Mickey Mouse: Teaching Tool for Evolution

25 Aug

Boston.com brings us a story from the New York Times (which requires login) of a Florida teacher using images of Mickey Mouse to teach evolution:

A former Navy flight instructor not used to pulling his punches, Campbell fought hard for passage of the new standards. But with his students last spring, he found himself treading carefully as he tried to bridge an ideological divide that stretches well beyond his classroom. He started with Mickey Mouse.

On the projector, Campbell placed slides of the cartoon icon: one at his skinny genesis in 1928, one from his 1940 turn as the impish “Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” and one of the rounded, ingratiating charmer of Mouse Club fame.

“How,” he asked his students, “has Mickey changed?”

Natives of Disney World’s home state, they waved their hands and called out answers.

“His tail gets shorter,” Bryce volunteered.

“Bigger eyes!” someone else shouted.

“He looks happier,” one girl observed. “And cuter.”

Campbell smiled. “Mickey evolved,” he said. “And Mickey gets cuter because Walt Disney makes more money that way. That is ‘selection.’ ”

Later, he would get to the touchier part, about how the minute changes in organisms that drive biological change arise spontaneously, without direction. And how a struggle for existence among naturally varying individuals has helped to generate every species, living and extinct, on the planet.

What a wonderful companion piece this is to the news that vintage images of our dear little rodent may in fact be public domain! Leaving aside of course the stormy politics over teaching evolution, and of Florida’s decision that it must be taught, I’m sure there are plenty of teachers out there who could develop innovative curriculum using Mickey’s familiar and appealing image, and perhaps even distribute that curriculum under a Creative Commons license.

There are good reasons for intellectual property to make its way into the public domain. And it is, of course, ironic that the Mickey Mouse Protection Act may not in fact have covered vintage Mickey at all.

(Hat tip: BoingBoing.)

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