Darwin Day 2018: “How paramount the future is to the present, when one is surrounded by children”

February 12th is International Darwin Day.

Whether you are a parent, a teacher, or in some other capacity given responsibility over the education or raising of children, there is a lesson to be learned from the naturalist Charles Darwin (February 12, 1809 – April 19, 1882).

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From a 2009 issue of Natural History

Darwin was a devoted father, and in certain ways his attachment to his children was uncharacteristic for the Victorian period. Darwin and Emma married in 1842 and had ten children, seven of whom survived into adulthood. His own poor health meant that he did most of his scientific work from his home Down House: reading, observing, experimenting, corresponding, and writing. Thus, his family life and his scientific work intertwined throughout each day, and when his children were sick – which was quite often – his work would be delayed. But he also sought his children’s help, whether physically in experiments or for tossing thoughts back and forth. He included his children in the development of his ideas, and even thought of his children as scientific subjects themselves.

Darwin film Creation (CD with kids)

In the woods with Darwin (Paul Bettany) and some of his children, in a scene from the 2009 film Creation

The lack of original posts on this blog over the last couple of years is due to my raising my own children. As a parent, I appreciate the Darwin that allowed his children to pursue their interests, that introduced his children to nature and scientific subjects, and that sought to understand his own children biologically.

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My son as Charles Darwin in 2017. Photo: Sammy Prugsamatz

Darwin biographer and historian James Moore referred to Down House, its grounds, and the “menagerie” of animals there as “a childhood paradise – an adventure playground, summer camp, and petting farm all rolled into one.” Darwin surely saw the value in exposing his children to nature at home and at places nearby, especially Orchis Bank (now “Downe Bank”), the patch of land that inspired the words about “an entangled bank” in his conclusion to On the Origin of Species (1859).

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My children exploring at a local natural area in Portland, OR, here looking minuscule among the trees

I strive to both teach my children about evolution and to ensure their childhoods are full of plenty of time in nature. With constant challenges to evolution education in public schools and the always present yet increasing threats to the environment, there is no more important time than now to instill in our children a love for science and reason, and an appreciation for the natural world we depend on as a species. For us, and every living thing we share this planet with. Charles Darwin cared for his own family while learning about and sharing with the rest of the world about his larger family – the tree of life. We should allow our children to climb the tree of life, both metaphorically in learning about evolution and biodiversity, and in the real world through nature play.

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My daughter climbing a tree in Portland, OR

In an 1852 letter to his cousin William Darwin Fox, Darwin wrote, reflecting on his duties as a father regarding their educations and whether or not they were to inherit his health problems, “How paramount the future is to the present, when one is surrounded by children.” Our future depends on having citizens that are well-informed in science and that have reasons to vote in favor of the environment. So, let us celebrate Darwin Day – and every day – by taking our kids outside and teaching them about evolution.

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On a note card my mother sent me a few years ago

Resources:

Darwin Correspondence Project: Darwin and Fatherhood

Darwin Correspondence Project: Darwin’s observations on his children

Jim Endersby: “Sympathetic science: Charles Darwin, Joseph Hooker, and the passions of Victorian naturalists,” in the journal Victorian Studies. Endersby discusses Darwin’s role as a father in relation to his botanical work.

Tim Berra: Darwin and His Children: His Other Legacy, from Oxford University Press (Amazon); “Ten facts about Charles Darwin’s ten children.”

James T. Costa: Darwin’s Backyard: How Small Experiments Led to a Big Theory, from W.W. Norton (Amazon). This book recounts Darwin’s many experiments and shows how involved his children were; also, each chapter includes activity instructions for educators.

Carolyn J. Boulter, Michael J. Reiss, and Dawn L. Sanders (eds.): Darwin-Inspired Learning, from Sense Publishers (Amazon). For educators. Particularly the seventh chapter by James Moore, “Getting the Kids Involved – Darwin’s Paternal Example.”

The Bug Chicks blog: a guest post I wrote a few years back about Darwin, nature education, and parenting.

Jonathan Tweet: Grandmother Fish (Amazon). Fantastic book introducing preschool-aged kids to evolution

Kristan Lawson: Darwin and Evolution for Kids: His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities, from Chicago Review Press (Amazon)

Deborah Hopkinson: The Humbleebee Hunter: Inspired by the Life and Experiments of Charles Darwin and His Children, from Hyperion (Amazon). One of my personal favorite books about Darwin, or in this case, his children. My post about this book from 2012 is here.

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Art by Jen Corace from Deborah Hopkinson’s The Humblebee Hunter

 

 

 

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Darwin Day lecture in Portland

I hope to be able to attend this OMSI Science Pub lecture on February 16th:

Why Was Darwin on the HMS Beagle? The History of Evolution as World History
with Richard H. Beyler, PhD, Professor of History at Portland State University​

February 16, 7pm
Located at: Empirical Theater at OMSI
Doors Open @ 5PM | $5 Suggested Donation

HMS Beagle is famous today as the ship on which Charles Darwin sailed around the world in the years 1831 to 1836. This voyage sparked many of the ideas that led to his theory of evolution though natural selection. Yet the voyage of this British navy vessel was not planned in order to ferry this young naturalist across the oceans: his presence on board was almost a coincidence. This presentation is about how the story of Darwin’s early development as a naturalist intersects with the history of international politics, naval strategy, imperial expansion, global trade, and anti-slavery activism.

Richard Beyler is a professor of history at Portland State University, where he teaches history of science and intellectual history.

Dinner will be available in our restaurant, Theory, or from the Empirical Café. Guests can check-in at the theater entrance to reserve a seat before grabbing dinner and drinks. Food and drink are welcome in the theater. Parking is free for the event. Doors open at 5pm.

Darwin Day 2015 is approaching; Darwin lecture in Portland

It’s that time again, when fans of Darwin, science, and reason celebrate Darwin’s birth on February 12th. This year marks the 206th anniversary of his birth.

The Darwin Day website from the American Humanist Association has been revamped, and of course is the place to check for any events planned for your area:

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Another way to find events in your area is to check with the biology or history departments at local universities as well as science centers or natural history museums, and to inquire with any humanist or freethought groups.

And like the Darwin Day Facebook page!

Here in Portland, I hope to attend this lecture on January 26, put on by the local chapter of the FFRF: Darwin’s Dice: The Idea of Chance in the Thought of Charles Darwin. It is open to the public!

Darwin Day 2014 in Portland, OR

Darwin Day is fast approaching – just under three weeks until February 12, 2014. You can see on the Darwin Day website if there are to be any events in your area.

I see nothing listed yet for Oregon, but I know of a few things (let me know of any others!):

CANCELED DUE TO BAD WEATHER IN PORTLAND February 9, 10am – Humanists of Greater Portland: Darwin’s Birthday Potluck

Laurent Beauregard will give a short presentation about Darwin and his work. This will be followed by time for socializing and food. (this is through a Meetup group)

February 12, 7:30-9pm – PSU’s Biology Investigation & Outreach Presents Darwin Day Lecture With Dr. Patricia Brennan

We are pleased to announce that Dr. Patricia Brennan will be joining us to present a talk about the importance of basic science research. Slate.com recently published an article by Dr. Brennan wherein she explained how her research, focused on the evolution of waterfowl genetalia is important for understanding a whole range of evolutionary questions. Please join us for cake and coffee immediately following the lecture.

February 20, 6:30pm – Secular Humanists of East Portland: Origin of Species: Movie and Discussion Night – Pot Luck

The richness and diversity of life raises two of the most profound questions in biology: How do new species form? And, why are there so many species? Our planet has millions of species, including thousands of mammals, fish, birds, and reptiles, and even more butterflies, beetles, and other animals, each adapted to one of an enormous variety of habitats. The Origin of Species series tells the stories of the intrepid naturalists who have traveled the world, from the famed Galápagos Islands to the Malay Archipelago, in search of evidence and answers. This three part presentation is an hour total, so there will be plenty of time to socialize and for discussion. Uniquely, this documentary shows the contributions of Darwin and Wallace almost equally. Also, parts II and III are only about 15 min. long each and present how biologists have demonstrated natural selection and evolution (the change in gene frequency in a population) in the field with Darwin’s finches and anole lizards, thus showing how we know natural selection and evolution are true. You’ll learn some new biology in a short, very understandable format like you were enrolled in a university biology graduate program! Join us for a time of sharing, the movie, discussion to follow, friendship and sharing food. (this is through a Meetup group)

The University of Oregon Museum of Natural and Cultural History in Eugene is also holding some Darwin Day talks: