Evolving Schools

Community Science for the Future of Education

Evolution is about how systems change over time. It includes the study of how biological species have changed over very long time periods, for example how modern humans and chimpanzees evolved into different species from a last common ancestor ~7 million years ago. It also includes how individual human minds and human cultures change, even during our own lifetimes.

The Evolving Schools project works with students, teachers, and scientists to understand and influence the cultural evolution of schools.

Download the project report through the button on the right or read more below.

Our species has only created modern schools for a relatively tiny period of our evolutionary history. However, we have been teaching and learning from each other for millions of years, long before our species even existed!

Scientists who study evolution and education have a lot of different ideas about how we should understand the evolutionary history of teaching and what evolution science might mean for education.

Below you can learn about how we frame three scientific perspectives on the link between evolution and education. As you learn about the evolutionary science of learning, you can have more say in the discussion about the future of schooling around the world.

Three Perspectives on Evolving Education

Our project is about how students can work to evolve their own education system. Not all scientists agree on how this can be done, as an introduction to these scientific perspectives we outline three different perspectives.

Perspective 1: Students should learn like our ancestors evolved to learn

Humans have been teaching and learning from each other for millions of years, therefore we are genetically adapted to learning in certain ways. By studying how small-scale hunter-gatherer communities engage in teaching and learning we can identify important aspects of how modern education should be designed. For example, students should have unlimited free time to play with the tools of the culture in a community of helpful supporters, rather than being tested according to a pre-set curriculum.

Perspective 2: Teachers should help students evolve their minds

Humans have been teaching and learning from each other for millions of years, therefore we are genetically adapted to engaging with the tools of the culture we are born into. Because the tools of modern societies include complex ideas and concepts we would not have encountered in our evolutionary past, it is the role of teachers to use modern teaching practices to evolve new species of thought within the minds of students.

Perspective 3: Students should be empowered to evolve their own education system

There are aspects of Perspectives 1 & 2 that are correct, but neither one is fully adequate to design modern schools that are enjoyable and effective for all students. Instead of choosing one perspective or the other, students themselves, with the help of teachers and scientists, should understand the evolutionary science of learning and be empowered to evolve their own school system to be most enjoyable and effective in their own communities.

What does it mean to "evolve" your own education system?

Evolution is about how systems change over time. It includes the study of how biological species have changed over very long time periods, for example how modern humans and chimpanzees evolved into different species from a last common ancestor ~7 million years ago. It also includes how individual human minds and human cultures change, even during our own lifetimes.

In this context, schools are immensely complex evolving ecosystems of individual and social learning processes. To the degree we can clearly define the goals of education as a whole, and for specific schools in particular, we can begin to think about the social conditions that will favor or hinder the characteristics of these systems that we value most. Thus, the notion of Evolving Schools provides opportunities both for learning about evolution science, as well as making practical progress towards the values of our own school communities.

When it comes to evolving education systems, we can ask two very simple yet really BIG questions:

  • What characteristics of school systems are desirable and which are undesirable?

  • What conditions favor the development of these desirable or undesirable characteristics?

Answering these big questions requires students, teachers, and scientists working together to answer a bunch of much smaller questions. We call this a community science approach, because we work together in a community to use science to improve school communities, our own and those around the world.

Become a Community Scientist for the Future of Education

If you are a student or teacher who is interested in evolving the future of schooling, you can get involved in our project as a community scientist. There are different levels of involvement, from simply sharing your opinions about schools and education, to using scientific theories and simple research methods to evolve a shared vision for the future of education in real world communities.

To get involved, send an e-mail to: Dustin@GlobalESD.org