Finding purpose in evolution education

Evolution educators are united by a deep sense of purpose about the need to support the understanding of science. Despite widespread agreement, there is one area in which we are somewhat divided. Can we use modern scientific thinking to grow the next generation of evolution education?⎮2 min read

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By Dustin Eirdosh & Susan Hanisch

Evolution educators are united by a deep sense of purpose about the need to support the public understanding of evolutionary science. Despite this widespread agreement, there is one area in which evolution educators are somewhat divided. There remains significant disagreement over the question of if and how classroom teachers should engage students in understanding the role of our human sense of purpose in evolutionary processes.

In a recent This View of Life Podcast with evolutionary anthropologist, David Sloan Wilson, we take a deep dive into the challenges and opportunities for engaging a more interdisciplinary conceptualization of evolution in which the human sense of purpose can be more fully understood and integrated. Emergent scientific discourse across the evolution and human sciences provides a rigorous and accessible view of evolutionary change that can resolve students' intuitive understanding of purposeful action with the emphasis on random processes foundational to evolution education in most classrooms today. 

In our companion article on the This View of Life magazine, we argue that, indeed, helping students understand the evolution of our human sense of purpose, and the role of purposeful action in evolutionary processes, may emerge as a central purpose of evolution education itself. By this we mean that integrating perspectives on the evolution of human behaviour, cognition, and culture, including the role of behaviour as selection pressure within evolutionary processes, holds an untapped potential to provide a more accurate, understandable, acceptable, and even inspiring view of human origins, compared to the gene-centric alternative. 

   Helping students understand the evolution of our human sense of purpose, and the role of purposeful action in evolutionary processes, may emerge as a central purpose of evolution education itself

Such concepts and causal models have gained traction and acceptance across wide swaths of 21st century evolution science at the professional level, yet the discourse at the level of education and education research remains scant. We are now working to grow a network of educators and researchers interested in advancing these approaches to a more meaningful and accurate evolution education. 

We encourage you to explore the article and podcast below to learn more, and join the conversation by leaving comments below, or connect with us at GlobalESD.org, an international hub for open education resources, focused on the intersection of human evolution, behaviour and sustainability science. 

TVOL Article: Finding Purpose in Evolution Education

TVOL Podcast: Finding Purpose in Evolution Education

Related content from NPJ Science of Learning Community:
Should we teach evolution beyond the biology classroom?

Go to the profile of Global ESD

Global ESD

Educational innovation and curriculum design, in cooperation with the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

Global ESD works internationally to support sustainability education initiatives that connect concepts in human evolution, behavioral ecology, and sustainability science. By linking scientific perspectives on social change with students and classrooms seeking to make the world a better place, our aim is to foster a more global discussion about where we are going in the light of where we all have come from. Our work is done in close collaboration with the Department of Comparative Cultural Psychology at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. Primary contributors to this blog community are Dustin Eirdosh & Susan Hanisch

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