Young children are notorious for their surfeit of why questions, often directed at aspects of the biological world. Take a three-year-old to the zoo, for example, and you might be asked to explain why zebras have stripes, why elephants have trunks and why flamingos have such skinny legs. (Also: why you can’t pet the lion, why another cookie is off limits and why it’s really, really time to go home.)
Yet this childhood curiosity about the adaptive traits of biological organisms, which Rudyard Kipling recognized with his whimsical “Just So Stories,” is all but ignored by current education standards in the United States. It isn’t until high school — more than a decade after that curious preschooler wandered the zoo — that children start to learn how natural selection really works.
There are some good reasons to delay comprehensive evolution instruction. For one thing, an understanding of natural selection rests on concepts — such as deep time, randomness and probability — that are pretty hard to wrap an adult head around, let alone a child-sized head. In fact, even adults commonly have misconceptions about how natural selection works.
The paper by Deborah Kelemen and colleagues, just published in the journal Psychological Science, reports studies in which children worked through a 10-page storybook about fictional “pilosas” and how they changed from having highly variable trunk widths to predominantly thin trunks today.
Read the whole story: NPR