Homo Pedagogicus : The Evolutionary Nature of Second Language Teaching
Professor Dwight Atkinson (the University of Arizona)
Second language teacher educators tirelessly teach others how to teach. But how often do we actually define teaching? Without explicit, focused definitional activity on this fundamental concept in second language teaching (SLT), it remains implicit and intuitive--the opposite of clear, productive understanding.
I therefore explore the definitional question, "What is teaching?" in this paper. First, I establish the claim that the SLT literature rarely defines teaching explicitly, in part because of its technical "how-to" focus, and that this is a problem. Second, I offer a heuristic definition of teaching as evolutionarily adaptive behavior--as existing in humans because it enables flexible adaptation to extremely varied and complex ecosocial circumstances. In contrast, animals have quite modest adaptive powers, so it may come as a surprise that teaching as evolutionarily adaptive behavior is not uniquely human. Therefore, third, I review research comparing animal and human teaching in order to help us understand the latter better. Fourth, I describe teaching as studied by anthropologists--as it varies across human groups. It turns out that formal teaching is relatively rare when viewed from an anthropological perspective, and relatively recent at that. Fifth and finally, I employ the results of this definitional exercise to examine, in an exploratory way, what happens in SLT classrooms.