I’m gettin ready to start teaching a unit on ecosystems to a fourth-grade class (as a student teacher). We use a published science kit for our lessons–not my choice, but the kit’s overall pretty good, so I’ve not got many complaints.
I was reading through some of the child-sized literature that accompanies the kit, and was delighted to see that it contained a page-long biography of Charles Darwin. Awesome! I thought. Sure, the unit deals in part with how animals adapt to their environment, but I wasn’t sure whether evolution would be mentioned. But here it was, the biography of Darwin.
It wasn’t bad. It talked about where he was born, the HMS Beagle, his observations about finch bills, the Galapagos, and so forth. It ended by mentioning our debt to Darwin for noticing the rich diversity of life on earth.
Guess what words weren’t mentioned?
No “evolution.” No “natural selection.” No On the Origin of the Species.
Yep: a biographical sketch of Darwin that doesn’t mention evolution! I read it several times, and it definitely wasn’t there. This is my first punch-in-the-face encounter with the insipidification of textbooks, something I’ve heard so much about and discounted as hysterical exaggeration akin to the War on Christmas.
I firmly believe that discussion of natural selection is integral to teaching about biology, as I’ve argued here before. As part of the unit, we’ll be taking care of anoles in the classroom; certainly I should talk about how they’ve adapted to live in warm climates, to be primarily insectivorous, to grasp trees with their barbed paws (at least, I think they’re barbed–more reading is necessary for me on this front!) I’ll need to talk in other parts of the unit about traits predators have adapted to catch prey, and traits prey have adapted to escape predators. This stuff is pretty basic to an understanding of biology at the organism and ecosystem level.
I wonder, though, to what degree I should go into either the specific mechanism of natural selection (and especially speciation), or into the reason for the textbook’s egregious oversight. Part of me wants to make it clear to students that the textbook has left out something vital for political reasons; the more sensible part of me thinks that I don’t need to go there.
What do folks think?