Thoughts on Heritage

In simple terms, heritage is what one generation leaves to the next generation (sometimes a distant generation).

Heritage is a document, like the Declaration of Independence.

Heritage is a building, like George Washington's Mt. Vernon.

Heritage is road, like U.S. 30 ... The Lincoln Highway.

Heritage is a song, like "Battle Hymn of the Republic."

Heritage is person's life work, like author Mark Twain,

Heritage is a living thing, like a grove of elm trees.

Heritage is an idea, like freedom.

Heritage is thousands of other things, large and small.

While many things are left to us, Heritage Education is centered on those things that are left to all of us, things that belong to every citizen, that have (or could have) meaning to all citizens. But documents, building, roads, songs, life's work, trees, ideas, and various of things that count as heritage do not mean much unless and until we in the present accept the gift from the past as worthy of interpretation and preservation. Over time the accepted accumulated "gifts" from the past becomes embodied as our heritage, for U.S. citizens, our American Heritage.

Still, as much as we of the present may attach value to Mt. Vernon, that does not mean that those in the future will agree. In fact, something like Mt. Vernon was not recognized as "heritage" until long after George Washington passed away. When we visit Colonial Williamsburg our tourist dollars are preserving our heritage. When the U.S. government passes legislation to build and maintain a museum like the new Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian on the Mall in Washington, our heritage is being preserved. Whether as individual citizens and/or as citizens acting in concert, decisions about heritage are being made everyday. At end, from those things that are left to us, we collectively decide what shall and shall not be interpreted. We also shall decide what will (and will not) be preserved and left to future generations. Such decisions are problematic on many levels.

While we are interested in all things that count as heritage, our focus is to promote and preserve the basic elements of America's rich public heritage, namely, the founding principles as revealed throughout our history. These are the principles embedded into our culture: the principles of liberty and freedom; principles that belong to every American citizen; principles of living that allow us to enjoy our American way of life.

By nature and definition, heritage is a conserving activity. However, public heritage is not something owned by political or social conservatives. Public heritage does not belong to Republicans anymore than it belongs to Democrats. Public heritage is not a black or white possession. Public heritage is also not the domain of any gender, religious, or sexual orientation group. In its great diversity, public heritage can be found among all sorts of individuals and groups, however, because public heritage involves options and decisions, it can also be a very contentious subject.

The controversies and conflicts over public heritage raises tempers as much as it provokes questions? Who owns the past? What should be preserved? What interpretations should be accepted? Who should make the interpretations? What values are promoted by the decisions made? How should resources be distributed for heritage projects and programs? The list goes on.

If anything, on those heritage issues that involve the public's interest and the public's possessions, all citizens hold a stake in the conversation as well as the decisions made. As participants in making the history of our own time, citizens must also contend with the consequences that follow decisions. It is our duty as citizens to participate in the "heritage" debates.

While the mission of Heritage Education is to promote and preserve America's founding principles, collaterally, we are also devoted to engaging citizens on the broader issues and contentions that involve public heritage education.