Document Type

Contribution to Book

Journal/Book Title

Evolutionary Perspectives on Education and Child Development

Publication Date

Summer 7-15-2016




In this chapter I argue that teaching, as we now understand the term, is historically and cross-culturally very rare. It appears to be unnecessary to transmit culture or to socialize children. Children are, on the other hand, primed by evolution to be avid observers, imitators, players and helpers—roles that reveal the profoundly autonomous and self-directed nature of culture acquisition (Lancy in press a). And yet, teaching is ubiquitous throughout the modern world—at least among the middle to upper class segment of the population. This ubiquity has led numerous scholars to argue for the universality and uniqueness of teaching as a characteristically human behavior. The theme of this chapter is that this proposition is unsustainable. Teaching is largely a result of recent cultural changes and the emergence of modern economies, not evolution.