Category Archives: evolution

Big News in Paloeanthropology

It’s on The News Hour right now.  The fossilized bones of a mostly bipedal specimen have been found and analyzed.  It took 17 years.  The fossils are 4.4 million years old.  In other words, they predate Lucy.  The site is in Ethiopia — just like Lucy’s site is — and so the fossils are a national treasure and will be kept there.  Also, the Ethiopians had a major part in the excavations and analysis.

This is one of those times I wish I had cable or satellite because the special about the whole process will be on the Discovery Channel.  It  airs on October 11th, so perhaps I can persuade a friend to figure out how to record it so I can play it on my DVR . . . . .


So tired

More and more students (good thing) — one expected teacher out of the mix (bad thing).

Lots of nonsense from the director (bad thing) — new office mate (ok thing).

I’m excited about my advanced reading class.  It’s a small group but a good mix — Brazil, Jordan, Mexico, India, Kazakhstan, Korea.  They trust me to a point — why are we doing this is a common question.  The answer I give seems to satisfy them.  I’ll get them blogging by Monday.  I set up a private blog for this class.

My low-intermediate grammar class has real potential.  They listen and seem ready to interact with each other.  I plan to put that into practice next week.  I have to learn their names because most of them are new to the program and I didn’t teach lower levels last term.  They are eager and even though I was sleepy this morning, they helped me get into a groove.

My last class is more of a challenge.  They have decided upon a weird classroom organization — everyone huddle at two small tables — but I broke that up today.  The young ladies are lovely.  They outnumber the guys.  They are just great.  One male wanted to dominate the class yesterday, but by breaking them up and encouraging the quieter students, we achieved a good balance in today’s class.  One thing that made a difference, I think, is that I used an example yesterday about speaking in one’s native language.  The dominant language in that group is Russian (I didn’t let on that I still understand some Russian).  I used an example with two Spanish speakers, which makes more sense, given where I am from (having told them).  They were better today about not speaking Russian in class.

Almost all I can think about is my classes and the mechanics of work right now, but I have been paying attention to what is going on in wingnut world.

At least on local radio, it has been wall to wall about President Obama talking to school children and the attendant teacher materials supplied by the Department of Education ( a department that republicans have wanted to kill since the time of Bill Bennet but haven’t — so they just get guys who call teachers terroists).

The best line I heard about the parents who don’t want their children to even hear President Obama is that teachers could teach evolution or any other of the topics that the same old tired people complain about.  Let’s use that time to teach about historic people like MLK or Thurgood Marshall or Cesaer Chavez.

Then when all the kids come back the next day, they can talk about Reagan, Newt and Rush.  Oh and Hannity and Berry.

Evolution — in the class and on teevee

In my upper level reading class today, we discussed the section of our text on Natural Selection and Evolution.  Tonight, I watched the NOVA special on the trial in PA in 2004-2005.   While I haven’t encountered Intelligent Design yet in classroom discussions, I do get a bit of push-back every time I teach this particular section.  I must make one thing clear:  I teach reading comprehension in ESL and the topic changes over time.  My focus is not the topic, but rather the way students understand what they read.  As an example, earlier this session we worked with the theory of plate tectonics.  A couple of students couldn’t understand the complicated concepts included in the reading.  With help — vocabulary, structures etc. they could use their background knowledge to get the larger idea.

Unfortunately, (or not) I usually get push-back from Muslim students.  It happened again today.  Part of it is language.  That is a common problem even with native English speakers.  Part of it is something involving the idea that Homo sapiens are special, the idea that we are better or more important.  It’s the same mentality that heard in the NOVA piece tonight.

I try to handle it with humor.  Today, when a student objected to the idea that humans have a place in the tree of life — he didn’t want to be labeled as a member of the ape family — I just said, “It’s not so bad.  We have opposable thumbs, no tail” and so on.  I was surprised that so many in this particular group didn’t already understand the concept of a common ancestor.   That made my job doubly difficult.  With just some chalk, a board and my wits, I’m pretty sure I got it all across.

Watching the NOVA special confirmed one of my pet theories.  The reason there is even a debate about evolution in the U.S. is because parents didn’t get it when it was taught to them and/or it wasn’t taught to them at all.  My theory?  The reason so many think that the theory of evolution argues that humans are derived from monkeys is because they never learned evolutionary theory.  The reason there is even a debate about evolution at all is because the people who don’t “believe” in it never learned about it.

Perhaps it is a generational thing . . . like evolution itself.  My evolutionary hero is not Darwin, not Watson (ass) not Crick, but Gregor Mendel, a priest.