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Mendel in Genetics Teaching: Some Contributions from History of Science and Articles for Teachers

Abstract

School science descriptions about Mendel and his story are problematic because several statements that are controversial among historians of science are repeated over and over again as if they were established facts. Another problem is the neglect of other scientists working on inheritance in the second half of the nineteenth century, including Darwin, Spencer, Galton, Nägeli, Brooks, Weismann and de Vries, who paved the way for the reinterpretation of Mendel’s work in 1900. These problems are often found in textbooks and are likely to be present in school science throughout the world. Here, we discuss the contributions that history of science and papers published in journals that target teachers may bring to improve how school science deals with Mendel and his contributions. Evidently the idea is not that school teachers could solve problems still under discussion in the historical literature. The point is, rather, that it is important to avoid treating Mendel’s contributions as uncontroversial, mentioning, for instance, that there are ongoing debates on whether he proposed the laws named after him by appealing to invisible factors underlying phenotypic traits that are seen as the heritable potentials for those traits, and would in due time be known as genes. History of science can contribute to put the mythic Mendel into question in the science classroom, bringing school science closer to the controversies around the interpretation of his work.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    A different translation is offered in the first publication in English, which appeared in Genetics (Mendel 1950, p. 34). The letter was written in November 18th 1873. It is the last letter sent by Mendel to Nägeli.

  2. 2.

    This may be questioned from the standpoint of the necessity of understanding the hybridists’ decisions in the historical context in which they worked, instead of judging them to be errors from the perspective of the present, or even of Mendel’s subsequent work.

  3. 3.

    All the passages in Spanish were translated into Portuguese by the author of the present paper.

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Acknowledgments

I am indebted to the Brazilian National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq) for a productivity research Grant (No. 301259/2010-0) and both CNPq and the Research Support Foundation of the State of Bahia (FAPESB) for research funding (Project PNX0016_2009). I would like to than two anonymous reviewers and Kostas Kampourakis for their comments, which helped to significantly improve the paper.

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Correspondence to Charbel N. El-Hani.

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El-Hani, C.N. Mendel in Genetics Teaching: Some Contributions from History of Science and Articles for Teachers. Sci & Educ 24, 173–204 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11191-014-9685-y

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Keywords

  • Classical Genetic
  • Genetic Teaching
  • Mendelian Genetic
  • Independent Assortment
  • American Biology Teacher