Education's Ecology

Biological Foundations

A primary argument of education's ecology asserts that "Nothing in education makes sense except in the light of biology." That is not to deny the history of education, but it does recognize that education has evolved and will continue evolving. Identifying when education began is fraught but it is impossible to ignore that much of what occurs or is labeled as education even today began in a period of human development before much was known about even anatomy let alone all of our accumulated knowledge about physiology, biochemistry and the molecular biology of inheritance. The advance of life science even across just a quarter century provides a dramatically different perspective to foster an understanding of education and human development. We will see that all of the tools and principles of contemporary biology will be needed going forward.

As education moves forward, its evolution will explore and expand on the many levels of organization embraced by biology. Ecology is a biological science that expands and embellishes on systems thinking and the concept of emergence that flows from understanding how systems constitute an inseparable element of life and the universe within which life exists. Life itself is a system within systems. All of nature is a system of systems. Understanding any facet of nature requires a study of systems. It follows, then, that whatever place education has in nature, understanding education will follow, not lead, an understanding of systems.

Systems are inherent in understanding life and biology is the study of life. Education is about the development of human beings; organisms that inhabit a place on this planet. Every organism exists through a period of time and then ceases to exist. The cycles of birth and death are generative through variation and change. Life on earth is represented by literally many millions of cycles characteristic of the species. Each cycle represents the ontology or development of an individual. The success of the collective cycles of populations and associations of populations in communities represents adaptations to physical environments across vast expanses of time. Evolution is embedded in the thinking of biologists as they study and attempt to understand complex life processes and cycles. Accordingly, evolution and development "EvoDevo" constitute a core upon which we build understanding. Understanding education will increasingly build from foundations of EvoDevo.

Understanding of evolution followed Charles Darwin's vast evidence of variation and change across time for biological species. Gregor Mendel opened a sound way to think about inheritance. The synthesis of evolution and genetics established a foundation for all  of contemporary biology. The body of any specific organism is always composed of cells; the simplest forms in nature that are known to exhibit the characteristics of life. Much can be said and much has been said about the characteristics of life. What follows will embellish on three characteristics; organization, metabolism and self-perpetuation. Each of these characteristics have profound implications for education.

Biology, it goes without saying, is a huge body of knowledge and the study of biology advances by engagement. Education will increasingly depend on and benefit from engagement with biology. In all of human development there may be nothing more fundamentally engaging and biological than conception that starts a developmental cycle of a new individual. Engagement with life and biology may follow many different trajectories from a central core of biology's core ideas and principles. It is the contention of the author supporting this website that education is fundamentally a social system that is an extension of biological thinking about systems and the ecology that follows such thinking. Accordingly, knowledge of biological principles, concepts and practices enhance all work related to education. Educators of the future will increasingly look toward the biological sciences, particularly neuroscience, as the tracks upon which the education engine will run.

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Last revised 16 January 2021.