APA interviewer: ‘You’ll be turning 100 this year …’
Jerome Bruner: ‘Yes! Isn’t that nifty?’
Today is the 100th birthday of Jerome Bruner, one of contemporary education’s greatest. Admirers around the world are celebrating this more than nifty event and wishing him well. CPRT gladly joins them. Happy birthday, Jerry!
There was a time when trainee teachers explored education’s founding ideas and knew something about those who generated them. Latterly, educational ideas of any kind have been lampooned by one English Education Secretary as ‘barmy theory’, while their purveyors have been called ‘enemies of promise’ by another – and oh how the tabloids stamped and cheered. Nowadays, trainee teachers must concentrate on ‘requirements’; that is to say, policy diktats whose authority resides not in evidence or argument, let alone wisdom, but simply in the fact of their being imposed and policed from above.
So let us take time to celebrate one for whom ideas, evidence and argument really matter, who is indeed wise, and who over the past seventy years has drawn us into conversation and held us there – for such is the power of his wonderfully lucid and engaging prose. Bruner’s conversation, like Bakhtin’s an unending one, is about human development, cognition, learning, schooling, culture, law, narrative and much else; in sum, to coin the question underpinning his revolutionary 1960s curriculum Man, a Course of Study, about what it is to be human.
Consider the cognitive revolution, scaffolding, constructivism, the spiral curriculum, paradigmatic and narrative modes of cognitive functioning, folk pedagogy and … the list goes on. Insights such as these inform so much of our current thinking about the conditions for productive learning and teaching that we may take them for granted, and many in our profession may not even know their source.
Chris Watkins is one of several who have written splendid birthday blogs and tributes, and I can do no better than refer you to him and to them via the links below. But first, here are some familiar Bruner quotes to greet as friends old or new.
Education research should never have been conceived as principally dedicated to evaluating the efficacy or impact of ‘present practices.’ … The master question from which the mission of education research is derived is: What should be taught to whom and with what pedagogical object in mind?
We begin with the hypothesis that any subject can be taught effectively in some intellectually honest form to any child at any stage of development.
A quiet revolution has taken place in developmental psychology … It is not only that we have begun to think again of the child as a social being – one who plays and talks with others, learns through interactions with parents and teachers – but because we have come once more to appreciate that through such social life the child acquires a framework for interpreting experience, and learns how to negotiate meaning … Making sense is a social process.
The reality that we impute to the worlds we inhabit is a constructed one … Reality is made, not found.
Language is for using, and the uses of language are so varied, so rich, and each use so preemptive a way of life, that to study it is to study the world and, indeed, all possible worlds.
We can trace three themes in relation to discourse … discourse as scaffolding … discourse as the negotiation of meaning … discourse as the transfer of cultural representations.
Education is not just about conventional school matters like curriculum or standards or testing. What we resolve to do in school only makes sense when considered in the broader context of what the society intends to accomplish through its educational investment in the young. How one conceives of education … is a function of how one conceives of culture and its aims, professed and otherwise.
Intellectual activity is anywhere and everywhere, whether at the frontier of knowledge or in a third-grade classroom.
To play is not just child’s play. Play … is a way of using mind, or better yet, an attitude towards the use of mind. It is a test frame, a hot house for trying out ways of combining thought and language and fantasy.
The shrewd guess, the fertile hypothesis, the courageous leap to a tentative conclusion – these are the most valuable coins of the thinker at work. But in most schools guessing is heavily penalized and is associated somehow with laziness.
The main objective of teaching is to… open up a wider range of possibilities… to go beyond the information given.
I want … to leapfrog over the issue of school subjects and curricula in order to deal with a more general matter: the mode of thinking that helps children … create a version of the world in which … they can envisage a place for themselves … I believe that story making, narrative, is what is needed for that … The importance of narrative for the cohesion of a culture is as great as it is in structuring an individual life … What we all do for each other is to keep telling our stories. That is how we live with the ordinary and its setbacks.
School reform without concomitant economic reform is simply not sufficient.
Read Chris Watkins’s IoE blog celebrating Jerome Bruner’s 100th.
Read Jerome Bruner’s centenary interview for the American Psychological Association (the APA referred to at the head of this blog).
Read the tribute from the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics.
Watch a televised interview with Jerome Bruner for the Association of Psychological Science.
Buy Jerome Bruner’s two-volume selection from his writing from 1957 to 2006, In Search of Pedagogy.