Saturday, July 24, 2010

Darwin in the classroom

Humans evolved from monkeys.
Ask you students if the above is true. Poll the kids vote anonymously. Heck, ask other teachers in your building.

Human blood in veins is blue.
Here's the trick--I can "teach" them otherwise, but as soon as I lean down to tie my shoe or take a moment to blow my nose, the kids go right back to their previous beliefs.

We all do.

Trees get most of their mass from soil.
Teaching "facts" wastes time--my students have been trained, trained by us, to be credulous. Many, alas, believe anything I say.

Humans are more evolved than earthworms.
We live in a fantasy world. We lie to our kids. We reward them for parroting our lies. And then a few of them wake up and don't believe anything we say. Not good, either.


A good chunk of American do not "believe in" evolution. I do not "believe in" it--it's not a belief system--but I embrace it as the core of biology.

Darwin did not come up with evolution--the concept is much older than him. Darwin realized, however, that natural selection could by itself explain the great diversity of life on Earth. No guiding intelligence is needed.

Just about every shred of evidence examined since Darwin's On the Origin of Species strengthens his underlying thesis.

In a 2007 Gallup Poll, over 60% of Americans agreed that it is "definitely" or "probably true...that God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years."



Here's a problem, a big problem--just about all of my kids are passing tests on evolution. A good chunk do not accept it but pass anyway. I'm not worried about their beliefs, really not my business. My business is teaching kids how to think.

I am very concerned about a system that rewards kids for spouting off what they themselves consider to be nonsense. We need to come up with a way to assess children as they wrestle with evidence, children who were told less than a decade before that Santa Claus exists.

Until we do, however, we'll continue to produce kids who believe in astrology, who blindly follow leaders who lie, and who put this Great Experiment, our republic, at risk.

The Darwin cartoon is old enough to be in the public domain.
Every bold blue statement is false. Really.


sehauser said...

You said, "I am very concerned about a system that rewards kids for spouting off what they themselves consider to be nonsense."

I saw this all too often in middle and high school (heck even in college now). It didn't bother me much when I was younger because I saw the spouting off of nonsense as part of the game (school was a game to be played), it is what you had to do. In fact my view was that dealing with that nonsense was just preparing me for more nonsense in life that I would have to smile and nod at.

I now take a much different view in regards to learning (I've had some wonderful mentors). I've realized there is a certain ownership I need to take of my education and that as human-being I owe it to the world and to others around me not to be skeptical, curious and have questions.

sehauser said...

Err that last line should be, "I owe it to the world and to others around me TO be be skeptical, curious and have questions."

Think its time I got off the computer :-)

John Spencer said...

I know I wrote this already on Twitter, but:

If some people can choose not to "believe" in evolution, can I choose not to believe in germs? (Sure makes camping easier)

I have no evidence to support this claim, but I sometimes wonder if overly hygenic parents are screwing their kids over. Micah and Joel play in the dirt, come in and get a snack and play again and get this . . . THEY DON'T EVEN WASH THEIR HANDS EVERY TIME. I know. We're probably being negligent, but I have a hunch that some dirt on an apple might not kill them (note: I do wash all of our fruit due to pesticide residue).

doyle said...

Dear sehauser,

The bright kids do see it as a game, and do see it as preparing them for the nonsense coming up.

I may borrow your last line and put it up on our bulletin board (if that's OK with you):

I've realized there is a certain ownership I need to take of my education and that as human-being I owe it to the world and to others around me to be skeptical, curious and have questions.

Dear John,

Kids kept too clean in their early years may be at higher risk for asthma.

So let 'em play as kids will play. Heck, we had one kid in our neighborhood who ate earthworms.

J Bowie said...

I find these same things to be true in my classroom. I start the year by talking about evidence, belief, faith, and the difference between those terms.

One of the activities I do uses a free Planetarium program and I give evidence that astrology is a bunch of bunk (I demonstrate precession).

At the end of the day I still hear students say "I don't care what evidence there is, I'm still going to believe in it!" Some days I wonder if there is anything I can ever do to teach students to think critically.

I have found that there are many students who can be taught, however, there are some who will do as you have mentioned and just pass the test but not really learn anything.

Its all worth it if I can make a difference in just one life, right?


doyle said...

Dear fzzxtchr,

I love the astrology exercise--I've had similar discussions, but they can backfire. ("You mean I'm Pisces instead of Aries? Wow, I KNEW it in my heart all along--I just never fit in as an Aries....")

Still, we must keep trying--if we can just get a crack of light inside a child's skull, who knows where it will lead in a few years.

I hope you make a difference in at least two lives--that way when you die, we've at least had a net gain of thinkers....

sehauser said...

I'd be honored to make it onto your bulletin board. I consider most of my nonsensical yawping to be under an attribution CC license anyway :-)

thedispersalofdarwin said...

I think we must move away from referring to acceptance of evolution as "belief in" or "believing in" evolution. I think it sets up for some students that since the word belief/believe is being used (yes, teachers know how it is meant), then evolution is not something that grounded in fact. We should use "accept" to move away from confusion.

doyle said...

Dear thedispersalofdarwin,

Exactly! I do not know how the discussion got skewed so badly--we're not talking about belief systems.

(Still, it's fun to tell the kids I do not believe in evolution, I need a better word than "accept." Maybe "embrace"?

Brandy said...

That's a really good point! It reminds me of an NPR article I read recently: