Education Theory by Undergrad Gets Published

In a school system that values standardized testing and high scores to accompany it, a SUNY New Paltz student found this approach to teaching to be highly unnatural and incompatible with the evolutionary history of humans. 

And so a concrete undergrad thesis was born and later published under the American Psychological Association (APA), making it the only evolution-based journal published by the APA, a major disciplinary journal. 

This significant achievement was earned by Early Childhood and Childhood Education major Katie Gruskin when she was only an undergrad. As an honors student, Gruskin ‘17 ‘19g had the opportunity to take an honors seminars, on topics that she believed would be unrelated to her major. 

Gruskin decided to take the interdisciplinary Evolutionary Studies Program with Founding Director and psychology professor Glenn Geher, and the class proved to have a direct correlation with her major. By learning about the evolution of human learning and teaching, she learned how the role of educating children has developed.

With the help of Dr. Geher and director of the Honors Program, Dr. Patricia Sullivan, she was able to conduct a survey of 361 students at the College to find out if an evolutionary relevant (hands on learning, academic interactions with different age group peers and free play) education leads to success through both secondary and postsecondary education, according to the publications abstract. 

The results revealed that this was indeed true. With this information Gruskin was able to prove her thesis that the current education system is heavily reliant on lectures, textbooks and testing only limits the capabilities of children and creates barriers of true growth that our human ancestors did not face. 

Using the evolutionary studies of scholar Peter Gray, and her sample survey, Gruskin was able to prove the problem of modern education that does not follow the model of human development in the journal “The Evolved Classroom: Using Evolutionary theory to Inform Elementary Pedagogy,” which she co-wrote with Dr. Geher.

In hunter gatherer culture, children of all different ages would be mixed together and adult supervision was not emphasized. 

“Splitting kids by age is really unnatural,” said Gruskin. “Kids are able to learn from each other; older children learn empathy and caregiving and children learn by example.” 

According to the journal, “The absence of a teacher also allows the children to dictate their own ‘curriculum’ and use of time.” 

Gruskin refers to the concept of “play time.” Current educational institutions do not emphasis play time, since it is deemed unimportant.

“Play is a safe space, it allows children to work on social behavior and leadership without being in a stressful environment. Learning from experience was replaced with standard curriculum and play was replaced by pen and paper,” Gruskin said.  

Gruskin’s findings emphasized the point that our modern school system does not pair well with the evolved education preferences of children, and as a graduate student and substitute teacher, this has changed the way she views her career. 

“This work is definitely a lens I’ve used when I’m teaching,” she said. “It’s import to work with children individually, give them choices and expand on hands on learning.”