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From The Culture of Education

Let Jerome Bruner (1915–2016) inform and motivate you as you assess his comparative information flow as best you can. "A good theoretician makes many good practitioners" is embodied in good schooling.

What follows is from a book that was written late in Bruner's career. A challenge is to make the best of the deliberations.


On the way to planned honour

The intimate aspects of culture are transmitted . . . through narratives. (p 178)

Mindlessness is one of the major impediments to change. (p 79)

Learning and thinking are most often situated in a cultural setting and most often dependent upon the utilization of cultural resources. [de p. 4)

While mind creates culture, culture also creates mind. (p 165-66)

To take a cultural view of education . . . requires that one consider education and school learning in their situated, cultural context. (p x)

Children show an astonishingly strong "predisposition to culture"; they are sensitive to and eager to adopt the folkways they see around them. They show a striking interest in the activity of their parents and peers and with no prompting at all try to imitate what they observe. (p 47)

Passing on knowledge and skill, like any human exchange, involves a subcommunity in interaction. At the minimum, it involves a "teacher" and a "learner" - or if not a teacher in flesh and blood, then a vicarious one like a book, or film, or display, or a "responsive" computer. (p 20)

The psychology of the future must . . . keep its eye on both the biological and the cultural, and do so with proper regard for how these shaping forces interact in the local situation. (p 167)

[There are] two contradictory views about the nature and uses of mind, again both meritorious when taken singly. One side proclaims that learning is, as it were, principally inside the head, intrapsychic. . . .

The contrastive view to this one is that all mental activity is situated in and supported by a more or a less enabling cultural setting. . . . How well the student does in mastering and using skills, knowledge, and ways of thinking will depend upon how favoring or enabling a cultural "toolkit" the teacher provides for the learner. Indeed, the culture's symbolic toolkit actualizes the learner's very capacities, . . . The cultural contexts that favor mental development are principally and inevitably interpersonal, for they involve symbolic exchanges and include a variety of joint enterprises with peers, parents, and teachers. Through such collaboration, the developing child gains access to the resources, the symbol systems, and even the technology of the culture. . . . the better endowed child will get more from his interaction with the culture. (p 67-68)

[What is called talent] is more multifaceted than any single score, like an IQ test, could possibly reveal. Not only are there many ways of using mind, many ways of knowing and constructing meanings, but they serve many functions in different situations. (p 25)

The management of self-esteem is never simple and never settled . . . Its supports include such homely resorts as a second chance, honor for a good if unsuccessful try, but above all the chance for discourse that permits one to find out why or how things didn't work out as planned. (p 37)

Culture shapes mind . . . it provides us with the toolkit by which we construct not only our worlds but our very conceptions of our selves and our powers. (p x)

A failure to equip minds with the skills for understanding and feeling and acting in the cultural world . . . risks creating alienation, defiance, and practical incompetence. And all of these undermine the viability of a culture. (p 42-43)

Individual human beings construct "realities" and meanings that adapt them to the system, at . . . personal cost, with . . . expected outcomes. (p 12)

Oeuvres [works] are often touchingly local, modest, yet equally identity-bestowing. (p 22)

Culture is by Exchange Systems too

French historians of the so-called Annales school, refer to [some] shared and negotiable forms of thought as . . . styles of thinking that characterize different groups in different periods living under various circumstances. (p 23)

In the institutionalized "markets" of a society . . . education is never neutral, never without social and economic consequences . . . always political in this broader sense. (p 27)

Roland Barthes and Pierre Bourdieu, make the case that school is principally an agent for producing, say, "little Frenchmen and Frenchwomen" who will conform to the niche where they will end up. (p 37-38)

Cultures can . . . be conceived as elaborate exchange systems, with media of exchange as varied as respect, goods, loyalty, and services. Exchange systems . . . are further legitimized by a complex symbolic apparatus of myths, statutes, precedents, ways of talking and thinking, and even uniforms. (p 29-30)

[The public school's] relation to such as the family and the labor market, is only vaguely understood. (p 12)


There appear to be two broad ways in which human beings organize and manage their knowledge of the world, indeed structure even their immediate experience: one seems more specialized for treating of physical "things," the other for treating of people and their plights. These are conventionally known as logical scientfic thinking and narrative thinking . . . They have varied modes of expression in different cultures, which also cultivate them differently. (p 39-40)

Just as the underlying method of explanation in science can and must be taught with care and rigor, so too can the interpretive and narrative methods of history, social studies, and even literature be taught with care and rigor. But they rarely are . . . (p 91)

Narrative as a mode of thinking, as a structure for organizing our knowledge, and as a vehicle in . . . science education. (p 119)

What is a narrative? . . . A narrative involves a sequence of events. The sequence carries the meaning . . . But not every sequence of events is worth recounting. Narrative is discourse, and the prime rule of discourse is that there be a reason for it that distinguishes it from silence. Narrative is justified or warranted by . . . it tells about something unexpected, or something that one's auditor has reason to doubt. The "point" of the narrative is to resolve the unexpected, to settle the auditor's doubt, or in some manner to redress or explicate the "imbalance" that prompted the telling of the story in the first place. A story, then, has two sides to it: a sequence of events, and an implied evaluation of the events recounted. (p 121)

Narratives (truth or fiction) end with a coda, restoring teller and listener to the here and now. (p 94)

All stories . . . are justifications told from the perspective of a norm. (p 96)

Logical-scientific thinking. Its value is so implicit in our highly technological culture that its inclusion in school curricula is taken for granted. (p 41-42)

"Trouble narratives" appear again in mythic literature and contemporary novels, better contained in that form than in reasoned and logically coherent propositions. (p 40)

The image of science as a human and cultural undertaking might be improved if it were also conceived as a history of human beings overcoming received ideas. (p 42)

Are narrative construals, then, just about particulars, idiosyncratic accounts fitted to the occasion? Or are there also some universals in the realities they construct? . . . there are indeed universals, and . . . these are essential to life in a culture. (p 130)

What, in fact, is gained and what lost when human beings make sense of the world by telling stories about it - by using the narrative mode for construing reality? (p 129)

The characters and episodes of stories take their meanings from, are "functions" of, more encompassing narrative structures. Stories as wholes and their constituent "functions" are . . .[taken to be] tokens of more inclusive types. (p 134)

However derivationally deep any scientific theory may be, its use should lead to the formulation of falsifiable hypotheses, as Karl Popper would say. But you can falsify an awful lot of hypotheses, historians of science make clear, without bringing down the theory from which they have been derived. (p 122)

Discussions of narrative reality lead not to reflections on the negotiation of meaning within the human community, but to the indignant rejection of "stories" as sources of human illusion. (p 148)

We people our world with characters out of narrative genres, make sense of events by assimilating them to the shape of comedy, tragedy, irony, romance. (p 136)

Genres . . . are culturally specialized ways of both envisaging and communicating about the human condition. (p 136)

"Every narrator has a point of view and we have an inalienable right to question it." (p 138)

Skill can be improved with the aid of theory . . . when it descends into habits. (p 152)

We accept a certain essential contestability of stories. (p 143)

The "narrative construal of reality," . . . is surprisingly difficult to dissect. (p 147)

Perspective, discourse, and context: . . . make sense of what people tell you . . . taking this triad into account. (p 113)

Interpretation and explanation . . . cannot be reduced to each other. Explanation does not exhaust interpretation, nor does interpretation exhaust explanation. . (p 112)

The process of science making is narrative. It consists of spinning hypotheses about nature, testing them, correcting the hypotheses, and getting one's head straight. En route to producing testable hypotheses, we play with ideas, try to create anomalies, try to find neat puzzle forms that we can apply to intractable troubles so that they can be turned into soluble problems, figure out tricks for getting around morasses. The history of science . . . can be dramatically recounted as a set of almost heroic narratives in problem solving. (p 126)

The comprehension of narrative is hermeneutic. (p 137)

The object of hermeneutic analysis is to provide a convincing and non-contradictory account of what a story means, a reading in keeping with the particulars that constitute it. This creates the famous "hermeneutic circle" - trying to justify the "rightness" of one reading of a text not by reference to the observable world or the laws of necessary reason, but by reference to other alternative readings. (p 137)

That narrative [story-teller] skill comes "naturally," that it does not have to be taught [is not] true at all. It goes through definite stages, is severely impaired in brain damage, fares poorly under stress, and ends up in literalism in one social community while becoming fanciful in a neighboring one (p 40)

On Intentions and Experiences relatable to "Folk Pedagogy"

Not only is folk psychology preoccupied with how the mind works here and now, it is also equipped with notions about how the child's mind learns and even what makes it grow. (p 46)

The challenge is always to situate our knowledge in the living context that poses the "presenting problem," . . . the schoolroom situated in a broader culture. (p 44)

Different approaches to learning and different forms of instruction - from imitation, to instruction, to discovery, to collaboration - reflect differing beliefs and assumptions about the learner - from actor, to knower, to private experiencer, to collaborative thinker. (p 50)

The child's grasp of another's "intentional states" - his beliefs, promises, intentions, desires, in a word his theories of mind, [counts for something; acts as a kind of "root belief" too]. (p 58)

More is required to justify beliefs than merely sharing them with others. That "more" is the machinery of justification for one's beliefs, the canons of scientific and philosophical reasoning. Knowledge, after all, is justified belief (p 59)

Evidence is used to check beliefs (p 61)

Sound Education

The richest country in the world generating poverty at a rate second to none? Is that "winning"? (p 88)

[In a] development of intersubjective interchange [one is to] recognize the child's perspective in the process of learning. (p 56)

It is unquestionably the function of education to enable people, individual human beings, to operate at their fullest potential, to equip them with the tools and the sense of opportunity to use their wits, skills, and passions to the fullest. The antinomic counterpart to this is that the function of education is to reproduce the culture that supports it - not only reproduce it, but further its economic, political, and cultural ends. (p 66)

The claim of non-reductiveness and untranslatability often appears . . . in radical ethnic and anti-imperialist movements . . . In education, it doubtless fueled the "deschooling" movement . . . It expresses something deep about the dilemmas of living in contemporary bureaucratized society. (p 68-69)

We have three antinomies, then: the individual-realization versus the culture-preserving antinomy; the talent-centered versus the tool-centered antinomy; and the particularism versus universalism antinomy . . . We need to realize human potential, but we need to maintain a culture's integrity and stability. We need to recognize differing native talent, but we need to equip all with the tools of the culture. We need to respect the uniqueness of local identities and experience, but we cannot stay together as a people if the cost of local identity is a cultural Tower of Babel. (p 69-70)

A teacher is an authority who is supposed to tell the child what the general case is. (p 46)

Children had learned to treat ideas respectfully, pragmatically, and actively. (p 77)

School provides a powerful opportunity for exploring the implication of precepts for practice. (p 78)

Middle-class child rearing does produce middle-class kids. (p 73)

Idealized, American middle-class, child-centered child rearing left too little room for the cultural identities and particularities of the varied ethnic and lower social-class children and families exposed to it. It left unexamined the nature of . . . human cultures and the needs human beings have for guarding a sense of their own identity and tradition. (p 80-81)

What is needed in America . . . is not simply a renewal of the skills that make a country a better competitor in the world markets, but a renewal and reconsideration of what I have called "school culture." (p 84)

Collaboration: sharing the resources of the mix of human beings involved in teaching and learning. Mind is inside the head, but it is also with others. (p 86)

"New Field"

Let us look at the "new field" of theories of mind . . . it is neither "new" nor can it, save by fiat, be called a "field." (p 103)

Queen Elizabeth wa asked by a historian: "When did the Royal Family decide to become respectable?" "Well," she said, "it was during Victoria's reign." . . . The moral of the story: always look an "ideal condition" in the mouth. (p 128)

The Principle of Reasonable Ignorance, forbids us from holding that "any speakers are philosophically omniscient (even unconsciously). (p 138)

[It helps] to become more metacognitive - to be as aware of how she goes about her learning and thinking as she is about the subject matter she is studying. (p 64)

The three classic antidotes for [a] peculiar kind of unconsciousness of the automatic, of the ubiquitous, are contrast, confrontation, and metacognition . . . It wakes us up. (p 147)

Action, procedure, and cultural psychology. (p 156)

The human sciences in their very nature face a daunting challenge: to formulate a view of man that is sometimes incongruent with folk psychology, but what is even more serious, incongruent with our cultural ideals. Yet the human sciences are also a part of the culture that sustains. (p 163)

Biologically "primary" . . . psychological dispositions and biologically "secondary" ones. The former, as it were, come naturally; they can be found in all human cultures . . . Primaries are cognitive dispositions . . . and their expression in action aids adaptation to the natural world for navigating, getting about in a habitat, and so forth. Indeed, the exercise of these dispositions often leads to positive affect and, one might suppose, reinforcement . . . Secondaries require transforming primary intuitions into a more formal, perhaps more conscious representation - into maps, graphs, formulas, pictograms, and the like. These do not come as naturally as primaries; they are limited or even spottily distributed among enculturated humans . . . Every particular culture, in consequence, faces the decision as to which of the so-called secondary dispositions should be cultivated. (p 171)

To account for what might be going on, [Colwyn] Trevarthen borrowed the term "intersubjectivity" from the Scottish philosopher MacMurray. (p 175)

Intersubjectivity . . . seems to be about "background knowledge" as well as about a "target." (p 182)

Consider what happens when intersubjectivity is interfered with. (p 174)


Jerome Bruner extracts and quotations, Literature  

Bruner, Jerome: The Culture of Education. Cambridge. Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996.

Harvesting the hay

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