Learning Evolved, Introduction: The Revolution Against the Standard Social Sciences Model

This series was originally going to be a single post titled “The Evolution of Learning, Reloaded.” I wanted to take Part IV from my series, Classroom Democracy, and flesh out its implications. Additionally, the post was going to be handed in for my second philosophy of teaching paper in College Teaching. I began twice, but could not catch a groove. Then this Monday I started seriously writing, and I didn’t look back.

This series is still a companion to Classroom Democracy, but can also stand on its own. In the end, the bibliography for the post was more than three times longer than the original post. I succeeded in synthesizing notes not only from college teaching, but from adolescent psychology, creativity, talent, & expertise, and genetic politics. What began as a minor paper now seems like the seed for something more. This paper would not be possible without the openness of my college teaching professor, or with the enthusiasm of my genetic factors professor, who (along with the graduate chair of the political science department) is teaching the genetic factors class as an overload. It is also due to them than this year’s Hendricks Symposium is on Genetic Factors. I am incredibly grateful.

Besides this prologue, Learning Evolved has four parts. The synposes below frame the readings, but the individual sections themselves are more applied than theoretical:

    Part I, Darwinism-Cognitivism
    While the early Sociobiologists and Evolutionary Psychologists attacked the Standard Social Sciences Model from the outside, the renegade behavioralists who founded Cognitivism chipped away from the inside. Indeed, researchers such as Noam Chomsky are heroes to scientists in both revolutionary traditions. Educational research is best servied not be focusing on just one or the other of Cognitive Psychology and Evolutionary Psychology, but leveraging both to build better classrooms.

  • Part II, Social Motivation
    Early sociobiologists were heavily influenced by E.O Wilson’s kin selection and Richard Dawkin’s genetic selfishness. Yet critics, typically on the left, attacked the early radicals on grounds that humans were inherently social and altruistic. The sociobiologists countered that such selflessness could only evolve in environments where, roughly genocide exceeded murder as a cause of death, so the critics attacks were mere hippie posturing. The sociobiologists were right on the math. The critics were right on the altruism.
  • Part III, Coalitionary Education
    First-order free-riders take from the group without giving back. Second-order free-riders observe first-order free-riders but do not punish Both destroy motivation. Yet strangely contemporary classrooms do little against first-order free-riders and nothing against second-order free-riders. That much change.
  • Part IV, Bibliography
    From Alford & Hibbing (2004) to Zimmerman (2000), a complete list of works referenced in the text of the series. Research into genetic factors is scattered throughout the sciences, as the Standard Social Science Model fights a rear-guard action everywhere. Publications such as the American Political Science Review, Contemporary Educational Psychology, the Journal of Economic Literature, PNAS, and Science, are consulted, along with a variety of conference papers and unpublished manuscripts.

To all those who are interested in the intersection between evolution and education: enjoy!

Chomsky’s Language Module

I greatly admire Noam Chomsky. While his political theories border on the zany, he is a first rate researcher and a first rate scientist. He is justly viewed as a founding father of cognitive psychology, evolutionary psychology, and sociobiology. Berk, in chapter 6, does a competent job of outlining the basics of the universal grammar module. However, Berk’s criticism are off base (or at least incomplete). Her attempt to paint a balanced picture of Chomsky instead outlines a caricature of modularity.

Berk states that “critics of Chomsky’s theory doubt one set of rules can account for all grammatical forms.” However, such a list is unneeded. A genetic factor would only need to account for all behavior within a domain if the claim was that the behavior is ruled entirely by genetics. Yet the list of such thing is vanishingly small. Chomsky and other modular theorists argue for a “G X E” view in which both genetics and environment are independent variables in behavior. This should not be confused with the “interactionist” perspective Berk outlines immediately following the Chomsky sections. While the interactionists maintain that a sort of massive, parrallal, distributed computer exists in the mind and learns modules based on statistical input and perhaps some seed variables, modularists like Chomsky argue that the modules are pre-programmed, and only have to be evoked.

Likewise, as I mentioned in a previous reaction paper, a nativist view does not imply the sort of stability that Berk seems to assume. Modules may be programmed to be evoked in time, and indeed the language module may be composed of several interrelated modules that are naturally evoked at different ages (much as your computer, when it first starts, perhaps loads your web browser first, and then your wireless Internet connection, and only then does the “email module” appear).