Evolution in the Classroom
For every piece of knowledge that we come across, there exists a multilayered way of understanding and interpreting it. Very often, it is by close analysis of these diverse and differing perspectives of information that each individual is able to add to their perpetually growing store of knowledge. Consequently, if the numerous ways of understanding a particular topic are not taken into account by learners, they often develop a very singular way of framing their perception of different subject matter, and the world at large. As educational Paulo Freire puts it, “[Students’] capacity to intervene, to compare, to judge, to decide, to choose, to desist makes them capable of acts of greatness…”1 It is the job of educators, therefore, to present their students with as many ways of approaching and understanding particular subject matter. This has the effect of giving each student numerous perspectives of knowledge, on which they can exercise their innate, democratic right to choose what they want to learn. It is for this precise reason that the topic of evolution should be taught in schools; not to impose on the value of those that prefer to believe in creationism, but to allow individuals to choose which of the two they would rather learn.
Darwin’s theory and today’s evolved theory of evolution has a tremendous amount of underlying significance in science and in our society today. Many would argue that evolution is the best summary of observations of how the human race and all other species came to be. Evolution “unifies science disciplines and provides students with powerful ideas to help them understand the natural world”2. There is a great deal of information from astronomy, physics, biochemistry, geochronology, geology, biology, and anthropology that contributes to the theory of evolution. Not teaching evolution would deemphasize the validity of sciences with a historical component including geology, biology, and anthropology. 3
Though it cannot be said that evolution is fact, the notion that it is based on scientific observations validates and supports its strength as a theory. Science is one of the most vital and commonly used ways of knowing. Through the field, researchers and scholars are able to model situations that are testable in controlled environments so as to explore and test various naturally occurring phenomena. Scientific tests are often repeatable which provides the experiment with more accuracy as one can compare the results of separate trials. Furthermore, variables within these sets of experiments can be manipulated in such a way that they model exactly how certain processes occur in nature or in other cases can test the effects of different factors on the aforementioned natural phenomena. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, science provides us with empirical, tangible data and visual reinforcement for the subjects being tested. To date, evolution has been one of the most extensively tested theories. For example, scientists continue to arrange fossil records in a chronological manner which is one observation that provides stronger support for the theory of evolution. Scientists also have been studying comparative anatomy of different groups of animals and plants which have revealed numerous structural similarities. Though evolution, like every other scientific theory, is not fact, the abundance of observations makes it the best existing summary of how we came to be.
One of the most inherent dangers of education is the notion of ethnocentrism. Ethnocentrism involves imposing one individual or group’s ideals, be they personal or religious or cultural, onto those of another. This is perhaps one of the reasons that certain individuals object so vehemently to the teaching, or as they see it, the propagation of evolution. For many people, religion is an integral part of their life. It can often be a uniting bond between families and groups of people and also provides a way for people to understand the everyday occurrences of life in the contemporary world. Admittedly, teaching evolution may infringe on people’s birth-given right to stay true to their faith and respective beliefs. The goal of teaching evolution, however, is not to indoctrinate but to rather to broaden the understanding of the history of how we as the human race has come to be. By including evolution in their curricula, educational institutions, one might argue, are acting responsively in that they are broadening the scope in order to give students a choice of which stance to take on this particular matter. Teachers can teach evolution, but it is up to each individual student to decide how they harbor that knowledge.
Any field of knowledge whether it be in the arts, social sciences, or sciences is continually evolving as more and more data and information either comes to the fore, or is discovered. If schools and other institutions of learning do not adapt to incorporate such advancement in thought, students will be left with less refined and less nuanced understanding of vital topics and subject matter. Evolution is one such field in which as time passes, more and more data is discovered that supports it. Educators should not tell their students in a dogmatic manner that evolution happened. Rather, evolution should be presented to students in a manner that enables them to democratically evaluate the issue. To not teach evolution is simply devaluing and deemphasizing the role of science.
1 Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of Freedom. Trans. Patrick Clarke. New York : Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc. , 2001.
2 “The Teaching of Evolution”. < http://www.nsta.org/159&psid=10>.
3 “The Teaching of Evolution”. < http://www.nsta.org/159&psid=10>.