Monday, March 23, 2009

Evolutionary Psychology - Do you have to be careful?

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal about a Texas school board member who wants to re-write the state science curriculum to include the "possibility" that the Earth is only 10,000 years old made me wonder: How "careful" do you all have to be when you teach evolutionary psychology? Any advice for other teachers about how to discuss this psychological perspective without getting mired in the "pro/anti evolution" debates? Please discuss in Comments if you have ideas for other teachers.


Anonymous said...

At the beginning of the year, I make a presentation called, "How Do We Know What is True?"
I can send the PPT if needed.

During this lecture, I distinguish different ways of knowing and perceiving reality:

Science-observable/testable knowledge;

Religion-revealed knowledge;

Philosophy-critical reason and thought experiments;

and common sense.

I give the pros and cons of each as well as techniques that each uses and explain that AP Psych (and regular psych) is a science course and that we will be viewing everything through that lense.

When students ask about things via a religious lense, I can do a decent job of discussing from a variety of perspectives. I also teach a World Religions course when there is a large enough enrollment, so I can use my knowledge to help out when I need it. I also teach US Government, so can cite legal arguments for the case of not bringing religion into the course. I let them know there is lots of room in college for further investigation (or conversations outside of class).

With this approach, I have not had any difficulties with students or with parents despite the fact that I teach in a small, mostly conservative town. My openness that science is a perspective (which I subscribe to) is enough to help the kids understand the purpose of the course.

Chuck Schallhorn

Virginia Welle said...

I do a somewhat similar lesson where we discuss the limitations of the scientific approach (i.e. that it cannot answer all questions, especially those involving ethics/morality).

After we discuss the scientific method, I present the students with a list of statements, which I believe I picked up from some resources accompanying our Meyers text: God is dead, Romeo & Juliet is the best play ever written, 2 + 2 = 4, Schizophrenia has a genetic basis, etc. and ask students which statements would be testable via science (and why or why not). It always sparks some interesting discussion, and I use the activity to emphasize (as Chuck mentioned) that although the class will operate from a scientific viewpoint, that is hardly the only one available.