Posted by: cjobrien | 9 March 2008

Teaching Kids about Darwin: Some Good News

 Despite the fact that most students, particularly those in rural communities like Lassen County, are not getting good instruction in the biological sciences at the grade and high school levels, there is some good news to share from time to time.

First, this great observation on the need to begin exposing kids early to the science of evolution. Forget high school. Try kindergarten:

There is, I discovered … a very large literature about when, exactly, children start to develop theories about the origin of life and the origin of adaptations. This literature shows that kids are “primed” to learn evolution even before first grade. Therefore, waiting until high school to explain the reality of life seems a bit late. About 10 years too late.    

Turns out there are some great resources for teaching kids about evolution very early on in their education careers, a number of which the author pulled together in this convenient website. I found this post particularly enlightening because it was from a parent who home schools their kids. I have never been a proponent of home schooling, in large part because I think the bulk of home schooling is done to hide students from alternative ideas to their belief system.  It would seem that any belief system worth its salt would have nothing to fear from alternative ideas, but the fact that the number of home schooled children seems to be increasing suggests there is significant worry about the power of secular ideas prevailing over religious beliefs. That tells me secular arguments are the more logical and powerful. And yes, I know there are many exceptions to the rule about home schooling, such as this author, but I still think the bulk of home schooling is conducted out of cultural cowardice.

Second, I think I forgot to mention a student of mine who has turned into one of the most interested and enthusiastic I have known in a long time, despite the fact that she had some trepidation about taking a class on human evolution in the context of her relatively fundamental Christian beliefs. Once she found out I was not going to deride her belief system in front of the class, however, she appears to have found the intellectual freedom to explore new ideas (to her). She has even begun to “adjust” her former belief system to account for all the new science she’s getting. I knew she had turned a corner last month, however, when she proudly told me of wishing a colleague at work “Happy Darwin Day!” on February 12.

Finally, a bit of hope from the young kids. I heard the following story last week from a local grade school teacher here in Lassen County: during a discussion on Native Americans and peopling of the New World a question was raised by several students as to whether or not other continents were populated with humans as well. The teacher replied that, yes, when the Native Americans came to the New World there were people on all other continents (except Antarctica). Another youngster asked, “Even Africa?” – to which another young fellow piped up and said, “Of course there were people in Africa. That’s where the apes are that humans evolved from!”. The teacher just smiled….

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