Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

EvoLit: Paper 1, The Evolution of Education

alexandrakg's picture

  The Story of Evolution and The Evolution of Stories:

 The Evolution of Education

In our class at Bryn Mawr College, The Story of Evolution of Evolution and The Evolution of Stories, we have been discussing what evolution is and how and where it can be applied.  One area, education, is in many ways evolutionary.  To learn, after all, is to improve one’s knowledge.  The process of educating a student evolves them personally, intellectually, of course, but also changes their opinions, outlook on life, and even their sense of identity and shape the person they grow to be.  A student’s notions about different aspects of the world are shaped and shifted in a progressive manner aimed at bettering their lives and prospects in the future, in other words, they evolve.  This is not in a strictly scientific sense, but evolution nonetheless.

The institution and practice of education itself can evolve as well, as new things are discovered and knowledge is expanded upon.  Educators strive to keep up with the newest material to better learning and understanding, and also to compete with other institutions to maintain an equal or higher level of discourse and achievement, not unlike the evolutionary process.  Education is constantly evolving.  What one student learns one year may be completely defunct ten or twenty years later.  What I learn in school and the methods and processes my educators use differ quite dramatically from what my parents experienced, and even more so from what my grandparents experienced.  Different areas of study may be valued at one period more than the other, but a universal truth is that educators strive to provide the greatest amount of knowledge and understanding possible to their students.

One topic that is still in debate even today is whether or not evolution should be taught in schools.  This is a debate that should have been resolved years ago once the theory of evolution became widely accepted by the scientific community: evolution should absolutely be taught in schools.

Darwin did not come up with his theory of evolution based on a whim, but rather a lifetime of observations and consequent deductions backed up by a fair history of other naturalists’ observations and reasoning.  Though controversial, it was well thought out.  In each chapter, he is meticulous to a fault in describing his evidence and conclusions based upon them.  His theory is not indeed perfect and still today the theory of evolution is not without discrepancies, but no scientific theory is absolute.  One of the very principles of science is that nothing is true.  If we were to discount every scientific discovery that was not without a doubt a hundred percent true, teaching science would be impossible.  Gravity is still a theory, but when I release my pencil from my grip, it obviously falls to the ground.  No one has ever suggested that we teach an alternative to that theory.

Most other subjects for that matter are not completely reliable.  Most my past history teachers have not experienced the events they teach.  Surely there are some errors in historical facts due to hearsay or biased perspectives.  Perhaps those grounds history should no longer be taught either.  Of course most people would never agree to remove history from the curriculum, so why is evolution a bigger deal?

If all other generally accepted scientific theories are taught, then evolution should, too.  The goal of science classes is to teach students how the world works to the best of the ability of the educators and because evolution is the best possible story in a scientific sense to explain the biological make-up of the world today, schools have an obligation to teach it.

In my own state, public schools teach evolution without disruption, but other public schools have adopted a “theory, not fact” approach to evolution in their scientific curriculums (Boyle, Farden, Godoy).  Biology textbooks in Alabama refer to evolution as a “controversial theory,” while in Arkansas the American Civil Liberties Union won a case to remove stickers placed on biology textbooks claiming evolution is “not adequate to explain the origins of life” (Boyle, Farden, Godoy).  Nearly every state has faced a similar debate in the past decade alone.

If we do not teach evolution, or offer alternatives, what would those alternatives be and who decides?  The idea of teaching creationism in science class makes me uncomfortable.  As we discussed in class, science really revolves around the scientific method, whether the specific act of creating a hypothesis and making conclusions based on a subsequent experience, or following the less confined method of continued observations as we discussed in class.  Creationism does not fit into either method, and cannot be proved to exist.  How could one devise an experiment to prove the existence of a higher power?  I personally cannot imagine how or where to begin.  How could one teach Creationism for that matter?  A teacher can say, “many people believe in a higher power,” but then what?  How should this teacher elaborate?  What concerns me is that people are using Creationism or so-called “Intelligent Design” as a mask for their own agendas in terms of their own religions.

Bobby Henderson raised an interesting point when the Kansas School Board was debating whether to teach Creationism in schools.  What religions do we teach to our students and at what religions do we draw the line?  Henderson created a “Church of The Flying Spaghetti Monster” and asserted that if other religions were to be taught, why not his?  (Henderson).  Superficially a joke, his “Church” is actually a very strong statement.  Who could honestly tell him his supposed theory were not true?  If he genuinely believed in this “Church,” how should it be approached?  Students should indeed learn about different religious viewpoints, and even if they do not convert, they at least understand how a portion of the world thinks and where their perspective is based.  However, these viewpoints do not belong in a science class room.

Darwin’s original theory certainly had a good deal of errors, but his theory was very logic-oriented and based upon many carefully logged and easily discernible obligations.  The scientific community has built upon his theory a great deal since then, just as it has about other theories with discrepancies in the past.  Students should be taught everything we know now and the best interpretations scientists have of those facts, and as of now, that is evolution.  Our education system cannot continue to improve and evolve if we do not teach up-to-date theories.



Boyle, Tara, Vicki Farden, and Maria Godoy. "Teaching Evolution: A State-By-State Debate." NPR: National Public Radio. NPR, 20 Dec 2005. Web. 7 Feb 2011. <>.


Henderson, Bobby. "Open Letter to Kansas School Board." Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster., n.d. Web. 7 Feb 2011. <>.




Anne Dalke's picture

Evolution Nonetheless?

You join many of your classmates in writing, this month, about teaching evolution in schools, and you join many of them also in discussing the notion that education, itself, might be thought of as an evolutionary process. That actually is the presumption w/ which you begin, so I guess I want to begin my response by asking you where you lay the "foundation" of that claim.

Is it in what happens to students as the result of their education? You say that in "bettering their lives and prospects in the future, they evolve." Do you think that bettering ourselves (economically? spiritually?) is a form of evolution? In what sense of the meaning of the word? Is "educators striving to provide the greatest amount of knowledge and understanding possible to their students" a form of evolution? In what sense of the meaning of the word? If that striving is, as you claim, "a universal truth," is that a form of evolution? In what sense of the meaning of the word? (Later you say that "one of the very principles of science is that nothing is true"--which is where I really get confused!) You also evoke, @ another point, a distinction between "a strictly scientific sense" of the word, and "evolution nonetheless"; I'm curious to understand how you understand the difference between the two.

I'll have a number of other questions for you, when you come in for your conference. I guess the deepest one raised for me by your essay is how you understand this matter of "truth." You argue, on the one hand, that "most subjects are not completely reliable," and yet you argue that "evolution should absolutely be taught," that the question of its truth-value was "resolved years ago." You say that religious viewpoints "do not belong in a science class room," that they have become a "mask for various agendas." Do you think that the evolutionists do not have an agenda? (Do Paul and I not have one, in offering and organizing this course in the way that we have?) You say that "students should be taught everything we know now"--yet surely that's not possible! So how to select? How to decide? Based on what filters, what standards, what system of values? And wherefrom those? And doesn't asking that question that bring back in the matter of religion....?