McCall play to teach others about his life and work. Film it for class blog.
  • Watch " The Story of Stuff" Annie Leonard. Create lessons for younger students or a group within the community.
  • Work with a community group to sponsor an environmental film festival.
  • Study local recycling efforts. Look around the school. What is going to waste? How can cafeteria food be recycled?
  • Sew and distribute reusable grocery bags out of recycled materials. (Old t-shirts)
  • Working with recycling centers, conduct recycling audits for community businesses. Present findings and recommendations to business owners, boards of non-profits.
  • Sponsor a SOLV Beach, River, Stream Clean-Up. Engage the greater community.
  • Write letters, testify to decision-makers about a community issue of importance.

Additional Resources



  • Fire at Eden's Gate: Tom McCall and the Oregon Story, Brent Walth (2000)
  • Tom McCall: Maverick, Tom McCall, Steve Neal (1977)


  • Activist
  • Land Use Planning
  • Public Rights/Private Rights
  • Service-Learning

Making Interdisciplinary Connections

This unit could be extended to teach:

  • Science/Chemistry: Causes of pollution, environmental degradation.
  • Science/Civics: Environment, role of government and individuals in protecting natural resources.