Human evolution, social learning and contemporary schooling

Year: 2015

Author: Stevens, Robert

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In The Evolved Apprentice: How Evolution Made Humans Unique the Philosopher, Kim Sterelny attempts to explain the origin and special role of cultural learning (or social learning) in human evolution. He argues that the upstream generation structures the learning environment of the downstream generation, so that trial-and-error learning combined with observational learning and (sometimes) explicit instruction results in the reliable reacquisition of expertise. High fidelity and high bandwidth social learning depends on adapted environments and adapted minds. Social learning has been important in the hominin lineage for a long time. But the social environment and not just individual minds has become increasingly organised to support the flow of information across the generations. Learning is supported by provision of resources to children, giving them the time and space to explore and adsorb and practice skills. They are protected ensuring that their trial-and-error exploration is not catastrophic. In many cultures toys and games teach skills. Social learning is enhanced by tolerating inquisitiveness about adult activities, by allowing them opportunities to explore adult material culture, and providing children with advice and explicit instruction. In this paper I will examine the implications of Sterelny’s arguments for contemporary schooling.