Posts filed under ‘Evolution’

Evolution Education and Philosophy in High Schools

There’s a very well written op-ed article in today’s Washington Post that I was alerted to over at Science and Religion News. The title of the article is Evolving Towards a Compromise, and the gist of it is that some changes in science curriculum could help diffuse the support for the outright teaching of creationism. Rather than simply teach evolution, the article proposes teaching about what is and is not implied by evolutionary theory. To allay one of the specters brought up again and again by those who misunderstand evolutionary theory, for example, it is suggested that teachers explain that the description of the evolution of human behavior does not necessarily imply how humans should act.

I think that the article suggests a good direction that should be pursued by defenders of evolution education. Different polls show again and again that a majority of Americans are in favor of joint classroom time for both creationism and evolution. By discussing what evolution does not imply, perhaps educators can answer the public’s desire for a fair curriculum without having to go off the deep end and teach creationism.

There’s a major problem, though: class time. The authors of the op-ed apologize for asking educators to “shoulder another burden”, but between national and state standards it’s pretty hard to squeeze everything people want into the curriculum. Maybe better synchronization and communication between teachers could help with the compromise proposed– if, for instance, a social studies or history teacher could teach about the naturalistic fallacy while the biology department taught about evolution. The concepts would then be communicated at the same time, but the pressure on biology teachers to balance the demands of the public would be distributed amongst the faculty. The school district where I grew up tried to structure class groups along these lines (at least in middle school, where the district could largely determine which classes a student took) and it frequently had good results.

Something implied by the article, yet not explored, is the question of if and how to fit philosophical material into the public school curriculum. My high school was aberrant in that there was a single semester elective philosophy course open to juniors and seniors. I was too busy filling every elective slot with a music class at the time, and so unfortunately didn’t take it. A few friends did, however, and it was a class they truly enjoyed. So there is a high school audience for philosophy.

If there were a philosophy class included in the curriculum, there would be a natural setting where things like the naturalistic fallacy could be taught. There are a few problems with the inclusion of a philosophy class, however, that transcend the usual problems of funding and demand. First, there would be little point in making philosophy a required subject. In my experience, philosophy demands student curiosity and interest in order to be taught. The word means “love of knowledge” or “love of wisdom”, after all. Second, at least in my district biology was taught during freshman year. While I hope to have carried my high estimation of the intellectual abilities of high school students with me as I’ve gotten older, I don’t think that a philosophy class is for high school freshmen. It’s hard enough to take an introductory philosophy class as a college freshman. I’m not sure if biology is always taught, or has to be taught, during freshman year, however—does anyone out there know the reasoning behind placing biology the first in order of high school science classes? Is it the mathematical elements of chemistry and physics that requires that they be taught later than biology?

Having an elective philosophy course available alongside a biology class, even for a semester, makes a great deal of sense. It would create an appropriate space for the discussion of how philosophy and biology interact, and it would also provide an option for those parents who feel strongly that their child should be trained in critical thinking. It’s too bad that there are hardly available resources for such a class, and also that the class may be impossible to schedule. It’s a nauseatingly cheerful thought, but wouldn’t it be great if people realized the importance of a good philosophy class as a result of the long-running fight over evolution education?

July 26, 2008 at 12:59 pm 2 comments

Polar Bear Jawbones and Science Coverage

Here’s the story: Professor Olafur Ingolfsson, of the University of Iceland, has unearthed an ancient polar bear jawbone on the Svalbard Archipelago in Norway. The jawbone holds significance for the natural history of polar bears as it could help date when polar bear speciation first occurred. It also might help us predict how the polar bear population might react to global warming, as the new discovery could show that the polar bear species has already endured one warming and cooling cycle. The BBC has a great article on it including quotes from Ingolfsson, details on Svalbard, and most especially the significance of the study. It even includes this stripped down phylogeny:

Basic Bear Phylogeny

They even cited the source from which they modified it. Excellent science journalism, and the first article on the subject to appear in the mass media (at least according to Google News). The author of the article, Jonathan Amos, makes no bones about geologic time or the explanatory role of evolution. I wish there were more articles like it in the popular media.

Which gave me an idea: as long as I started with the first article on the topic (and a great article, at that), why not compare this one with others to follow? Just start a study in miniature of the differences between media outlets. I’ve got a Google Alert set to update me as more news is released, so I’ll be posting edits to this post regularly.

5:30 pm edit: 5 hours after the news broke, the only article out there remains the BBC’s. Perhaps it’s my search– I’ve had an alert on the phrase “Polar Bear Jawbone” in all news sources. But broadening to “Polar Bear” only brings a bunch of stories on the Polar Bear Plunge, a benefit for the Special Olympics. I’ll stick to looking for jawbones.

9:30 pm edit: 9 hours after the news broke, there’s still nothing else on it. We’ll see if something happens in the Americas tomorrow– perhaps the next editions of newspapers will carry an article.

December 10, 2007 at 2:54 pm Leave a comment

Final Papers Might Equal More Posts

I’m in the midst of final papers. This should mean that my blog continues in its update dry spell. Instead, it probably signifies a increased volume of posts. I started this blog while writing my final papers at the end of spring semester, after all. Both developing thoughts and overflow might end up as new posts.

There are three topics on which I’m writing final papers, so the odds of posts materializing for any of them are good. For my Wittgenstein class, I’m writing a paper on Wittgenstinean Causation, with a focus on Wittgenstein’s influence on G.E.M. Anscombe’s “Causality and Determination”. For my class on Science and Religion, I’m writing a paper on Medieval Muslim views on causation. The primary figures of this comparative paper are Avicenna (Ibn Sina), Al-Ghazali, and Averroes (Ibn Rushd). For my Seminar in Ecology I might have some posts which lean closer to science than philosophy. I’m giving a presentation and writing an accompanying paper on Agave pollination syndromes with a focus on the coevolutionary aspects of this particular syndrome.

December 2, 2007 at 3:22 pm Leave a comment


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Everything on this blog should be taken as a draft, the spilling over of mental activity flung far and wide. The author is a graduate of Hampshire College in Amherst, MA who enjoys many things but devotes most of this space to matters academic.
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