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Teaching Evolution Evolutionarily

Dawn's picture

             How do we educate children in order for them to be prepared to take their place in society (including higher education) in the 21st Century? Given that we can’t anticipate what the economy will look like at the end of next week, it is difficult to predict what the society they will enter will even be like. Without that knowledge, how do we educate children so they have a cultural identity; what understanding of the world do they really need?

            For the most part, the education system cannot be considered evolutionary. In each class, children are told a set story is the truth, and that is what they need to know. In the age of globalization, kids do not believe that anymore, because information and knowledge are so readily available to them at their fingertips. Nothing about education is simple anymore. Teachers do not want to overwhelm their students, but it would not be fair to oversimplify either – they would find out for themselves that there are alternatives to the story provided in class that way.

            I had a unique experience in high school biology. I was in a class of two people my junior year. My best friend and I were the only ones left in AP Bio by the time evolution was taught. My teacher definitely did not go into a range of stories in detail or talk about the philosophical ramifications of evolution like we are in this class. I believe that that depth of discussion is best left for higher education. However, we did not learn about one straightforward story of evolution. The concept of randomness was introduced as well as the concept that science does not necessarily have all of the answers, and that facts are not hard facts. He mentioned this information to all of his biology classes, but in the small class setting my friend and I got to talk to the teacher about his views and hear the explanation behind that method of teaching.

            An oversimplification of concepts does not help our understanding of the world. Students are actively preparing for higher education. There is nothing to be gained from purposefully holding back relatively widely known information from us that late in our high school careers. Also, we are heading for a unique transition period in our lives. We do not need to think that there is one set, ordered story of the way things have to be. At that point, our lives are changing, sometimes inexplicably so and we do not know exactly where we are headed next. That old story would not help us deal with what is going on every day. Our experiences would make us fight the story or the story would make us feel lost among all of the randomness that is there and never discussed.

            Teaching evolution in an evolutionary way is important for the development of the education of high school students heading for the next step in their lives. However, even if some of the material is presented well by a particularly evolutionarily minded teacher, in order for that information to be truly effective, the education system would need to evolve. Even in my tiny class, we could not spend all of the time we wanted discussing new (to us then) ideas of evolution, regardless of our interest and ability to apply the lesson to our ideas about our personal experience in high school. We were in AP Biology. The class was geared toward the standardized AP test. Even classes that are not AP in a public school tend to be taught in a way that lends the information directly to a standardized test. Unfortunately, those still depend on definite right or wrong answers. There is no room for evolutionary thinking in that environment.