Thursday, February 24, 2011

Changing worldview

Recently, I was prepping for an instructional workshop and, as per usual, collected way too many books.  Cut from this vast assortment were three resources all about Charles Darwin.

Now before you think my workshop was about science resources, let me clarify that it was to be for social studies, grades 7-12, with a focus on worldview.  (Worldview is one of the over arching concepts set out by Alberta Education in the social studies curriculum.)

The three resources were just such a tidy little package that I decided I had to share.

The first is a book I recently read and had particularly enjoyed, Charles and Emma: the Darwins’ leap of faith by Deborah Heiligman (576.82 HeC 2009).  This is nonfiction at its best.  It focuses on Charles’ work, especially as it impacted his personal life.  It starts off with his considerations about whether to marry or not. Once he decides to marry and Emma Wedgewood is wooed and accepts Darwin’s proposal, we learn how he meshes the two spheres (work and family) together.  Even his children are drawn into his work, literally, as Darwin occasionally uses them as test subjects.

Though the book does work through the process of how Darwin develops his theory about natural selection, it’s important to recognize (as the book does) the significance of Emma.  It is knowing how much Darwin loved and respected her that allows us to develop a broader understanding about this historical period and why Darwin worried so much about publishing his work for the general populace.  Emma was very devout and represents the ‘religious’ contingent whom Darwin knew would not be receptive to his theory.  He did not look forward to having to defend his work to those he knew would challenge him and he loathed the idea that, when he published his theory, Emma would be upset by it as well. 

The second book is The Darwin Experience by John Van Wyhe (576.82 VaD 2008).  This fantastic book is produced by the National Geographic Society and is another splendid way to explore Darwin’s world. The book slips out of a lovely boxed cover (it looks like it’s supposed to be a photo/memory album).  Within are lots of photographs and illustrations, boxed information and many reproduced primary documents.  The first one I came across is the ‘not marry/marry’ list that I mentioned from the first book, Charles and Emma.  Lots to peruse, read, and delve into with this one.

And third, is the novel, Ringside 1925: views from the Scopes trial by Jen Bryant.  This is a novel, based on a true story and told in narrative verse, about the trial of J.T. Scopes, a science teacher tried in a Tennessee court of law for teaching evolution in the early 20th century.  It is related by several fictional children and adults who represent the range of views held about Darwin’s theory of natural selection.  So, we meet some townspeople who are very open-minded and very keen to learn more about meshing faith and science (including a minister) but also Bible-thumping do-gooders, who see no redeeming value in anything not found in the Good Book. This is a fairly quick read, for grades 7 and up, that shows the long-term impact of Charles Darwin’s theories and the passionate debates that have happened in the past and continue even today.

There is no doubt that Charles Darwin was a man who rocked his and our world.  Looking at these resources is just one possible avenue for exploring the influences and impact of worldview on everyday life and see how far-ranging they can be.


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