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Education Ecology

The Biological Foundations

What is biology and what is life? Why must teacher education begin with biology education? Is Human Development always biological?
How are Neurobiology and Neuroscience linked? Why is Education more than cognitive development? How can Mind and Body be separated?

Ecology is a biological science. Much has been made in contemporary society regarding the ramifications of ecology into many academic fields including but not at all limited to law, medicine, anthropology, communications, politics, economics, literature and more. This effort recognizes that ecological thinking has become so much a part of our social milieu that the "ecology of"  or "ecosystem" is a part of language that explains the inter-relatedness of systems and objects that are almost universally regarded as common. What began in the late 1950s was a movement of ecology out of the graduate programs of doctoral biology students and into the undergraduate curriculum. This was followed by lessons for high school, then junior high school, and now to the primary grades of elementary education with inclusion into the "core curriculum." Ecology is now a part of our culture. Yet, its roots depend on principles of animal, plant and microbial physiology. Ethology, the study of animal behavior, ties all of biology to psychology. 

The questions posed above are worthy of consideration. What follows are a few assertions that represent a personal point of view and are expressed with hope to stimulate exchanges that will illuminate and highlight the role of biological science as a foundation for indispensible thinking about education. The philosophical roots of education are deep in our culture. Biology not so much because the advances in biology are comparatively recent. While much of philosophy (and its theological links) date back into antiquity, the knowledge of biological principles that have emerged from scientific study date back just a few centuries. And, the rate of knowledge development in the biological sciences is accelerating. The rate of doubling is logarithmic. Just a few decades ago biology was pejoratively called "frog talk" due in no small part to the almost ubiquitous dissection of a frog in high school biology classes. All of that changed with the discovery of DNA and the accelerating studies of the gene's capacity to not only control the functions of living organisms but also the way that genes are influenced by literally all manner of environmental elements. It may also be fairly argued that frog dissection in biology classes has nearly disappeared because of two additional developments: concern among ecologists for biodiversity and the extinction of many frog species because of human encroachments on their habitat physically and chemically; and the development of digital tools for teaching that are turning dissection experience into a virtual experience. The former is part of an ecoological and geological considerations that are recognizing a new era of earth's existence, which we not call the anthropocene. The later takes us into a whole range of considerations for education; the disruptive opportunity of digital tools in schools. We'll leave disruption for other pages on this website.

What is biology and what is life?

The biological sciences are now vast and expanding upon a base provided by the physical sciences of geology, chemistry and physics with contributions, however seemingly small, from astronomy at least to the extent that the cycling of our earth and moon constitute major environmental influences on life, and life's evolutionary history was dramatically changed by the impact of an asteroid that is widely believed to have caused the extinction of the dinosaur beginning and culminating about 70 million years ago. Writing and thinking about life has been prevalent through antiquity. Studies of plants (botany) and animals (zoology) date back to Aristotle. Yet, it was Charles Darwin who unified so much of thinking about life that by 1960, the geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky could say, "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution."

Biology is the study, scientific study, of life? Accordingly our consideration has to embrace both the characterization of life and the characterization of science. We could begin with either but science seems to be a good place to start. Life is a mystery and many stories about how life began and what happens when life ends have been told. Before the renaissance and enlightenment, these stories dominated the thinking and actions of human groups. Many stories found a prominent place in what we call religion and the studies associated with religion, which is theology. In theology the stories take on the patina of a metaphysics that postulates the presence in the universe of an omniscient (all-knowing) and omnipotent (all-powerful) being or beings; a God or gods. Theology may recognize one god, monotheism or more than one god, polytheism. Put another way everything physical is only to think about (meta) because power and knowledge are beyond human capacity and remains in the mind and body of an all-powerful and all-knowing god. The trouble for humans is that none of this could be verified. And beyond that trouble, the stories could only be questioned at great risk to life itself, personally and finally. Questioning the stories could become the focus of some pretty nasty business by priests and kings who owed their power and wealth to priests. The evidentiary details of the nasty business practices are legendary and best left to the tellers of history; hopefully with documentation and verification.

However, there is good evidence for the stories of Copernicus and Galileo when they challenged accepted theology about the centrality earth and the motion of the sun. Fortunately their observations could be vindicated, and eventually were vindicated, though technology (telescope) and mathematics (calculus). Newton made arguments about attractive forces of gravity and regularity of motion in the universe hard to refute. He was personally persuaded that all the details were a reflection of divine provenance. But he started something that began to show light on how things really work. Einstein added important details regarding space and time. He was never sure about divinity.

By the time of Einstein, around 1900, the practice of science and mathematics had launched a mode of thinking about physics and life that was anything but divine. Pasteur and Darwin were overlapping personalities as was, in time, the monk Gregor Mendel.

Why teacher education must begin with biology education.

Human Development is always biological.

Neurobiology and Neuroscience

Education is not just cognitive development.

Mind and Body are never separated.

Last revised 8 January 2020