Monday, June 24, 2013

Spontaneous Generation Anyone? Thoughts on Science Education

A few days ago, while my daughter was reading over my shoulder as I was reading the news, some how Neanderthal man came up.  My soon to be middle schooler didn't know a thing about Neanderthals, so we googled a few key words.  She hadn't heard of Cro Magnon or Homo-erectus or any of the others.  We spent some time in discussion about the progression from australopithecus afarensis to modern humans.  We talked about how we share 99% of our DNA with bonobos.  Along the way, I discovered that she had had some lessons on dominant and recessive traits and some lessons on adaptations, but little coverage was given to what happened to the animals or proto-humans if they did not adapt, if they didn't receive a mutant gene that provided an advantage, if their behavior was not flexible enough to change with the needs of the species. They died. Nooooo, can't talk about death in elementary school!!.

Her classes had done lessons on endangered animals, so she knew what extinct meant, but it had not been mentioned when discussing adaptations at school. Extinctions only happen when humans do something they shouldn't (according to the lessons)...despite the fact that 99% of the species that have ever lived are extinct-most died out before humans came on the scene. The extinction lessons always end up with an activity to reduce pollution, so they pick up the trash on the edges of the playground and do a "Reduce, Reuse Recycle" chant. ( "Reduce, Reuse Recycle" is important, and also incorrectly taught, sounds like a follow-up post in the making.)

The teachers were doing the easy lessons,the ones that no parent would ever be offended with (and the ones the district office likes, because the parents aren't throwing temper tantrums in their offices).  The curriculum never puts the puzzle together. The students are not even  made aware that there is a puzzle for them to figure out, everything is taught in such a disconnected way..  They dance around the big "E" word, that people have relegated to the "not polite conversation" category.  I'm going to be impolite. I think Evolution should be taught in schools at a very early age, to everyone. Kids are fascinated by Paleolithic and Neolithic (stone age) man, the schools should use it to their advantage!

Biologists do not argue over whether or not evolution occurs, they flew past that a hundred years ago. What they do argue about is the fine detail in how evolution takes place.  The folks the newscasters dig up who are supposedly from the science community who dispute it (to give equal time to both sides of the argument, when biologists are not arguing about it), enjoy the attention, their 15 minutes of fame, and muck up the science education of an entire nation in the process.  They get their additional advertising dollars and general public gets the science of the bad old days before microscopes and DNA analysis. Spontaneous generation anyone??

My daughter is going to get a little supplementary science instruction over the summer.  We will go to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, the National Zoo and watch videos and read books from the library on the topic of evolution, with a special emphasis on human evolution.  It is one hole I can patch, I may or may not discover the other holes in her education that have formed during this "drill for the test" era of education, may it pass soon. 

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