Friday, July 22, 2016

Lauren Saville: The Importance of Teaching Human Evolution

Lauren Saville has written a post for NCSE titled "The Importance of Teaching Evolution."  Inevitably, the post deals not just with human evolution, but with climate change as well because, just as rejection of human evolution goes hand in hand with climate change skepticism on the right, acceptance of the two go hand in hand on the left.  So, why should we teach human evolution?
From an early age we wonder where we come from; evolution explains that for us. From the amazing array of fossils that have been found in Africa, Asia, and Europe we can piece together our evolutionary lineage from Australopithecus to early Homo sapiens and explore the different species that branched off in between. By studying the fossil record we can understand when we began walking upright, by noting all the huge morphological changes that distinguish us from other great apes, such as our wide bowl-shaped pelvis, big toes in line with the rest of our feet and shorter arms. We can see when our brain size increased (when Homo erectus came about) and the subsequent huge change in our technology. As they say, the rest is history.

Tapping into our inherent curiosity about our history and origins is a great way to get students excited about science. Who does not want to know why we do the things we do and look the way we do? Learning about our own evolution helps students feel connected to science.
I would add that one of the reasons we should teach human evolution is because it places us in the wide pantheon of evolution on the earth, which began some 3.5 billion years ago. It gives us an idea of the vastness of time. Humans, in their (relatively) current form, have been around for almost 200 thousand years. Our genus has been around for over 2 million years. How long is that? If you started counting by ones out loud, it would take you twenty-two days of straight counting to get to two million.

To count to one billion would take you 31 years!!

Evolution has been going on for three and a half times that long. We are part and parcel of the grand design of life and should take joy in that.

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