Study: Humans Getting Dumber (Advanced Evolution Lesson Plan ESL)

ESL Level: Upper-Intermediate
Lesson Topic: A thesis that human beings are becoming less intelligent
Skill Focus: Reading, Vocabulary, Speaking
Lesson Plan Download: Evolution-Humans-Dumber-Advanced-17112012.doc
Approximate Class Time: Two hours

Evolution Lesson Plan (ESL): Advanced

Are humans getting dumber?

Evolution Lesson Plan (ESL): Warm-up (Pair Work)

1) Were you a bright student in your school days? What kind of student were you?
2) What are some of the greatest achievements, inventions, and innovations of mankind? Make a list with your classmates.
3) In what ways, if any, are you superior to a caveman?

Study: Human Beings Getting Dumber

Given the technological advances and human ingenuity we have witnessed in our lifetimes, it seems ludicrous to argue that humans are getting dumber. This is, however, what Stanford University researcher Gerald Crabtree has suggested. In two recently published articles, he writes:
“I would be willing to wager that if an average citizen of Athens of 1000 BC were to appear suddenly among us, he or she would be among the brightest and most intellectually alive of our colleagues and companions (…) We would be surprised by our time-visitor’s memory, broad range of ideas and clear-sighted view of important issues. I would also guess that he or she would be among the most emotionally stable of our friends and colleagues. (…) Needless to say a hunter gatherer that did not correctly conceive a solution to providing food or shelter probably died along with their progeny, while a modern Wall Street executive that made a similar conceptual mistake would receive a substantial bonus.”
Crabtree’s thesis rests on the idea that our genes must be functioning at full capacity to optimize intellectual and emotional behavior. He contends that our intelligence may have peaked before our hunter-gatherer predecessors left Africa. At that time, due to selective pressures, humans evolved to have genes that maximized brainpower. Since then, selective pressures have lessened. This has made it possible for several ‘genetic mutations’ that hamper our intellectual and emotional capabilities to survive.
Despite these “two or more” harmful mutations have occurred in the past 3,000 years, Crabtree believes that technology will allow humans to compensate for these mutations in the future. “We have a long time to solve it. People 300 years ago had no idea where we’d be scientifically now,” he says. “We’ll be able to deal with this problem with a range of humane and ethical solutions.”
Critics say there is insufficient data to support Crabtree’s thesis. Others, such as psychology professor Eyal Reingold, argue that the modern-day threats to competency are not genetic but environment-based. “When you see events such as children bringing guns to schools and bullying, they are all indications of failure of social competencies and decline in that domain,” states Reingold.
[Sources:, ]

Evolution Lesson Plan (ESL): Comprehension & Follow-Up Questions

1)     According to Crabtree, how would an Athenian from 1000 BC differ from a modern man?
2)     What does Crabtree believe has caused this decline in intelligence?
3)     True or False: Crabtree believes the decline will continue indefinitely.
4)     Cite two criticisms of Crabtree’s thesis.

Evolution Lesson Plan (ESL): Vocabulary Matching

Match the words with their meaning as used in the news lesson.
wager (verb)
needless to say
conceive (verb)
hamper (verb)
  • ingenuity = the ability to invent or solve problems in clever ways
  • ludicrous = ridiculous and unreasonable
  • wager = bet
  • needless to say = obviously
  • conceive = form an idea, plan, etc
  • progeny = offspring, children
  • predecessor = ancestors
  • hamper = prevent sb from easily doing/achieving sth; hinder
  • humane = showing kindness by making sure people/animals don’t suffer unnecessarily
  • competency = the scope of a person or group’s knowledge or ability
  • domain = an area of knowledge or activity, esp. one that sb is responsible for

Evolution Lesson Plan (ESL): Connect the below idea(s) to make a sentence.

government / uprising
ludicrous / predecessor
wager / ingenuity
Needless to say
scientist / domain
progeny / dumb
hamper / development
technology / humane

Evolution Lesson Plan (ESL): Debate (Pair Work)

(Note: each student reads his/her role only.)
Student A:
Take 1-2 minutes to build an argument that supports Crabtree’s thesis. Think of examples, etc. When ready, present your ideas first.
Student B:
Take 1-2 minutes to build a counterargument against Crabtree’s thesis. Think of examples, etc. The other student will go first.

Evolution Lesson Plan (ESL): Quotations For Discussion (Pair Work)

“Today the theory of evolution is about as much open to doubt as the theory that the earth goes round the sun.” – Richard Dawkins
“Stupidity combined with arrogance and a huge ego will get you a long way.” – Chris Lowe
“In the literal sense, there has been no relevant evolution since the trek from Africa. But there has been substantial progress towards higher standards of rights, justice and freedom – along with all too many illustrations of how remote is the goal of a decent society.” – Noam Chomsky
“Since when has the world of computer software design been about what people want? This is a simple question of evolution. The day is quickly coming when every knee will bow down to a silicon fist, and you will all beg your binary gods for mercy.” – Bill Gates

Evolution Lesson Plan (ESL): Discussion Questions

1)     Nature vs. Nurture: Is intelligence rooted in genetics?
2)     Would you rather be an African hunter-gatherer, an Athenian from 1000 BC, or yourself today?
3)     Technology: Crabtree suggests that technology can compensate for genetic mutations in the future. How could this work?
4)     Are girls smarter than boys?

Evolution Lesson Plan (ESL) copyright Matthew Barton of

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