Nat Geo Writer Offers a New Approach to Teaching Biology

Only 1% of the things in our body make us human. 

Doug Chadwick is a wildlife biologist, author, and frequent National Geographic contributor. During his 35 year affiliation with National Geographic, he’s offered in-depth coverage of wolverines, grizzly bears, and whales, to name a few.  

Now Chadwick has a new mission; he wants us to think differently about how humans mesh with nature. And he believes that a new way of thinking may need to start in the K-12 science classroom. 

The idea is that if humans had a better understanding of what we’re made of and how alike our DNA is to other living things, we may have a better appreciation of our purpose on Earth.

“You are 23% a wine grape.”

One important fact that may help digest this thought is that only 1% of the things in our body make us human. This means that remarkably, 99% of our genetic make-up is no different than a chimpanzee or a bonobo

Another thing that many people don’t realize is that we share 80-85% of our genes with most mammals?  

But the mind-numbing science doesn’t stop there.

“You are 23% a wine grape.” says Chadwick, “You’re also 7% a bacteria,”

“Every critter out there above the level of a bacterium is a joint partnership,” says Chadwick. 

It’s an enlightening perspective that could cause us to look at the Earth and our [human] impact on the Earth differently.

Four Fifths a Grizzly

Chadwick breaks down the science of this thinking in his new book, “Four Fifths a Grizzly: A New Perspective on Nature that Just Might Save Us All” 

The wildlife writer who has churned out over a dozen books says this latest release is the hardest thing he ever wrote, but he believes he got it right. And it’s a critical perspective that he hopes science teachers worldwide will take into consideration.

“I feel like a bit of a fraud telling science teachers how to teach,” he says. Chadwick is admittedly not an educator. At least not in the traditional sense. 

But for him, this way of thinking started when he looked through a microscope when he was about 7 or 8 years old. 

“The overwhelming majority of life on earth is invisible.” 

“I realized that there is wonder everywhere, and the harder you look, the more you find,” he says. “The overwhelming majority of life on earth is invisible.”  

“You shouldn’t be able to get through a high school biology class without understanding a heck of a lot more about who you are,” says Chadwick. 

“I think a great majority of people out there think that when I say microbes, bacteria, they think that’s germs. There’s a negative connotation to it.” 

Chadwick says that we need to embrace what science has been telling us about these connections since the 1970s, which is that we’re all the same.

To hear more of Chadwick’s interview and find out what question he would begin science class with, listen to Episode 193 of Class Dismissed. 

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