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Evolution Institute sponsors workshop on early childhood education

The Evolution Institute, a new think tank designed to formulate public policy from an evolutionary perspective, has organized a workshop to examine early childhood education. Authorities on childhood development and education who have adopted the evolutionary perspective in their own work met at the University of Miami, Florida during November 14-16, 2008, followed by a symposium open to the general public on November 17, 2008.

The purpose of the workshop was to discuss how early childhood education can be reformulated on the basis of evolutionary theory, resulting in recommendations for future basic scientific research and implementation in real world settings. The Evolution Institute will assist putting the recommendations into action following the workshop.

Workshop participants are listed below, followed by a sample of their articles. The workshop is co-sponsored by the Humanists of Florida Association (Jerry Lieberman, President and co-director of the Evolution Institute) and the University of Miami (William Scott Green, Senior Vice Provost).  David Sloan Wilson (co-director of the Evolution Institute) is the academic coordinator for the workshop.

Videos of workshop presentations are now available!


Daniel Berch is the new associate Dean for Research and Faculty Development at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education. Formerly, he was Associate Chief of the Child Development and Behavior Branch at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NIH). He is an authority on children’s numerical cognition, mathematical learning disabilities, and spatial information processing, and has written about the educational implications of evolutionary theory with respect to the design of effective instructional practices. He is the senior editor of Why is math so hard for some children? The nature and origins of mathematical learning difficulties and disabilities (with M.M.M. Mazzocco, Paul H. Brookes 2007) and of Sex chromosome abnormalities and human behavior: Psychological studies (with B.G. Bender, AAAS/Westview 1990).

Anthony Biglan is a Senior Scientist at Oregon Research Institute, Director of the Center on Early Adolescence, and past President of the Society for Prevention Research.  He has been doing research for the last 25 years on the prevention of adolescent problem behaviors, including numerous experimental evaluations of interventions to prevent tobacco, other drug use, high-risk sexual behavior, reading failure, and aggressive social behavior. He is author of Helping Adolescents at Risk (with P.A. Brennan, S.L. Foster, and H.D. Holder, Guildford 2003) and Changing Cultural Practices: A Contextualist Framework for Intervention Research (Context, 1995).

David Bjorklund is Professor of Psychology at Florida Atlanta University. His research interests are in the areas of cognitive development and evolutionary developmental psychology. He serves as editor of the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology and is author of Why Youth is Not Wasted on the Young: Immaturity in Human Development (Blackwell, 2007) and Children’s Thinking: Cognitive Development and Individual Differences (Wadsworth, 2005), Origins of the Social Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and Child Development (with Bruce Ellis, Guilford, 2004), and The Origins of Human Nature: Evolutionary Developmental Psychology (with Anthony Pellegrini, APA, 2001).

Bruce Ellis is Professor of Family Studies and Human Development and the John & Doris Norton Endowed Chair in Fathers, Parenting, and Families at the University of Arizona. His research uses evolutionary theory as a framework for studying gene-environment interactions during development, especially with respect to sexual development and child stress reactivity. He employs a variety of methodologies, including descriptive longitudinal work, behavioral observation, laboratory assessment of biological reactivity to stressors, experimental manipulations, direct interviews, and questionnaire measures using self- and peer-reports. The overarching theoretical framework that organizes his research is Evolutionary Developmental Psychology, as outlined in his book co-authored with David Bjorklund (cited above).

Dennis Embry is scientist-entrepreneur who is president of PAXIS Institute in Tucson, AZ.  He has developed large, population-level behavior-change projects and studies for injury control in New Zealand, violence prevention in America, military deployments during the Gulf War, and tobacco control in multiple states with experimental designs. He is presently developing statewide initiatives for child abuse and multi-problem behavior prevention for the state of Florida, Alaska and other states. He was the first author of a $50 million plan for Wyoming funded by its legislature. His scholarly writing focuses on social change applied to large population-level change— integrating brain, behavioral, and evolutionary factors. He is a former National Research Advisory Council Senior Fellow in the Commonwealth, recipient of the science to practice award in 2006 by the Society for Prevention Research, and author of multiple manuals and training efforts for social change. He is currently preparing a new popular book and TV program for PBS entitled, “Youthanasia: How modern culture is slowly killing our youth and what can be done.”

David Geary is Curators’ Professor of Psychology at the University of Missouri. He is a cognitive developmental psychologist with interests in mathematical learning and in evolution. His books include The Origin of Mind: Evolution of Brain, Cognition, and General Intelligence (APA, 2005), Male, female: The evolution of human sex differences (APA, 1998), and Children’s Mathematical Development (APA, 1994). He was Chair of the Learning Processes task group of the President’s National Mathematics Panel and is lead investigator on a longitudinal study of children’s mathematical development and learning abilities. Among many distinctions are the Chancellor’s Award for Outstanding Research and Creative Activity in the Social and Behavioral Sciences (1996), a scientific MERIT award from the National Institutes of Health, and an appointment by President Bush to serve a three-year term on the National Board of Directors for the Institute for Education Sciences (U.S. Department of Education).

Peter Gray is Research Professor of Psychology at Boston College and author of Psychology, one of the main introductory textbooks, currently in its 5th edition. His textbook is one of the first to approach psychology as a whole from an evolutionary perspective. His past research concerned the nature of mammalian motivational mechanisms and his current research on childhood education and play was initially motivated by his son’s unsatisfactory public school experience, which caused Peter to investigate alternative schooling practices modeled after traditional societies and evolutionary theory. Recent publications include “Playing in the Zone of Proximal Development: Qualities of Self-Directed Age Mixing Between Adolescents and Young Children at a Democratic School (with Jay Feldman,  American Journal of Education, 110, 108-145. 2004). Peter writes a weekly blog on the Psychology Today site. The series is entitled Freedom to Learn: Play, Curiosity, and Education.

Anthony Pellegrini is a Professor in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities Campus. His teaching and research interests include observational research methods, children’s peer relations, the role of play in development, and social contextual influences on classroom achievement. In his lab, he and his students are currently studying longitudinally preschool children’s social behavior and dominance, sex segregation and theory of mind using direct observations of children in their classrooms. Recent publications include: Co-authoring (with David Bjorklund) The origins of human nature: Evolutionary developmental psychology, co-editing (with Peter Smith) The nature of play: Great apes and humans, and author of the upcoming, The role of play in human development.


Sample of articles on early childhood development and education from an evolutionary perspective:

Posted on Wednesday, November 5th, 2008 in News by EvoS.

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