We watched a superb NOVA special from February 2007 this evening (via Netflix) titled “America’s Stone Age Explorers.” The PBS website accompanying the special includes terrific resources for additional learning on the topics addressed in the program.
Remember studying in school the Bering land bridge which scientists hypothesize became the transit highway for the first native Americans migrating from Asia to the Western hemisphere, approximately 13,000 years ago? I listened to an interesting Science Friday podcast questioning this traditional theory awhile back (this may be the link to the episode I heard, but I’m not sure.) This NOVA special provided a great deal of additional information about competing theories which challenge several of the fundamental ideas forming the basis of the land bridge migration theory. We learned more about the Clovis point, the Genographic Project (genetic tests using mitochondrial DNA of people around the world pointing to common ancestral beginnings), a theory that Solutreans who lived in ice age France may have migrated across the Atlantic to North America, and several other fascinating theories.
As with many issues faced by REAL scientists, this is a complex conversation with many competing viewpoints! Watching this PBS special, I was struck again by how we too often “infantilize” learning for students in School and seem to protect them from the engaging complexities of real life either because:
1. That is the way we learned in School, and we permit ourselves and our students to remain prisoners of our past educational experiences. (A paraphrase from Papert.)
2. It is easier to just simplify things and ignore complexities.
3. As teachers we are often not comfortable with the messy complexities of real life outside the classroom and the textbook.
My own son, in his 3rd grade social studies curriculum last year, learned about the Bering land bridge in more-or-less absolutist terms. The current paradigm in his classroom (as well as many others) held that the first immigrants to the Western hemisphere DID come over the land bridge between Asia and North America– case closed. I don’t think anyone mentioned the discoveries at Monte Verde. I’m not sure anyone suggested the theory immigrants may have followed a land route along the western coast of North America, rather than following the fortuitous (and entirely hypothesized, I think) melted valley in the center of the enormous continental ice sheet down into the present-day areas of the United States. And what about hypotheses of the ancient Polynesians navigating to the Americas? I don’t think these theories were mentioned to my son.
I am not writing this to simply criticize an element of the Oklahoma 3rd grade social studies curriculum, but rather to highlight a more general tendency we have in much of formal education to oversimplify life and therefore learning opportunities– as well as suggest a remedy. To be fair, I am also not wanting to criticize his teacher directly for this… I was not in the classroom to hear everything that was discussed, and simply heard his version of what was taught after school in discussions we had at home. My point in writing this is to highlight a general tendency which is present in many classrooms to over-simplify, and suggest a remedy.
One remedy is to embrace blended education, and forgo the predominant pedagogical pattern of the 20th century of allowing the contents of the textbook and the naturally limited knowledge-base of the teacher to limit the potential avenues for learning in the classroom. This hour-long NOVA special was fantastic, and was chock-full of additional topics for students to research and delve into with greater depth. Rather than simply memorizing a now highly-questioned theory of original migration of people from Asia to the Americas via the Bering land bridge, I think students as well as teachers would be better off exploring the various theories and complexities being hotly debated by archeologists as well as other scientists presented in this video. Teachers do not need to be experts in genetic testing or alternate theories of transcontinental migration to facilitate student learning on these topics. The open door we now have to content experts, via the Internet as well as videos like this NOVA special, are phenomenal in their quality, depth and breadth of ideas.
Many thanks to PBS and the producers of this excellent NOVA film for opening my eyes to many more possibilities on the subject of the origins of native peoples in the Western hemisphere. We need to use more media resources like this in our classrooms to invite and provoke investigations by students of current, complex issues that would have been impossible to study in previous decades because of the limited access learners had at that time to the world of ideas.
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On this day..
- Learn About e-Publishing at October 24-25, 2014 OKC Writing Conference – 2014
- “My gut told me to say yes” – 2013
- What do we do for third tier schools? – 2010
- Zed’s Ethiopian food and Alexander: 1.5 Years Later – 2009
- The Magic of Digital: Collaborative Interaction in Teacher Professional Development – 2008
- The Transformational Power of Social Media Technology in Learning: Inspiring Stories from the Classroom and Beyond! (Idit Caperton) – 2008
- Where in the World is… GeoRSS for the Classroom – 2008
- Python for Fun Introductory Programming by Michelle Hutton – 2008
- Grassroots Creativity: Helping Everyone Become a Creative Thinker by Dr. Mitchel Resnick (MIT Media Lab) – 2008
- links for 2008-07-02 – 2008