The Culture of Education

Article excerpt

JEROME S. BRUNER. The Culture of Education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996.240 pages. $24.95

At no time in recent memory has education been so critically analyzed (and some would say brutalized) for such an extended period. For more than a decade and a half, numerous studies have appeared about the quality of education in the United States, especially elementary and secondary education. Most studies, including the seminal report A Nation at Risk (1983), lament the declining quality of education and urge reformers to establish high academic standards, revise the curriculum, and restructure the schools. Reports have also articulated the need to have clearly defined goals for schools and for students. In more recent years, reports have begun to focus on the process of teaching and learning as a key element in reforming America's educational system (124).

Few, if any of the studies, however, address the issue of what goes on inside our schools as a critical reform element. Jerome S. Bruner's The Culture of Education argues that education cannot be reformed and students will not learn more effectively unless we understand how and where learning occurs. He also argues that one of the primary functions of education is to acculturate children into their culture. Children will reach their full potential only through understanding the myriad ways the mind helps them carry out discourse within that culture (89).

A noted psychologist, Bruner believes that a conflict exists between two views of the way the mind works. One is the way humans process information (the computational view) and the other is the way in which the mind uses stories to help interpret and understand the ambiguities we face in life (the cultural view). Bruner argues that what distinguishes human beings from other primates is how we learn, how we use our minds. Primates learn through processing information provided by their senses or imitating adult primates. Human beings learn through a more complex process of exploration, play, and social interaction, as well as through interpersonal nurturing ( 117).

Although the education-reform movement in the United States is beginning to shift, initially the emphasis focused primarily on increasing the amount of factual information to raise the individual student's test scores. Improving student test scores is still a primary focus; however, a fundamental shift is evident in more recent reports focusing more on the culture of education reform. Today the focus is increasingly on the creation of a collaborative school culture and teaching strategies that emphasize mastery of learning. Current reform efforts are designed increasingly to help students construct meaning out of the culture of learning, the way learning occurs. …