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The Story of Evolution and the Evolution of Stories: Charter School Edition

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Elizabeth Olecki

Anne Dalke

Story of Evolution

15 May 2009


The Story of Evolution and the Evolution of Stories:

Charter School Edition


There have been numerous ideas presented throughout this semester that have been very unique to this class.  If these ideas were applied to a broader curriculum it could be used to reshape many fundamental elements of education.  Using this class as a starting point, I have designed a thought experiment that develops a curriculum for an innovative middle school.  The major focus is weakening the boundary of science and humanities.  This will be achieved by introducing social sciences earlier in education.

            Our class has focused on the similarities between science and humanities.  We explored the idea of science being more subjective then we normally think and literature being more objective.  We have even used each subject to explore and dissect the other.   By breaking down these boundaries it shows that it is not necessary to specialize in one or the other and that there are always opportunities to combine both science and humanities.

            All of the ideas presented in the charter school proposal had an origin in our class discussions.  This class had so many ideas that I had never been exposed to before so I wanted to imagine what an entire curriculum designed by Anne Dalke and Paul Grobstein would look like.  The proposal includes the goals of the charter school, the expected results, and future plans to spread the ideas and influences of this course.   


Charter School Proposal Outline


            My proposal is to start a charter school in the Bryn Mawr area beginning in the 7th grade.  It will use the ideas from “The Evolution of Stories and the Story of Evolution” Bryn Mawr College course as the underlying influence.  The charter school will expand upon the ideas presented in the class and create a unique curriculum, while still meeting all of the Pennsylvania Department of Education requirements.  The major goal of this charter school will be to fully integrate the subject areas of science and humanities.  This will be achieved mainly by the introduction of social sciences at the middle school level of education.



·        Introduce Level Appropriate Social Sciences

            Social science classes such as psychology, sociology, and anthropology are not normally introduced into curriculums until later in education either in high school or college.  The traditional argument is that these subject areas require a certain level of “basic” subject areas such as math or reading in order to comprehend the “new” subject areas.  I believe that teaching social sciences at this level will both reinforce traditional subjects and also bring sciences and humanities together in a way that is interesting for students.

            This approach is based on the idea that social sciences are a center point between humanities and science.  This theory argues that social sciences examine human interactions, motivations, and purposes like humanities; however, social sciences try to quantify its findings in a scientific manner.  By studying social sciences, it will be easier for students to see the merge of science and humanities.  Students will be able to use science and humanities together as tools to learn about subjects that are typically exclusive to one or the other.  By introducing social sciences at this level, students will not have been as embedded in a system that separates science and humanities indefinitely.      

·        Lessen Divide Between Science and Humanities

            This curriculum is in response to the conventional subjects taught in middle schools.  There is a hard boundary between math and English, science and art classes in the typical system.  As hard as this boundary seems, from “The Evolution of Stories” class we have seen that science is not as objective as is usually thought.  Most middle school science class focus on science as strictly impartial, only observations with no room for subjectivity.  However, we know that science is largely made up of subjective decisions.  When a series of observations is summarized and revised it is processed through a completely subjective area called the “crack”.  This “crack” determines how the observations are interpreted and what conclusion is eventually made.  This subjective “crack” leaves room for cultural background and individual personality and creativity to find a way into science.  This “crack” shows that there is a fundamental flaw in the logic of the traditional system.  Science should not be taught as objective and completely different from humanities, because it has shared qualities.  These shared qualities should be exploited and used to build a bridge between these two subjects, as was done in “The Story of Evolution and the Evolution of Stories” class.

·        Introduce Science As Story Telling

            The best way to break down the existing boundary between science and the humanities is to teach science as a story, which it ultimately is.  If students are not taught from a young age that science is concrete and “truth” then it does not seem all that different from humanities.  The reason most people define themselves as either science or English people is because they think that they are more objective or subjective thinkers.  What is usually overlooked is that science and English have both objective and subjective parts, and in arguably equal amounts.  In order to destroy the long-standing stereotype, as science as absolute, science will be presented as the best story available for the series of observations we currently have.  This will encourage students to explore scientific ideas further.  If students realize that every scientific idea is not absolute and unchangeable, then they will have more motivation to investigate and devise their own stories.  This type of investigation will lead to further discovery and a constant interest in learning. 

·        Focus More On Science As Exploration Rather Than Method

Using the “Loopy” version of science (constantly revaluating a series of observations in order to summarize the world around you) will be encouraged as opposed to the traditional linear view of science.  Science will not be taught through strict lecture and memorization of scientific facts as they often are in middle schools.  If students are taught that science is story telling, then they will have little use for the strict method of “hypothesis, experiment, and conclusion”.  Students will see science as a work in progress, not a process of figuring something out and then moving on to conquer another topic.  This will also lead to students being more tolerant of opposing ideas.  If students do not see what they think as an ultimate truth than they will be more accepting of what others believe and also more motivated to investigate their own theories.   

·        Teach Without A Strict Binary

In order to simplify most things, many subjects and ideas are taught as if there are only two categories, such as science and humanities.  However, the focus of this charter school will be to focus on how ideas can coexist rather than separating into two categories and then choosing.  For example, the controversy of evolution and creationism would be handled by saying they are both stories and one is no more “true” than the other.  This education is not about choosing one or the other.  It is about inclusive learning, and the more ideas explored the better.  When subjects or ideas are separated into a strict binary it forces an “or” decision instead of an “and” one.  Also, in strict divisions things get lost in-between categories.  The charter school’s curriculum will focus on bring together ideas, not wedging them apart.   

·        Incorporate Different Types Of Art Into Education

            The chart school will also deviate from the traditional role of use of art in a middle school education.  There are many different forms of art that would be beneficial for an education at this level; however, at this point, most middle school curriculums have very limited art programs.  By having a level appropriate art history class, students will be able to see how art develops over time.  Also, the charter school plans on combing the subject of fine arts with all other subjects. For example, when students are learning about a particular time period in history they will be exposed to different types of art forms from that time period and when studying a piece of literature they will also be exposed to the evolution of different art forms and how they effect each other.  Besides studying art, students will also have their own opportunity to design art, in the process seeing how their own art can lead to new creation. 

·        Use of Non-Traditional Linking Methods

The way thoughts work is in the brain there is a network of neurons that send electrical impulse and create thought.  When two things are associated with each other it is because when one neuron fires it also signals the associated neuron.  There is a saying “neurons that wire together, fire together”.  This means that the more associations that one has in their brain the more likely they are to remember something.  This charter school will capitalize on this idea and will continuously build links that are traditionally ignored.  Besides linking science with literature, most ideas that are studied will be linked.  As was done in the course “The Story of Evolution and the Evolution of Stories” linking “Leaves of Grass” with Sorrows of an American, the author did not explicitly state that “Leaves of Grass” was an ancestor.  Nonetheless, the two stories were still linked together to show their common characteristics.  This type of connection will be the focus of the charter school.  It is important to built associations between typically unlinked subject matter in order to form solid connection.  

·        Introduce Working With Unconscious Into Formal Education

Another aspect that will be important to the curriculum will be the inclusion of unconscious.  It has been discussed in “The Story of Evolution and the Evolution of Stories” class what role the unconscious should play in education.  Dreams and other recognition of the unconscious are rarely recognized in traditional education, especially at the middle school level.  This charter school will encourage use of unconscious ideas in art forms or any other way it can be incorporated into daily learning.  The unconscious mind is a huge portion of the brain that is typically left unexplored, especially at the level of education.  Students will be made more aware of their own unconscious thoughts through different exercises in exploring subconscious such as yoga and meditation.  By being more aware of their own unconscious existing, they will be more are of the unconscious thoughts they experience.

·        Focus on Creation, Not Memorization

The purpose of an education is so that children evolve into well-rounded adults.  In order for something to evolve, something new must be created.  Traditional schools miss out on fully evolving students because instead of encouraging creation they focus on memorization.  It is true that in order to learn students need to have basic skills such as reading and math, however, it is essential that students use these skills to create new ideas.  The creation of new ideas leads to the evolution of the way the student thinks about her world and also the evolution of the student herself.  The charter school will focus on using skills to create, therefore encouraging the evolution of each individual.   


·        More Well-Rounded Human Beings

            The reason it is so important to combine science and humanities is that if students are not forced to specialize they can be better rounded.  At this point in their education many students are being pushed to be either science students or English students.  But if there are no strict divides between the two subjects then students would have a reason to excel at both.  It is a waste of a large amount of potential when a student is declared a math person and from then on only focuses on math, therefore losing all of the options that English could bring.  In order to fully develop education and as people all students should stake equal interest in all subjects, and this is much more possible if weight is not given to those who specialize early on.  Weight should be put on interdisciplinary studies, subjects that bring together many different aspects.

            If students see the opportunities of remaining well rounded rather than specializing at this level, there is a good change that they will remain well rounded for the rest of their lives.  Most education systems focus on specialization.  Because of this, it means that future careers that are highly specialized are already filled.  This leaves a lot of opportunity open in interdisciplinary work and exploration.  If students are trained to be inclusive learners and thinkers they will be able to fill this unique niche in the future job market. 

·        Evolving Curriculum

            In order to track development and give feed back, students will be evaluated based on the design of an evolutionary tree.  Students will be encouraged to diverge from the shared curriculum, either by doing a research project or presentation on a subject they enjoy, or they can stay convergent to the line of education.  Progress reports will show to what degree they have diverged and converged so it will be easy to see each students learning pattern and what subjects are of interest.  This information can be used to make the curriculum can reflect the groups shared interests.  By using this model as a tool for evaluation we will be able to see how each individual evolves and also how the entire class evolves.  The goal is to make sure that the curriculum is very flexible so its evolution can keep up with the evolution of the students.   


Future Plans:

·        Extending Curriculum To Earlier Education

            If this experiment is as successful as it promises, the template of the curriculum could be revamped for an even younger population.  The goal of the charter school would be to eventually expand to an entire system where even early childhood education involves a more integrated curriculum.  There are arguments that basics must be taught in order to be able to handle any combination of subjects.  But this charter school will be built on the idea that children do not need to be taught subjects as distinct, mutually exclusive categories in order for them to be brought together later.  Children should be taught from the beginning about the similarities between subject matter, linking everything that they are taught together.  This will create an interdisciplinary web on knowledge that will be much more useful to any student than the traditional, distinct subject education.       



            By using the ideas originally based in the college course “The Evolution of Stories and The Story of Evolution”, a very innovative middle school curriculum could be designed.  By breaking down the divides between traditional subjects students would have an opportunity to focus and excel at all subject areas, not just specialize in one discipline.  Introducing the already established subject area of social sciences is a key component in building a bridge between sciences and humanities.  This type of system caters more to individual thoughts and exploration than the traditional education system that is more focused on learning predetermined facts are “truth”.