Site Map
Jerome Bruner, Folk Pedagogy, Folk Psychology
Section › 10 Set Search Previous Next

Reservations Contents  

Folk Pedagogy

In the second chapter of The Culture of Education (1996) Jerome Bruner speaks of folk pedagogy, which deals with where and when and why common people influence, teach or educate one another in various ways for the sake of making out of things. 'Make out' has many meanings. Here are some from a dictionary:

Discern or see, especially with difficulty; understand; try to establish or prove; get along in a given way; fare; recognise; comprehend; come to terms with; deal, perform an action. (Farlex)

Setting a scene

People understand or have notions about much, and pass them on in various ways and situations. Education (didactics) is centred on teaching and how it occurs; that is, the passing-on of views, attitudes, information and well accepted knowledge, among other things. Pedagogy is the formal side to that, and is defined as "the practice of teaching or the study of teaching" (Longman's Dictionary).

The Culture of Education (1996) is a collection of essays on cultural psychology and its future significance for education on the basis of "meaning-making":

  1. How people make sense of the world;
  2. How they deal with beliefs, values and symbols of the culture at large; and
  3. How they construct "realities" in their minds and share their ideas. In other words, how the single person's sense of reality is cultivated or harmed through such as skilled and unskilled, and sound and unsound social interactions.


Meaning-making has to do with developing deep understanding and personal meanings, or just to "make out of" things. It is in part an active process, in part a process that involves influences from the outside realm. Bruner goes into the subject of folk pedagogy by academic jargon. He considers aspects of cultural psychology and their possible, future significance for education on the basis of "meaning-making". The term often suggests constructivist approaches, in part in line with works of educators like John Dewey, Maria Montessori, Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky, and also Jerome Bruner. The learner grasps at understanding, and some ideas appear. If considered, some give apt meanings some get discarded. It is much of an ad hoc process. 'Ad hoc' signifies a solution designed for a specific problem or task.

The woolly subject of folk pedagogy

As Bruner explicates the meaning of "folk pedagogy", he tells that how parents and others instruct or influence children is determined to a great extent by the "implicit assumptions" they have about how children learn and are to be taught. Many such assumptions, and practices tied in with them, are reflected in common folklore, which includes proverbs, as well as overt behaviours. However, some assumptions go deep and form attitudes and prejudices, and are not always easily detected in surface things, "in the open".

Since the parent's or teacher's conception of a learner shapes the instruction he or she provides, then equipping parents and teachers with savoury theories of the child's mind becomes a boon. Along with that, one could single out the helpful, rewarding parcels of folklore one here, one there. It corresponds to removing both harmful and non-helpful food from the platter and catering to healthy, nourishing and balanced food mainly.

Ascertainment problems

In the following the main focus is on some sides to the content part, that is, on certain elements that are transmitted in folk teachings and/or folk ways - for example proverbs, jokes, wisecracks, sayings by named persons, and folktales. Other aspects of the transmission situations are suggested on this page: [More]

As wrapped-up parcels need to be opened to inspect and take possession of what is inside them, various "parcels" of folklore need to be treated in similar ways. (a) Folk tales have been classified, analysed and evaluated. (b) Proverbs blend with conclusions found in science disciplines too, but not all of them do that. One reason why this is so, is that teaching-proverbs and science findings are in the form of gist, even conclusions. (a) In the proverb the basis is life experiences that depend on or presuppose contemporary attitudes, climate conditions, and more. It may or may not be useful, or still useful. It has to be ascertained in some way or other. (b) A conclusion rooted in research, on the other hand, may or may not be useful in the wider field or compound of very complex interactions.

In both cases the problem lies in the transferring of information from one setting to another, different one. Transfer of data from one setting to a different setting tends to affect the validity of the data, but maybe not greatly. Just how or how much so, has to be ascertained. There are some research designs and findings that allow for it. For example, the effects of Transcendental Meditation reduce costs of health-care, A Canadian study shows.

For example, one study measured the change in payments for physicians' services over 14 years among 1,418 people in Canada who learned the Transcendental Meditation technique. They were compared to 1,418 controls randomly selected individuals of the same age, gender, and from the same region. After learning the TM technique, individuals spent 13.8 per cent less on physicians' services each year. (American Journal of Health Promotion 14: 284291, 2000.)

A folksy summary: "Learn TM and spend less on medical bills." It holds good among Canadians, but what about Swedes, for example? The transfer problem is seen by asking, "Is there evidence that what helps in Canada, will be of equal help in Sweden? Or of some help there?" Often we get no answers if we ask "The findings look very good. However, to which degree do they apply here, in other circumstances?" This is so because "transfer validity" tends to be an overlooked factor. However, when settings are not very different and research findings are striking, it helps to disregard the lack of transfer evidence, presumably, and make a leap in good faith so as to benefit all right:

Thus, regardless of lack of "transfer validity", since Canadians tend to live quite like others in industrial countries, I would suggest, "Go for learning TM" in Sweden too, if only in an attempt to reduce health risks. There should be no harm in that, all in all." There is much research to document that TM benefits soundness in many arenas of life and on different levels. Here are some long-term findings from a site run by Dr. David Orme-Johnsen: [◦Research Digest]

Looking at proverbs and findings of science alike

Societies and climates differ, also according to "other times, other customs". How they are organised differ, how cruel they are likewise differs. Proverbs gleaned from hard experiences over time in real life settings have an advantage based on the fact that they are from and relate to the web of life experiences and sum up certain sides to it partially, opefully. They speak of sides to real life, and may be found valid in real life as well, and in a variety of settings, just because we are humans, and nature has its own ways or laws of living.

As to research findings, the large society functions differently than the research lab. In the lab or by a research design you try to control settings and people to get some "constants", but in the large society you obviously do not have that special control. It means that the data or conclusions derived from labs or research, may function in a limited field, but not be useful or applicable in the web of tangled lives anyway. Life is more complex.

The question as to how valid and reliable data are if put to use in the complex web that consists of fares of lives, is not solved in all sorts of conclusions only in some. It depends on how research is designed. Studies of how different people fare, offer helpful guidelines. They can be applied in general much like odds, and hold that sorts of promises. Example: If you stop smoking and drinking, you may live longer. Various research findings give documentation from various settings, and the conclusions are to be handled like odds: "If I stop smoking, drinking alcohol, and drugging myself, my health could improve and then I have a better chance of living longer."

To sum up the above:

  • Proverbs and sayings: One the one hand we deal with gist from complex webs of life. Because we have little control over the conditions that apply, the conclusions may be shaggy or faltering, or wrong, as the case may be, or, at any rate not validated rigorously.
  • Research findings and phrases: First, research results that are offered on the basis of lab work or carefully controlled research designs, may or may not apply in real life where the effects of complex connections influence much as well. We handle research findings or claims like odds to improve our chances for, say, better sex, longer life, and more rewarding food. Research findings and science tenets are clothed in one or more languages. Mathematics and English are two of them. Language is a tricky subject, just as the physicist David Ritz Finkelstein (1929 -) implies, considering that Mathematics and English are languages and thus constructed of symbols. "The best you can get with symbols is a maximal but incomplete description". [In Zukav 1979:276].
  • Also: making a broad survey and conclude with skill on top of that: It is feasible to ascertain a stipulated value of many proverbs by several means. One is to make sweeping generalisations about how things are or appear to be, and judge to what degree such phenomenological calculations match forerunners - that is, proverbs. Due considerations of different conditions around and of the problems of descriptions by words with many meanings as well as words used as metaphors, still make many kinds of well stipulated assessments feasible, and helps in evaluating a likely or quite probable encompassing value of this and that proverb, saying or philosophical utterance. There are good ways of doing this, and other ways . . . [More (in Norwegian)]

Underlying or possible messages of folk tales and proverbs have to be interpreted. There are many skills involved in that, as shown in The Humor of Han Ola og Han Per Taken Seriously (2007). Tales, proverbs and other pieces of folklore, folk psychology and folk education should be studied to check how good they are for children and youngsters at different ages, or generally. Then they may be put to use in some delicate manner.

Models of Pedagogy

Bruner holds that there are four dominant models of pedagogy. From his list points like these emerge:

  1. Imitative learning of roles or knowhow. Passing on skills and "know-how" through example and demonstrative action, focusing on talent, skills, and expertise. (Copying others: "Monkey see, monkey do.")
  2. Viewing students as learning if presented with facts, principles, and rules of action to be learned, remembered, and then applied. (Being subjected to teaching: What matters is not to be openly or covertly victimised by what is formalised and set to work. Sound learning ways and means offer help, at least to some.)
  3. Regarding children or young persons as thinkers, dealing with certain intersubjective interchanges, and finding value in discussion and collaboration. (Sharing notions or intimacy with others, also with peers)
  4. Considering learners as knowledgeable and capable of managing certain facts of life, also "objective" knowledge. Along this line of thinking, teaching should help children grasp the distinction between personal knowledge on the one hand, and "what is taken to be known" by the culture on the other hand, thinks Bruner (1996:53-63). (Adjusting one's ideas or figuring to the world and events in it.)

Such modes are linked and may work well together. Older views of mind and how mind can be cultivated may be sifted, and newer views may need to be modulated. (cf. 1996:67)


Folk Psychology

Everyday people, illiterate and otherwise, go about making sense out of life and organise their activities to make them fruitful and avoid lots of calamities. They voice traditions, what is lawful or not, many sorts of beliefs, desires and aspirations, mostly described in everyday language by way of platitudes and some proverbs too. Parcels from this mass of everyday knowledge may be voiced as more or less casual remarks, comments, formal counsels, particular conversational maxims and explanations of how many things seem to work - and how people may be beneath their fine facades or masks or roles in various settings. To realise worthwhile goals, certain abilities, contrivances and skills may be needed and held in high esteem.

Folk psychology contains many primitive guesses, ideas and practices, yet it may still function in real life and serve different communities. Further, investigations of folk psychology may be a good basis for developing academic theory to help people toward better grips on life than by regular supposing about this and that. At any rate, folk psychology reflects how lay people grope with topics so as to understand others and their world somehow. Ideas they inherit and hold, form bases for understanding current events, and also "supposing into" future actions when encountering quite similar situations.

Ordinary social behaviour is greatly affected by etiquette, conform customs, beliefs and interpretations of how the world or a society gets along.

Folk psychology is into telling about, explaining and predicting conduct one may encounter in daily life, and by way of assumptions for most part. Recurrent topics include dread, happiness, love and many other things that are important in life. Themes are often unfolded by the use of analogies.

Malle and Knobe (1997) hail the systematisation of people's everyday understanding of the mind as a progression towards a more comprehensive field of psychology.

Medin et al (1984) purport to show how some concepts may ease decisions and actions and warn against others.

[Main sources: Wikipedia, s.v. "Folk psychology" and Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, s.v. "Folk Psychology as a Theory"]



Jerome Bruner on Folk Psychology

Jerome S. Bruner (1915 - ) wrote about "folk psychology" and "folk pedagogy" about two decades ago. In his lecture series Acts of Meaning (1990) he goes into the meaning of the concept of folk psychology. Through chapters 2, 3 and 4 he throws light on it through a variety of ideas.

The following is gist assembled for the purpose of meaning-making. The gleanings and comments are by me. Page references in square brackets, [], refer to that book. Book data is at the bottom of the survey.

LoFolk psychology contains expressions and summaries of various humans in their cultural settings as a way of informally shaping quite general meanings or organizing experience for the purpose of perhaps succeeding well.

The meaning of talk is powerfully determined by the train of action in which it occurs [18]

[Human values] are communal and consequential in terms of our relations to a cultural community. They fulfil functions for us in that community. [29]

Constructivism's basic claim is simply that knowledge is "right" or "wrong" in light of the perspective we have chosen to assume. [25]

Diction often dresses itself in the "rhetoric of the real". [52]

Folk psychology, though it changes, does not get displaced by scientific paradigms. For it deals with the nature, causes, and consequences of those intentional states – beliefs, desires, intentions, commitments [14]

Human beings . . . are expressions of a culture. [12]

[That side to folk psychology that is marked by kenning or ferreting out things, may provide] means by which culture shapes human beings to its requirements [15]

Folk psychology . . . summarises not simply how things are but (often implicitly) how they should be. When things "are as they should be," the narratives of folk psychology are unnecessary. [39-40]

The nature and cultural shaping of meaning-making [make one fit in some surroundings and unfit in others. [xii]

The role of narrativized folk psychology in what, broadly, might be called the "organization of experience." . . . framing or schematizing, the other is affect regulation . . . If we were not able to do such framing, we would be lost in a murk of chaotic experience . .. [56]

The Self as narrator not only recounts but justifies. [121]

Telling the right story, putting her actions and goals in a legitimizing light, is just as important . . . A "right" story is one that connects your version . . . with the canonical version. [86]

Our knowledge, then, becomes enculturated knowledge . . . [20]

Information processing needs advance planning and precise rules. [5]

Meaning became a philosopher's tool . . . of logical analysis. [Cf. 62, 21]

The views of such intellectual heroes as Darwin, Marx, and Freud gradually become transformed and absorbed into folk psychology [14]

Utility is the multiplicative resultant of the value of a particular choice and its subjective probability of being successfully executed, and it has been the cornerstone of formal economic theory since Adam Smith [28] (2)

LoMany so-called rules, or rules of the thumb, are absorbed into folk psychology in the long run to affect human action considerably.

It is through folk psychology that people anticipate and judge one another, draw conclusions about the worthwhileness of their lives [14]

Rules and semi-rules about what is probably useful, serviceable, and appropriate get absorbed into a "folk psychology" one of them. * Cf, 3, 28]

Rules may affect human action. [cf. 3]

LoAs for "interpretive validity" (Cf. Cronbach): Jolly good human living conditions in our times are more or less eroded by mechanization, invasive bureaucratization, global urbanization, and dwindling natural resources. Deal with that.

I take the constructivism of cultural psychology to be a profound expression of democratic culture. It demands that we be conscious of how we come to our knowledge and as conscious as we can be about the values that lead us to our perspectives. [30]

Folk psychology . . . alters with the culture's changing responses to the world and to the people in it. [14]

The invasive bureaucratization of life in our times, with its resultant erosion of selfhood and compassion [23]

It is plain "silly to deny that people get hungry or sexy or that there is a biological substrate for such states". . [21-22]

When constituent beliefs in a folk psychology are violated that narratives are constructed [39] (6)

[There are] Characteristics of narrative — [and] its sequentiality, . . . [and] its dramatic quality.

[50] By virtue of participation in culture, meaning is rendered public and shared. Our culturally adapted way of life depends upon shared meanings and shared concepts and depends as well upon shared modes of discourse for negotiating differences in meaning and interpretation. [12-13]

Folk psychology . . . is a culture's account of what makes human beings tick. [13]

To say something useful about truth [Rorty says,] is to "explore practice rather than theory [26].

In folk psychology, then, people are assumed to have world knowledge . . . [40]

Background of psychology today, with its confusions, its dislocations, its new simplifications. [xii] (7)

Lee Cronbach reminds us that "Validity is subjective rather than objective: the plausibility of the conclusion is what counts. And plausibility, to twist a cliché, lies in the ear of the beholder." Validity, in short, is an interpretive concept. [108]


  1. Folk psychology contains expressions and summaries of various humans in their cultural settings as a way of informally shaping quite general meanings or organizing experience for the purpose of perhaps succeeding well.
  2. Many so-called rules, or rules of the thumb, are absorbed into folk psychology in the long run to affect human action considerably.
  3. Concerning "interpretive validity" (Cf. Cronbach above): Jolly good human living conditions in our times are more or less eroded by mechanization, invasive bureaucratization, global urbanization, and dwindling natural resources.

IN NUCE ALAS: Folk psychology summarises many of the often hard-won experiences into neat rules of the thumb to chew on and make sense of, as the case may be. Summaries that pertain to earlier conditions, may not act full well in the current state of the world, where technology helps in dissipating resources, and greed, abuse and concomitant plots go hand in hand in the new settings that often involve more and more bureaucracy.

How to be a Mensch today is not always clear. In Yiddish, Mensch means "a person of integrity", someone who is responsible, has a sense of right and wrong and is the sort of person other people look up to - otherwise: "a good guy." Menschlichkeit in Yiddish signifies qualities thought well of in this connection. The opposite, an unmensch, is evil or cruel - like multinational corporations. Corporations are powerful institutions; some of them also work more or less like psychopaths, a new Canadian documentary on globalisation holds.

And most persons in the West are adjusted to mighty organisations and states - more or less so. If such adaptations are "Menschy" it is good, nay, a feat. [Wikipedia, s.v. "Mensch"; "The Corporation (film)"; "Mensch"]


Jerome Bruner, folk psychology, folk pedagogy, Literature  

Barrett, Thomas Steven. Exploring the Moral Dimension of Professors' Folk Pedagogy: Dissertation submitted to the Faculty of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University In partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy In Teaching and Learning. Blacksburg, Virg, 1997. ⍽▢⍽ From his abstract: "Folk pedagogy is the accumulated set of beliefs, conceptions and assumptions that professors personally hold about the practice of teaching (Bruner, 1996)." Bruner, Jerome S. Acts of Meaning (the Jerusalem-Harvard Lectures). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990.

Bruner, Jerome. The Culture of Education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996. ⍽▢⍽ Chapter 2 is ◦online at the University of Kent.

Kinnes, Tormod. The Humor of Han Ola og han Per Taken Seriously. Major Thesis in American Civilization. The English Section at the Department of Foreign Modern Languages. NTNU, Trondheim, Spring 2007.

Malle, Bertram F., and Joshua Knobe (Mar 1997). "The folk concept of intentionality". Journal of experimental social psychology 33 (2): 101121.

Medin, Douglas L., Mark W. Altom and Timothy D. Murphy. (1984). "Given versus induced category representations: Use of prototype and exemplar information in classification". Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition 10: 333352.

Ravenscroft, Ian. "Folk Psychology as a Theory". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved 9 July 2013.

Strauss, Sidney. "Folk psychology, folk pedagogy and their relationships to subject matter knowledge." in Bruce Torff, Robert J. Sternberg. Understanding and Teaching the Intuitive Mind: Student and Teacher Learning. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Mahwah, NJ, 2001. ⍽▢⍽ "Folk psychology deals with the ways lay persons represent the psychological world."

Zukav, Gary. The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics. London: Rider, 1979.

Jerome Bruner, folk psychology, folk pedagogy, To top Archive section Set Next

Jerome Bruner, folk psychology, folk pedagogy USER'S GUIDE: [Link]
© 2013–2016, Tormod Kinnes, MPhil. [Email]  ᴥ  Disclaimer: [Link]