3—Let’s Dare to Try Things

Governor Tom McCall’s name is intertwined with public ownership of Oregon’s beaches, returnable bottles, bike and pedestrian ways, and protection of Oregon’s agricultural and forest lands.

However, the Tom McCall legacy is much wider and deeper. It includes:

  • Removal of Harbor Drive in downtown Portland. The first time a major city had removed an existing freeway.
  • Pollution in Paradise, a documentary which served as a call to action to clean up the Willamette River and do something about the stinking smoke stacks.
  • The formation of DEQ, the Department of Environmental Quality in 1969, charged with cleaning up and protecting the state's water, land and air.
  • Vortex 1, the first (and only) government sponsored outdoor rock concert.
  • Inviting outsiders to come visit Oregon, but then imploring them to please don't stay.
  • Formation of 1000 Friends of Oregon and SOLV.
  • (Not an exhaustive list...)

All of these were politically risky. However, Tom McCall believed that Oregon is special, and worth taking risks for.

As students research and discover more about Tom McCall, his passion and love for Oregon; they discover their own commitment and role in creating A Better Oregon.

Essential Question

What is the role of activism in creating a special Oregon?


When a national news reporter asked Tom McCall why things are different in Oregon, he replied, "There's a spirit here that says, let's dare to try things. Let's see why you can do things, rather than let's see why you can't."

This unit may be used to engage students in writing a well developed thesis paper. Research should be relevant and useable. Students take a lead on a service learning project that advances the legacy of Tom McCall. They "dare to try things".

Common Core State Standards

Student Objectives

Students will be able to

  • Research and share the totality of Tom McCall's legacy to Oregon.
  • Find and delight in the surprises of Tom McCall's work, speeches, and mannerisms.
  • Offer insightful inferences regarding Tom McCall speeches and policy proposals.
  • Write a thesis paper. Organize concrete evidence and details to support a thesis statement, using quotes appropriately.
  • Research and share both sides of a policy issue associated with Tom McCall.
  • Understand how these policies are intertwined with issues of livability and environmental protection.
  • Identify/understand/ and teach others about Tom McCall's legacy to Oregon.
  • Create a tangible product that has value to others.
  • 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?

Research: Develop a survey that asks parents, grandparents, neighbors, store clerks what they know of Tom McCall. Keep a tally of what they say. Questions might include: Do you know what the Beach Bill is? The Bottle Bill? The Bike Bill? Land Use Planning Bill? Why is the Waterfront Park in Portland named after Tom McCall? Share, compile and discuss findings. Any surprises? Publish results on blog. Who else might be interested in having this data?

Blog: Develop a classroom blog to share research and activities. Develop criteria for hot links that will enhance the classroom blog.

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.

Wikipedia: Read the online encyclopedia Wikipedia entries about Tom McCall. As students research, they can add missing pieces about Tom McCall to Wikipedia. For instance, a refresh regarding the Tom McCall statue in Salem's Riverfront park.

Poetry: Read William Stafford's An Oregon Message. Discuss, write journal entry. Is William Stafford similar to Tom McCall? How? How do you know?

Class Book Discussion: Read Tom McCall's biography, Fire at Eden's Gate: Tom McCall and the Oregon Story. Compare it to his autobiography, Tom McCall: Maverick.

Dramatic Interpretation:Write and create a play about Tom McCall. Use it to teach younger students about Tom McCall's role in Oregon history.

Video/Class Discussion/Journal Response:View the speeches made by Governors Vic Atiyeh and Bob Straub at Tom McCall's funeral service. Both men had been political opponents of Tom McCall. Any surprises, affirmations, new information? Consider your own emotional reaction as you listen/watch.

Reflective Essay:Write a thesis paper responding to the essential questions: What is the role of activism in creating a special Oregon?


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

  • Write a Wikipedia article about your town or community, about a nearby place of interest. Amend a current Wikipedia selection that has to do with Oregon.
  • Do the marketing and public relations work for the local Watershed Council. Help plan and organize an annual fundraiser.
  • Create a Tom McCall Festival, where younger students learn about water, soil, gardens.
  • Contact 1000 Friends of Oregon to learn about land use issues in your area. Sponsor a community forum providing time for both sides of the issue.
  • Work with a community group to sponsor an environmental film festival.
  • Write letters, testify to decision-makers, about a state/community issue of importance.
  • If the legislature is in session, visit your state representative. Provide information relevant to a current legislative issue that affects your life.
  • Working with SOLV, organize a "Down by the Riverside" clean up.
  • Consulting with community leaders and Master Gardeners, create a community garden. Apply for grants to help fund it.


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

Making Interdisciplinary Connections

This unit could be extended to teach:

  • Civics: How bills become laws.
  • Science/Civics: Environment, role of government and individuals in protecting natural resources.