Question of the Day: High School Biology
What is the main difference between DNA in prokaryotes and eukaryotes?
Prokaryotes have linear chromosomes, and eukaryotes have circular DNA
Prokaryotes have different polymers for DNA
Prokaryotes have circular DNA, and eukaryotes have linear chromosomes
Prokaryotes have guanine and cytosine only
Aristotle (and his many “peripatetic” followers through the centuries) said that all things are “known through their forms.” That is, we only understand something when we see how it “all fits together”—what gives it unity and cohesion. When you look at a disorganized heap of items, it is likely impossible to ascertain what it is (other than a disorderly heap). Often, subjects in school can appear to be such “heaps.” It is difficult to see how their topics fit together into a cohesive whole. A little bit of “this” is sprinkled with a bit of “that;” however, we want to ask, “What holds it all together?” In frustration, the follower of Aristotle wishes to ask, “What is the form?”
Among the many subjects studied in high school, the biological sciences are perhaps those that most acutely seem to lack a unifying form. In mathematics, we can clearly see how all of the various topics “hang together.” Arithmetical concepts build upon each other. They are then followed by a careful progression of more advanced algebraic notions, then trigonometric studies, and so forth. Such a graduated order seems to be totally missing from the biological sciences, which appear merely to treat “a little bit of this and a little bit of that”—“a bit about cellular structure, some talk of evolution, and a couple of Punnett squares tossed in for good measure;” however, it is not the case that biology is such a disorderly wreck—though espying the form is a bit more difficult here than in mathematics.
In almost every biology curriculum in use today, the topic of evolution is the architectonic interpretive key for the organization of topics investigated and taught. From the study of the general structure of cells to the investigation of complex organization in organisms to the investigation of taxonomy and many other topics, courses in the biological sciences are nearly always organized around the concepts and themes pertinent to understanding the evolutionary history of species on Earth. While each course will focus on various topics—basics in introductory courses, anatomy, taxonomy, and ecology in more advanced or specialized courses, and detailed thematic topics in AP biology—there is a real unity in the curriculum of high school biology as it seeks to help students understand the relationship between life as we experience it today and the developmental-evolutionary history that helps to make such life intelligible and even more amazing.
Aristotle himself said in his Nicomachean Ethics that the young easily learn mathematics—at least at first—because it requires less experience than the physical sciences. It is somewhat easier to eliminate “details” in math class—squares and integers are quite plain things after all! With greater experience and education, the budding young student becomes able to see that every academic subject has its particular unity, even the seemingly jumbled mess of the biological sciences. By looking at the many topics of biology from the perspective of evolutionary development and history—sub specie evolutionis, as one might say in philosophical circles—the high school student is able to unify the many biology courses offered in high school. From general biology to zoology and botany to the rigors of AP biology, these topics have a real unity in the curriculum and will serve the young student in many ways throughout his or her future post-secondary academic studies.