theory—indeed, evolution does seem miraculous—our minds may also boggle and buckle when coming to terms with a certain fundamental randomness and unpredictability, a lack of a grand design, a perception that the theory portends a loss of meaning and purpose in our lives. For all of these reasons and others, we applaud your efforts to make the scientific theory of evolution an integral part of young people’s introduction to biology and help them become comfortable with this fundamental, perhaps unsettling, idea.”
The theory of evolution can be seen to underlie our entire understanding of life, said Kassouf. Efforts such as the ones being discussed at the convocation are “a wise way to help us all begin to accept the soundness of evolutionary theory not just in our heads but in our hearts and minds.”
In his opening presentation, Gordon Uno, David Ross Boyd Professor at the University of Oklahoma, as well as a member of a group under the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center (NESCent) that first conceived of this convocation and a special consultant to the convocation’s organizing committee, laid out many of the central issues addressed at the event.
Teaching evolution across the curriculum makes sense both biologically and pedagogically, he said. (Chapter 2 describes some of the many curricular and instructional changes needed to teach evolution across the curriculum.) Many major science education reform movements have observed that students learn better when information is organized around major unifying concepts such as evolution (see Box 1-1). In biology, no concept is more unifying than evolution. The biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky wrote an article with the famous title, “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution” (Dobzhansky, 1973). Uno offered a corollary: Everything in biology makes more sense in the light of evolution. “If we really want to help our students understand biology, shouldn’t we be teaching more evolution?”
Instructors and students should clearly understand the learning objectives for a course, Uno observed. Instructors then should ask what activities, lessons, and other experiences will help students reach those objectives. In this way, teachers have a constant reminder to be intentional in their instruction.
For the biology course he teaches, Uno’s reminder is: “Evolution—say it every day.” It is a challenge to incorporate something about evolution in every class taught in every course. But when Uno talks about cells, he
2Additional resources, including video archives and PowerPoint presentations of speakers and panelists, interviews with selected participants, and a list of useful references and websites are available at http://nas-sites.org/thinkingevolutionarily/.