Interpreting Our Heritage- Book Review

Tilden, F. (2007). Interpreting Our Heritage, 4ed.  Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press.

Freeman Tilden was an advocate of environmental education and is considered the originator of interpretation movement within national and state parks. This latest edition includes a new introduction section that gives a background of Tilden’s life and thought processes, which sets the stage nicely for Tilden’s writings. The theme book is based on the mission of “interpretation” as given by NPS director Conrad Wirth in 1953, “protection through appreciation, appreciation through understanding, and understanding through interpretation.”

Throughout the book, Tilden defends interpretation as an educational activity. What I find most interesting is the fact that Tilden’s strategies for success as an interpreter in parks also apply to natural science classrooms. First of all, Tilden states that the aim of interpretation should be “to reveal meanings and relationships through the use of original objects, by firsthand experience, or by illustrative media, rather than simply to communicate factual information.” Inquiry-based learning, usually in the form of original research projects, should be the foundation of science classes, not rote memorization.  In Tilden’s mind, our national, state, or city parks are the best and greatest natural classrooms for teaching individuals the basics of ecology.

Finally, Tilden understood the importance of meeting individuals where they are, no matter their age.  “The visitor’s chief interest is in whatever touches his personality, his experience, and his ideas. Students must be engaged before they can learn. Tilden supported formalized environmental education for primary school students. However, he knew that we did not have to wait another generation. “We must reach adults, by spoken or written words,” Tilden stated. As an educator, it is really easy to blame previous grade levels for a student’s lack of knowledge. Tilden would agree that blaming others is a waste of time. Educators of all types should meet students where they are, regardless of age, and engage them in science using nature’s principles.

The principles of this book still ring true today. If you are interested in any type of wildlife education or science education in general, I would recommend this book.


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