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Educators typically think that one teaches evolution to develop students' conceptual understanding of evolution. It is assumed that if students understand evolution they will believe it. From a constructivist perspective it can be argued that understanding and belief, though related, are distinct concepts each of which is a potential goal for instruction. Though there are good reasons why belief should not be an instructional goal, achieving conceptual understanding requires that issues of belief be addressed. The point is that students are not likely to gain much understanding of something that they dismiss outright as unbelievable. What counts as believable for an individual rests on that person's world view. This article argues that instruction on evolution can profitably begin with a dialogue on what counts as believable. Such a dialogue would be based on a study of the cultural history of Darwinism which would allow students to see how people in Darwin's day wrestled with the same fundamental questions at issue today. The purpose of this strategy is to create a shared meaning in the classroom that certain fundamental questions are worth discussing and that the biological principles of evolution can contribute to that discussion. Thus, rather than trying to present evolution as a purely scientific issue, this article suggests the rather unorthodox strategy of explicitly addressing the social and cultural issues related to the topic of origins.


SLCSP Paper # 112

Published Citation

Cobern, William W. "Cultural Constructivist Approach to the Teaching of Evolution." Journal of Research in Science Teaching 31.5 (1994): 1-13.