There is a striking contrast between what youngsters in hunter-gatherer societies had to learn to become successful adults during the Pleistocene epoch and what today’s youth have to learn in order to prosper in modern-day economies. Formal schooling in contemporary society demands that students acquire increasingly abstract knowledge at progressively younger ages. Furthermore, whether learning to read or solve an algebra problem, such evolutionarily novel abilities are taught primarily in age-segregated classroom settings that are atypical for our species relative to the age-mixed environments in which ancestral youth acquired culturally-important skills through observation and apprenticeship. As the modern brain is essentially the same as that of our forbears, an evolutionary perspective can shed light on how instructional approaches, curricular materials, and educational contexts may unintentionally activate ancient cognitive mechanisms and motivational dispositions that can be maladaptive for learning in contemporary classrooms. And although some noteworthy theoretical progress has been made in this regard, its impact on educational research, policy, and practice to date has been limited. Additionally, such ideas have by and large not received adequate coverage at leading research conferences or annual scholarly meetings. Consequently, the proposed conference will provide a unique opportunity to assemble a group of speakers who espouse an evolutionary perspective on child development, learning, and schooling, yet whose particular areas of expertise span a diverse range of disciplines. This gathering will facilitate the exchange of cutting-edge findings and recent theoretical developments, promote new collaborations, and advance the design of innovative educational research methods to test falsifiable evolutionary hypotheses pertaining to formal education. Substantive topics will include: character education, acquiring moral knowledge and actions (e.g., fairness and social justice), the importance of play in learning and development, the costs and benefits of cooperative learning and real-world problem solving, and the evolutionary origins of pedagogy.
This research conference is supported by a grant from the Education Research Conferences Program of the American Educational Research Association.