Avoiding the Pitfall of Progress and Associated Perils of Evolutionary Education

Alexander Werth
2012 Evolution: Education and Outreach  
People reflexively see all change as implying inevitably increasing progress and complexity. This expected directionality is especially observed in students' views of living things, with some species envisioned as "higher" or more evolved. Students tend naturally to see all evolutionary change as adaptive, progressive, optimal, and teleological, with improvement achieved as needed or desired by organisms (if not as planned in advance). Following an extended outline of many interrelated ways,
more » ... s basic yet unfortunately widespread and deep-seated misconception of evolutionary thinking ensnares students and hinders proper understanding of the actual pattern and process of evolution, a more useful pedagogical approach is presented. A strategy that involves eliciting preconceptions, engaging in numerous counterexamples, and continually reinforcing an alternative view is generally effective. This is best achieved by tackling the misconception of progress head-on, with an active learning model that forces students to come up with substitute explanations. Several examples of exercises and activities to combat the universal and automatically intuitive inclination toward teleological notions of progress are given, including analyses of paleontology, ecology, biochemistry, development, and systematics.
doi:10.1007/s12052-012-0417-y fatcat:ozfj3yetyjambdzif6v6qyv2iq