I've been quite impressed with the science and technology curriculum as revised in 2008 and I'm hearing good things about the next revision. The teaching of evolution, like all aspects of the curriculum, focuses on understanding the basic concepts and on encouraging students to think for themselves. Students learn about evolution and diversity in the primary grades where the emphasis is on the relationship of humans and other species [The Ontario Curriculum: Elementary: Science and Technology]. In grade 1 they learn that "Plants and animals, including people, are living things" (page 44) and in Grade 2 one of the "big ideas" is that humans are animals (page 58).
In grade 4, students learn "living things (including humans) rely on other living things" (page 84). In grade 6 the biology curriculum focuses on "biodiversity." Many of the lessons are about the human impact on biodiversity but this appears to be the first year where students learn about the relationship of various species and the history of life. Teaching the actual history of life from the fossil record etc. isn't specifically covered in any part of the Ontario elementary school curriculum. That includes teaching that birds are related to dinosaurs, plants evolve from algae, and insects are related to lobsters. Thus, it's not a surprise that the curriculum doesn't specifically cover the history of human evolution, including all the fossils.
Nevertheless, classification is an important part of the Grade 6 curriculum and one of the basic concepts is ... (page 113)
3.1 identify and describe the distinguishing characteristics of different groups of plants and animals (e.g., invertebrates have no spinal column; insects have three basic body parts; flowering plants produce flowers and fruits), and use these characteristics to further classify various kinds of plants and animals (e.g., invertebrates – arthropods – insects; vertebrates – mammals – primates; seed plants – flowering plants – grasses)There's noting here that excludes humans from discussions about the evolution of primates and all teachers that I've talked to say that human evolution is not avoided.
Much of the emphasis in grades 1-8 is on technology instead of science and most of the biology curriculum focuses on how humans interact with the environment. I'm not a big fan of this approach because it misrepresents the importance of science as a way of knowing but the overall science curriculum seems sound. I also don't like the fact that there's a fair amount of proselytizing about protecting the environment and the superior lifestyle of aboriginal people. These may or may not be good things but the approach is very one-sided.
The high school science curriculum is more about science with less emphasis on technology [The Ontario Curriculum: Secondary, Science]. Here's how the Ministry of Education describes the high school curriculum on the nature of science... (page 4)
THE NATURE OF SCIENCEThe curriculum is infused with statements of this sort. It's inconceivable that the authors intended to exclude any discussion about human evolution.
The primary goal of science is to understand the natural and human-designed worlds. Science refers to certain processes used by humans for obtaining knowledge about nature, and to an organized body of knowledge about nature obtained by these processes. Science is a dynamic and creative activity with a long and interesting history. Many societies have contributed to the development of scientific knowledge and understanding .... Scientists continuously assess and judge the soundness of scientific knowledge claims by testing laws and theories, and modifying them in light of compelling new evidence or a re-conceptualization of existing evidence.Science is a way of knowing that seeks to describe and explain the natural and physical world. An important part of scientific literacy is an understanding of the nature of science, which includes an understanding of the following:
SCCAO and STAO/APSO, “Position Paper: The
Nature of Science” (2006), pp. 1–2
Occasionally, theories and concepts undergo change, but for the most part, the fundamental concepts of science – to do with phenomena such as the cellular basis of life, the laws of energy, the particle theory of matter – have proved stable.
- what scientists, engineers, and technologists do as individuals and as a community
- how scientific knowledge is generated and validated, and what benefits, costs, and risks are involved in using this knowledge
- how science interacts with technology, society, and the environment
Unfortunately, the biology curriculum in grade 9 is all about protecting the environment and not about science. It's a little better in grade 10 where students learn about cell, tissues, organs, and system. I don't see anything in the description of that curriculum that makes humans any different that other species.
In grades 11 & 12 the biology curriculum is split into three paths: biology, environmental science, and genetics [Ontario Curriculum: Grades 11 & 12: Science]. Here's the grade 11 biology curriculum ... (page 46)
Big IdeasHere are the basic concepts ...
Diversity of Living things
- All living things can be classified according to their anatomical and physiological characteristics.
- Human activities affect the diversity of living things in ecosystems.
- Evolution is the process of biological change over time based on the relationships between species and their environments.
- The theory of evolution is a scientific explanation based on a large accumulation of evidence.
- Technology that enables humans to manipulate the development of species has economic and environmental implications.
- Genetic and genomic research can have social and environmental implications.
- Variability and diversity of living organisms result from the distribution of genetic
materials during the process of meiosis.
B3.1 explain the fundamental principles of taxonomy and phylogeny by defining concepts of taxonomic rank and relationship, such as genus, species, and taxonI don't see anything in that description that limits the discussion to non-humans. The general tone of the description does not support the claim that human evolution can't be taught in Ontario schools.
B3.2 compare and contrast the structure and function of different types of prokaryotes, eukaryotes, and viruses (e.g., compare and contrast genetic material, metabolism, organelles, and other cell parts)
B3.3 describe unifying and distinguishing anatomical and physiological characteristics (e.g., types of reproduction, habitat, general physical structure) of representative organisms from each of the kingdoms
B3.4 explain key structural and functional changes in organisms as they have evolved over time (e.g., the evolution of eukaryotes from prokaryotes, of plants from unicellular organisms)
B3.5 explain why biodiversity is important to maintaining viable ecosystems (e.g., biodiversity helps increase resilience to stress and resistance to diseases or invading species)
C2.3 analyse, on the basis of research, and report on the contributions of various scientists to modern theories of evolution (e.g., Charles Lyell, Thomas Malthus, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, Charles Darwin, Stephen Jay Gould, Niles Eldredge)
C3.1 explain the fundamental theory of evolution, using the evolutionary mechanism of natural selection to illustrate the process of biological change over time
C3.2 explain the process of adaptation of individual organisms to their environment (e.g., some disease-causing bacteria in a bacterial population can survive exposure to antibiotics due to slight genetic variations from the rest of the population, which allows successful surviving bacteria to pass on antibiotic resistance to the next generation)
C3.3 define the concept of speciation, and explain the process by which new species are formed
C3.4 describe some evolutionary mechanisms (e.g., natural selection, artificial selection, sexual selection, genetic variation, genetic drift, biotechnology), and explain how they affect the evolutionary development and extinction of various species (e.g., Darwin’s finches, giraffes, pandas)
D3.1 explain the phases in the process of meiosis in terms of cell division, the movement of chromosomes, and crossing over of genetic material
D3.2 explain the concepts of DNA, genes, chromosomes, alleles, mitosis, and meiosis, and how they account for the transmission of hereditary characteristics according to Mendelian laws of inheritance
D3.3 explain the concepts of genotype, phenotype, dominance, incomplete dominance, codominance, recessiveness, and sex linkage according to Mendelian laws of inheritance
D3.5 describe some reproductive technologies (e.g., cloning, artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization, recombinant DNA), and explain how their use can increase the genetic diversity of a species (e.g., farm animals, crops)
This does not seem to me like a curriculum that excludes teaching about the evolution of humans. Apparently Jerry Coyne disagrees and so does the anonymous author of Darwnquixote. All the high school teachers I've talked to, and all those commenting on the blogs, seem to agree that human evolution is taught in Ontario schools.
The grade 12 biology curriculum is divided into five parts: biochemistry, metabolic processes, molecular genetics, homeostasis, and population dynamics. Evolution seems to be implicit in all five topics. I see no evidence that humans are to be treated any differently than all other organisms. For example, in the section on mutations there's no indication that humans are different.
While it's true that there are no specific instructions in the biology curriculum covering the history of human evolution and the fossil record, it's also true that there are no instruction for describing the history of evolution of any other species. Explicit mention of the history of life and the fossil record is entirely absent from the biology curriculum. They are covered under Earth History (Geology). Here are the basic concepts for grade 12.
D3.1 describe evidence for the evolution of life through the Proterozoic, Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic eras, using important groups of fossils that date from each era (e.g., stromatolites, trilobites, brachiopods, crinoids, fish, angiosperms, gymnosperms, dinosaurs, mammals)It's hard to imagine that the authors of such a curriculum intended to exclude any discussion of human evolution. It's hard to imagine that any teacher following that curriculum would treat human evolution as an exception.
D3.2 describe various kinds of evidence that life forms, climate, continental positions, and Earth’s crust have changed over time (e.g., evidence of mass extinction, of past glaciations, of the existence of Pangaea and Gondwanaland)
D3.3 describe some processes by which fossils are produced and/or preserved (e.g., original preservation, carbonization, replacement, permineralization, mould and cast formations)
D3.4 compare and contrast relative and absolute dating principles and techniques as they apply to natural systems(e.g., the law of superposition; the law of cross-cutting relationships; varve counts; carbon-14 or uranium-lead dating)
D3.5 identify and describe the various methods of isotopic age determination, giving for each the name of the isotope, its half-life, its effective dating range, and some of the materials that it can be used to date (e.g., uranium-lead dating of rocks; carbon dating of organic materials)
D3.6 explain the influence of paradigm shifts (e.g., from uniformitarianism to catastrophism) in the development of geological thinking
D3.7 explain the different types of evidence used to determine the age of Earth (e.g., index fossils; evidence provided by radiometric dating of geological materials or lithostratigraphy) and how this evidence has influenced our understanding of the age of the planet.
There may be lots of things wrong with our education system but avoiding evolution isn't one of them. Nor is it possible that evolution could be thoroughly covered in a mostly correct manner while avoiding the fact that humans are part of it.