A tribute to Jerome Bruner

Education by Exploration

The influential psychologist of perception, Jerome S Bruner died on 5th June (2016) at his home in New York City. He was 100.

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Bruner’s idea was that it didn’t make sense to fill children with facts, which they would forget as soon as any test was over. The goal in education was to help them recognise relationships between facts.[/pullquote]Born blind and, after having his sight restored, spent the rest of his life trying to understand how the human mind perceives the world, leading to influential advances in education.

Bruner believed that learning should be generated by interest in the material rather than tests or punishment –that we learn best when we find the knowledge we’re attaining appealing, and that the job of the teacher was to help students build upon what they already knew.

Bruner’s idea was that it didn’t make sense to fill children with facts, which they would forget as soon as any test was over. The goal in education was to help them recognise relationships between facts. Students need a teacher who could help you think like a physicist or a historian, ordering and analysing information just like they did.

During a 70-year academic career, Dr. Bruner was a restless researcher who constantly moved from one field to another. The basis of his work was the study of cognition, or what he called “the great question of how you know anything.”

For the past 30 years, while teaching at New York University’s law school, Dr. Bruner explored the idea of storytelling as a fundamental way of understanding the nature of the world around us. He believed that the choices we make in telling stories “become so habitual that they finally become recipes for structuring experience itself, for laying down routes into memory,” he said in 1987.

Dr. Bruner thought that a teacher’s primary task was what he called “the mining of human intellectual potential.” Too often, he said, that mission was undercut by well-meaning but poorly designed schools, churches and other institutions that did not understand the needs of children.


Sources: Washington Post

Image via Poughkeepsie Day School on Flickr under (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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