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Am J Phys Anthropol. 2005;Suppl 41:154-62.

Role of physical anthropology in intermediate and secondary education.

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  • 1Department of Anthropology, University of Missouri at St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri 63121-4499, USA.


The role of physical anthropology in precollegiate education has been limited, but has the potential to play a vital and integral role in promoting students' understanding of themselves and others. This study describes the development, implementation, and results of a program constructed on an inquiry-based learning model that introduces middle and high school students to the content of physical anthropology. Demonstrated student learning indicates that intermediate and secondary students are capable of acquiring and applying complex content about human evolution and diversity. Program findings indicate that students frequently had previous knowledge about the hominid fossil record but little information about the significance of human biological diversity. Teaching intermediate and high school students about our common evolutionary heritage and the fact that humans exhibit clinal variation were found to be both powerful and effective content material. The fact that program participants lacked previous knowledge about the relationship between human biological diversity (illustrated in this program by light and dark skin color) and the erroneous sociocultural construction of this diversity confirmed the suspicion that this content is not being addressed in precollegiate education. Traditionally, intermediate and secondary students are taught about human variation within the context of social studies, reading, communication, and fine-arts classes. This program identifies a new paradigm for teaching about human variation. Providing students with scientific knowledge about human origins and diversity provides a constructive starting point, creating a common platform and knowledge base on which to then frame discussions about cultural variation.

(c) 2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.

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