An Unfinished Quest in Education

tags: education, cognitive psychology

Jonathan Zimmerman is a professor of education history at New York University and the co-author of the forthcoming book An Uneasy Quiet: Teaching Controversial Issues in American Schools.  Thumbnail Image  by woodleywonderworks.

A few years ago, Jerome Bruner visited a graduate seminar I teach at New York University about educational research and politics. I told Jerry that I agreed with almost everything he wrote about education, but I feared that most Americans didn’t. What if it turned out that the country didn’t want what he was selling?

“Well,” Jerry grinned, “then you’ve got the makings of a great story.”

Bruner’s own astonishing story came to an end on Monday, when he died at the age of 100. Born to Polish immigrants, he was blind until surgery restored his vision at the age of two. He spent his life studying human perception, and the ways the stories we tell about the world influence how we think and learn about it.

Along the way, he helped revolutionize American psychology. When Bruner went to graduate school at Harvard University in the 1930s, most psychological research examined the behavior that people exhibited in the face of external pressures and stimuli. But that model didn’t take account of our individual minds, which filter and interpret everything we experience.

Bruner resolved to study what he called “cognitive psychology”—how people think and reason, not just how they react and respond. For education, especially, the implications were enormous. Bruner found that even very young children constructed their own knowledge—that is, they made sense of new information based on prior experience and understanding. The job of the teacher was to help students build upon what they already knew. ...

Read entire article at The Atlantic

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