Friday, May 25, 2012

"Humans Have the Cooperative Edge"

From the article "Planet of the Apes? No, Humans Have the Cooperative Edge", published in the New York Times in March:
So researchers are reporting after a study that compared preschool-age children with chimps and capuchin monkeys when solving a puzzle. The children cooperated; the animals did not.
     . . .
The study highlights one of the most important aspects of modern human society: the power of teaching. "Perhaps the most effective means through which you can cooperate is through teaching,” Dr. Laland said. In this way, a basic skill or piece of knowledge spreads through society, “and then one individual will refine it, and then that will be spread through the society, and then that process will be repeated."
After spending the past three years as a schoolteacher at a secondary school, I now have the utmost admiration and respect for those who do this full-time, all the time. This is hard-ass work, emotionally trying and demanding of a lot of people energy. I've done my bit, and I'm ready to go back to building software, which is hardly easy intellectual labor but which is demanding in a very different way.

Still, there are moments when teaching has felt really, really rewarding. We humans are wired for it — as the article asserts, it's an important reason why we are the alpha species on this planet.

So, Mrs Wolf, Mrs Powell, Mr Falkenstein, Mr Andrews, and Mr Dunne, teachers all, I thank you for the difference you made to this shy skinny Chinese American kid who still remembers you with gratitude and tears as he writes this. -Earl

1 comment:

  1. When my children were very young, I considered entering the teaching profession and did substitute teaching as a way to test the waters. This sobering experience showed me what really hard work good teaching is. I always loved and appreciated so many of the wonderful teachers I had (and my children had!) but nothing made me more appreciative of how hard teaching is than walking a while in their shoes!