I type on a plane that just left Los Angeles – bound for the East Coast – where I will need to switch from my HBES (Human Behavior and Evolution Society) identity to my identity as husband, dad, dog owner, New Paltz faculty member, vice president of the Friends of the Plattekill Public Library, etc. Back to the real world.
HBES is decidedly not the real world. And I mean that in a good way. HBES is something of a Mecca for evolutionists – and this year’s meeting in LA – my fourth HBES meeting – was as great as ever. Surrounded by such luminaries in the field as David Buss, Steve Gangestad, Pete Richerson, and, of course, the driving force behind the EvoS movement, David Sloan Wilson, attending this conference is sort of like being immersed in the Major League All-Star game – and even being allowed to swing the bat a few times. Being surrounded by so many important minds – each with an understanding of the shared principles that comprise evolutionary theory – is simply awesome.
This year, we were fortunate to have an HBES symposium dedicated to the single most important idea that I’ve come across in higher education: EvoS. I’ve done a good bit in my career – and am pleased with many of the courses I teach, papers and books I’ve published, students I’ve sent into the real world with their own wings, etc. – but it is without question that starting the EvoS program at New Paltz is, in my mind, the singular most important accomplishment of my career. I was totally honored to be part of the EvoS symposium at HBES – along with such academic rock stars as Rosemarie Chang, Dan O’Brien, and David Sloan Wilson. In this blog, I hope to continue where our symposium left off, elaborating on the pedagogical excitement that is unique to EvoS.
Before the advent of EvoS-New Paltz, as a member of a psychology department teaching evolutionary psychology, I just felt that my passion for teaching this stuff was stifled – and that was disappointing. While students would just line up to take the class – fill all the seats within hours of pre-registration – and rave about its impact on their thinking afterward – my position as the sole evolutionary psychologist on campus sort of made my evolutionary psychology course a curricular dead-end. They would take it, tell me how much they loved it, ask why it was “only an elective” in the psychology major (don’t ask – long and unpleasant story on that!), and ask and ask and ask for more related courses.
The second I heard about David Wilson’s groundbreaking work with EvoS-Binghamton, I immediately saw the potential of this program for our campus. In fact, it struck me as such a great idea that I almost felt like a nit-wit for not thinking of it myself. Of course! Students with interests in my evolutionary psychology course SHOULD take a course with Tom Nolen in evolutionary biology. They should take a course in genetics with Jeff Reinking or Jen Waldo. They should take a course about bugs with Aaron Haselton. They should take Ken Nystrom’s human evolution course in anthropology. They should take a course with Alex Bartholomew in paleontology. They should hike into the Gunks – our local mountains – and learn about the evolutionary stories told by both the fossil-laden rocks and the rich biodiversity found in the forest – just minutes from our campus. Think about how much that would embellish their education! And we should bring in speakers on various topics related to evolution – to help students make connections across these courses – using the famously powerful nature of evolutionary theory – as a map that would allow for the building of intellectual bridges across different academic disciplines (AKA, “the islands of the ivory archipelago” (Wilson, 2007)).
Post-script: The EvoS program at SUNY New Paltz, about to enter its third year of existence, has exceeded any and all expectations I had when I worked to help launch it just a few years back. I really can’t overstate the excitement associated with this program in our community. Keep an eye out for updates to “Building Darwin’s Bridges” for details regarding EvoS-New Paltz as well as commentary on the EvoS Consortium. I’m fully convinced that the EvoS Consortium has potential to be the event that successfully (and finally) leads to the integration of Darwinism across all scholarly areas.
Post-post-script: Thanks to EvoS webmaster and journal editor, Rosemarie Chang, a true inspiration, for giving me the nudge I needed to start this blog!