New Historian

Humans Hard-Wired to Teach, Anthropologist Says

Lubieniecki School Teacher

<![CDATA[An anthropologist from Washington State University says that, based on his research into modern hunter-gatherer societies, the desire to teach is hard-wired into humanity’s genetic code. Barry Hewlett began his study of modern hunter-gatherers around four decades ago, when he noted how the Aka people of the western Congo basin in Africa would provide their infant children knives, digging sticks and small axes to play with whenever the adults would stop between hunts to rest. While most parents in the developed world would never dream of such an action, Hewlett says that over the 40 years he’s been observing the Aka, not only has he never witnessed a child hurting themselves but he’s interpreted this behavior as a teaching method. This prompted the anthropologist to conduct a small-scale study of the Aka, the conclusion of which, according to Hewlett, is that pedagogy is built in to the human genome, he calls it “part of our human nature.” In an interview with Laboratory Equipment, Hewlett noted that in small-scale groups such as the Aka, teaching exists in a much different way than it does in a formal setting in a developed region. However, he says that his findings indicate that the education the children of modern hunter-gatherers receive could lead to new insights as to how humanity educated itself through the majority of its history. As he has studied some of the last true hunter-gatherer societies left in the modern world, Hewlett has extrapolated the behavior of parents towards their children in these small-scale societies to how ancient humans handled education as they lived in similar or identical environments. For example, the Aka seem to hold individual autonomy in high regard. Individuals within the group are also loathe to intervene in the education of children that aren’t their own, which reflects a general impetus to not coerce or instruct each other on how to live their lives. Hewlett added that while other social-cultural anthropologists have also observed Aka children handling the sharp implements, most of his colleagues have dismissed the actions as “play.” He did acknowledge however, that anthropologists have and do recognize that not all education takes place in formal environments. Hewlett says he is more in line with evolutionary biologists and cognitive psychologists who suggest that education is universal in the form of a “natural pedagogy,” a concept put forward by Central European University’s Gyorgy Gergely. The cognitive psychologist says this teaching method involves teachers demonstrating skills directly to children who then use context clues to learn about their environment through the help of imitation. In supporting Gergely’s theories, Hewlett remarked that pedagogy is a two-way street between teacher and child, with the latter needing to understand the significance of the former’s context cues as much as the teacher needs to adapt their approach to ensure the cues he or she uses are effective. The research study, which appears in Royal Society Open Science, can be found online here]]>

Exit mobile version