The turning of the calendar to a new year is a cultural milestone, marked in societies around the world with song, dance, food, and, of course, Dick Clark. As we reconsider our actions of the previous year, many of us vow to do better in the time to come.
One of my new year's resolutions for 2012 is to better integrate evolution into the classes I teach and the blog posts I write, and to better explain evolution to all students, from my preschooler to my undergraduates. I started on this resolution last year, actually, when I recorded a 2-minute video about the importance of teaching evolution to schoolkids. It was an invited contribution to the SCOPE project, which used the video to address the Miss USA debacle by asking a dozen or so female scientists to talk about evolution.
Since many people don't click videos or would rather read than watch a talking head, here's the full transcript of my contribution:
180 years ago, Charles Darwin embarked on a sea voyage, as the naturalist aboard the Beagle. His travels took him far beyond the world that most of his contemporaries knew, and Darwin diligently paid attention to the world around him, taking notes on the animals he encountered and watching their behavior.I'll reflect on this post a year from now, to see how well I brought the biocultural message of anthropology to students.
What Darwin noticed was that life on earth was interconnected. He started making diagrams to demonstrate this, drawing the relationships between animals much like the family trees we all create in grade school. And he wanted to find a way to explain and understand how it is that animals that look so different can also be so closely related.
Like Darwin, today’s schoolchildren are great naturalists. They watch the world, trying to figure out how best to interact with others. They pay attention to things that many adults ignore as routine. And they ask questions – so many questions – trying to understand how things work. That’s the great thing about humans: we have a natural curiosity.
Teaching children about evolution – like teaching them about language, math, and technology – means giving them the keys to understand the world around them. These kids will be tomorrow’s doctors, lawyers, businesspeople, soldiers, and politicians. Evolution is important to all of these professions – if kids don’t grow up to understand the evolution of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, for example, they won’t be able to create new medicine, to legislate rules for its use, or to keep our troops safe from biological weapons.
Evolution, then, is a framework that helps us answer questions like “Why did that happen?” Children’s natural curiosity about the world should be encouraged by teaching them about evolution. It is the job of our educators – and I count myself among them, as a biological anthropologist – to give students the tools they need to succeed in the real world, including a basic understanding of the interconnectedness of life and the ways in which life forms can change. By understanding evolution, the schoolchildren of today will be prepared to lead us into the future.
In the meantime, you can help me kick off 2012 right... teach a kid about evolution!