Just like children, laws of biology are variable

Why can’t our children be more like me? Even being more like my wife would be preferable to what they are more like. I guess it’s our fault for not parenting properly. I guess that’s why Congress enacted the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, to try and make all students more like what they should be like. Children’s unique differences, however, do illustrate a couple of important points. The points may even be slightly scientific, but I’m sure you don’t expect too much of that in this column.

Presumably, all water molecules are alike. There may be occasional aberration in the arrangement of two hydrogen molecules to one oxygen molecule. For example, you can put two hydrogen molecules on one oxygen molecule sometimes. But then we don’t call it water. Then it’s called hydrogen peroxide. Chemistry is pretty much what we have learned about how molecules act almost all the time.

Similarly, the laws of gravity are pretty uniform as soon as you understand them, even if we have no idea where gravity comes from. Everything seems to fall, and cease falling, according to the same rules of acceleration, velocity and violence. 

Physics and chemistry are basically the study of those things in the natural world that are highly predictable, reliable and uniform. That is why these two sciences are inherently boring, if useful. (I’m sure I will soon be adequately instructed on the fascination inherent in these two subjects.) They deal with what happens with almost perfect uniformity.

On the other hand, consider children. These portions of the natural world are highly variable, unpredictable, chaotic and volatile. My wife and I now have many more grandchildren than four and the variety is astounding. At one time I thought maybe that was just an odd expression of my particular genetic pool.  A lifetime of observations has shown me that there are, or have been, an infinite number of weird people in the world. 

A lifetime as a biologist has also demonstrated that this same variability can be found in all organic systems. One can learn to note surprising differences between individual mosquitoes or bees if you look at enough of them. (Only peculiar subsets of the population seem to have the inclination to examine large numbers of mosquitoes or bees. Part of the weird variety, I guess.) 

So one of the only uniform laws of biology is that there can’t be many uniform laws of biology. Or we could say that variability is the law. If variability is the law, then there is no law. Is there?  Wait, I’m getting confused.   

The point is, we humans keep getting the different kinds of science mixed up. Our physics side wants everything to be uniform and predictable. However, our organic side forbids uniformity. I think that’s why every human strives to be considered unique, at least in the same way that another group is identically unique. That’s how we get Goths, bikers, nerds, jocks, hicks, columnists and other semi-unique categories. 

Nowhere is the drive for uniformity more obvious than in the way we educate our children. Modern educational theory seems to be that everyone should learn the same thing, at the same time, in the same way, in the same place, and within the same time frame. This doesn’t even address the problem of deciding what things ought to be learned. The present approach is obviously imposing a non-biological, uniform, objective method on subjects that require organic, variable, and subjective solutions. 

You can even tell the drive for uniformity by the names chosen for the various methods (i.e. “Common Core”). The drive for uniformity all started when parents wanted to make their kids just like themselves. When that failed, non-parents decided they could make other peoples kids just like they thought they should be. This was called the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. 

It didn’t work, either.

Gary McCallister, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), is a professor of biology at Colorado Mesa University.


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