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TheStreet Open House

Learning From Mother Nature About Teaching Our Children: Ten Simple Truths





BINGHAMTON, N.Y., May 7, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- According to some experts, despite billions of dollars and everyone's best intentions, education isn't working well in America. Recently, scientists brought together by The Evolution Institute, explored new solutions from an unusual source: Darwin's theory of evolution. Much progress has been made in using evolution to improve the human condition, so much so, that The American Education Research Association is funding a future conference called "Evolutionary Perspectives on Educational Research, Policy, and Practice."   

As a beginning, Binghamton University Professor David Sloan Wilson is offering "ten simple truths" about childhood education from an evolutionary perspective.

1) Learning is child-motivated. The premier fact about education in hunter-gatherer societies and many other traditional societies is that its onus lies within children themselves. Adults do not deliberately train children, except in the sense of answering their questions and providing help that they seek. Adults treat children protectively, but do not attempt to control their learning. They assume that young people will learn what they need to know through their own self-directed play and exploration, and therefore they allow children, even teenagers, ample free time for those activities.

2) Children are biologically prepared to learn. The prolonged period of human childhood is, itself, an evolutionary adaptation. The drives and proclivities that characterize children everywhere are well designed, by natural selection, to help children survive during childhood and prepare for adulthood. Most relevant to education are children's extraordinary curiosity, playfulness, sociability, and capacity to practice intensely, the skills that are valued in their immediate social environment. Children explore all aspects of the world around them, and they practice and play not just at the skills that are important to humans everywhere, but also at those that are unique to their particular cultures. Hunter-gatherer children practice and play at such skills as hunting, gathering, and hut construction, using the same tools and techniques that are used by older, skilled members of their groups.

They spend countless hours at such activities until their play turns gradually into productive use of the skills. They tell and retell the stories that they hear from older members. They rehearse the rituals, dances, art forms, and other culture-specific activities that are valued by their group. They do all this with joy, on their own initiative. It would be difficult to stop them.

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