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Posts Tagged ‘chimpanzee

Jason Feifer’s latest Build for Tomorrow podcast episode was Yes, Talk To Strangers!

Spotify source

It was somewhere in the middle of the episode that Feifer described how chimpanzees were generally more destructive and selfish. Bonobos, on the other hand, were more social and cooperative, even to those outside their social group.

This led to Feifer’s message on how to build bridging capital. In order to bring back stronger social bonds, he suggested three strategies when talking to strangers: 

  1. Acknowledge that you are breaking the rules (it is not normal to just start conversations with strangers)
  2. Break the script (do not go for the usual conversation-enders like the weather)
  3. Ask open-ended questions 

The same strategies work for teachers who wish to start critical conversations with their students. The dialogues might be about current, sensitive, or important topics. A topic that is all three is the recent attention on mental health of students following the killing of a 13-year-old in a Singapore school

Teachers and students are not strangers to one another. But it might be unusual to talk about personal issues instead of content in class. This is breaking the convention and the usual script. One way to keep conversations going is to facilitate the answering of open-ended questions.

In that sense, we could learn from our fellow apes: We should be less chimpanzee and more bonobo.

I was taught a lot as an undergraduate majoring in biology. Not all of it was true.

One thing that a lecturer taught me was this factoid: Human DNA is almost 99% identical to chimpanzee. That has stuck with me because it was so jarring.

The lesson then was that it took just 1% of evolutionary tweaking and protein-making difference to have a human. Back then I just took an expert’s word for it.

Today I have YouTube condensing the work and critique of several experts. The video below was built from five published references.

Video source

The main takeaway from the video is that the absolute number (99%) is misleading. The number was derived under conditions like ignoring portions of genomes and arbitrary rules so that the number is neither valid nor reliable. Change the rules and the number changes.

The larger issue is how students today might still be taught: From old textbooks, with outdated pedagogy, and without access to more than one source of information.

The biggest sin of any teacher is focusing just on content. This means the delivery of information and the testing by regurgitation of it.

Content is (or it should be) a means to an end. The end is not to reproduce that content in a test because information can be challenged and knowledge can change. Content should be a way to teach thinking.

The teaching of content today should not just be learning-about. It should focus on learning-to-be. In the chimpanzee and human DNA example, it is not just learning about the 99% factoid. It is about asking critical questions about it and knowing how to find valid and reliable answers to those questions.

Rising above, the teaching of a juicy factoid like human DNA is 99% chimpanzee stems from the pedagogy of answers and the attempt to engage students with interesting nuggets. The critique of such a factoid starts with the pedagogy of questions and continues with the empowerment of students to think and act critically.

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