With the current state of our government, we have witnessed a corresponding rise in thuggish behavior. Our diversity, which in good times is recognized as a strength, is portrayed by opportunistic barkers as something to be afraid of. There are several ways to counter this, including two things we see now: public protest at major events and increased involvement at all levels of government. Another method is to combat the problem directly with the use of science, by introducing AncestryDNA into the classroom.
This is how it would work. It appears that middle school is where kids tend to notice differences, break off into groups, and establish more of an unhealthy tribal identity. At some point between middle and high school, the district could establish a partnership with AncestryDNA for use in various grades and classrooms. Such a partnership would cross several subject areas and delve into learning about DNA technology, genetics, ethnicity, American and World History, geography and migration, cell biology, and evolution. By the time students leave high school, they would have their AncestryDNA profile, a family tree, and a much better understanding of who they are in the world. There would probably be a few surprises that would encourage more family dialogue and a lifetime interest in science and learning.
The point is to use real science to engage students in constructive and personally-related learning, instead of exposure to content that is curriculum-based but forgotten in a couple of years. It will lead to community wide conversations as to who we are beyond anything we are told or what we might hear. It will challenge numerous preconceived notions and, frankly, some prejudices. I believe we will find that we are truly a melting pot, and the whole notion of identity can be redefined for the better.
I have my own interest in ancestry. My mother had what can only be defined as a tragic beginning. Being born into poverty she was carted off with half of the siblings at the age of seven and dropped into a foster home. Through the use of AncestryDNA, we have discovered an entire branch of relatives in Texas, and links back to old Europe. That is the beauty of science.
I am confident that such an initiative could be undertaken in a cost effective way. It would bring marketable exposure to the district and start a very positive trend. Initiatives such as this are necessary to keep education fresh and engaging. This is the chance to see just how interconnected we are, teach science and history on a more personal and tangible level, and open up all manner of discussion in the process. It gets beyond the current status quo of education delivered to meet quantitative results and makes school more qualitative and meaningful. It allows us to get past shortcut methods of identifying people just by appearance and personal qualms.
If you’re looking for a great gift this holiday, get someone a DNA kit. If you want to stimulate our education like nowhere else, get it into our school district.
We can do better.
Daniel Parker is an author, educator, and public servant. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org