Jerome S. Bruner, the Culture of Education, and Educational Technology

Despite the still staggering “and Life” issues, tonight I’ve managed to keep up with my feeds, catch up on email (including comments from this blog), and now, finally, to blog. (And I completed a reference for a former student to boot!)

I started this post weeks ago, while digging through Bruner’s The Culture of Education. My next paper is still in very early stages, so I am returning to these quotes and my annotations to complete this post for ET&L.

Meaning making involves situating encounters with the world in their appropriate cultural contexts in order to know “what they are about.” Although meanings are “in the mind,” they have their origins and their significance in the culture in which they are created. It is this cultural situatedness of meanings that assures their negotiability and, ultimately, their communicability. (p. 3)

Finally, I am getting to the social negotiation element in the subtitle to this blog! This quote speaks to the importance of allowing students to learn new content (and processes!) in a cultural context, rather than as abstract elements divorced from context, and culture. This is also important to relate to your students, not necessarily as friends (though I remain open to that idea), but at least as human beings. When I got to the point where I could do that, it changed my teaching… that was the door to success. And establishing that relationship is still the first thing I try to do in any professional development.

Education is not an island, but part of the continent of culture.

Similarly I often open with an activity based on a current event, or something I am currently passionate about (in an effort to provoke some passion in the participants). I think this is equally important (and effective) with k12 students. And, naturally, I think that blogs, wikis, and RSS can help students feel that their education is a part of a greater culture… and may even be contributing to that culture.

Native endowment may be as much affected by the accessibility of symbolic systems as by the distribution of genes. (p. 11)

Consider how much more important this becomes in the age of the digital divide! Already there is such a clear gap between those who can read and write academic language, and those who are functionally illiterate… a similar gap has formed between those who can use educational technologies such as an office suite, the internet, and email… and now another gap is forming between those who can use blogs, wikis, and RSS and those who cannot. I suspect a similar divide may be created when some students have access to games and simulations as part of their education (allowing them to learn cyclical and systems content in addition to linear content), while others are stuck using books – and office suites. Needless to say, I think this conclusion of Bruner’s speaks to the need to be sure public education provides students with exposure to these tools and the support they need to master them. Personally, I think the need for a 1:1 student to computer ratio should be self evident at this point.

Works and works-in-progess create shared and negotiable ways of thinking in a group… [and] externalization produces a record of our efforts, one that is “outside us” rather than vaguely “in memory.” (p. 23)

It is amazing how well this quote captures so much of what is exciting about the read/write web in education! Will Richardson in particular writes often about the benefits of writing as thinking, and I have linked before to suggestions that blogs can be our back up brain.

I thought that I should point out that when Bruner starts talking about “the tenet of identity and self esteem” (p. 35), he starts sounding like Jim Gee, but I suppose the opposite is true. Gee’s work reflects Bruner’s influence.

I think we have become so preoccupied with the more formal criteria of “performance” and with the bureaucratic demands of education as an institution that we have neglected this personal side of education. (p. 39)

Bruner knew that “…and Life” was more important than standards 10 years ago! This is much of what frustrates me about my job at the county. Though I have some freedom to be disrupted, I am inspired to do more.

Even under the least favorable conditions – psychologically, fiscally, educationally – we still succeed in giving some children a sense of their own possibilities. We do it by getting them (and sometimes their parents) to collaborate in an enabling community. (p. 76)

This is what it is all about! This is what our Expected School Wide Learning Results should be… students will develop a sense of their own possibilities! And note the nod to the parents. Here again blogs can help kids recognize their potential to contribute, and can help parents recognize their student’s contributions. So, too, can games help… particularly games that can recast the student as the hero, or at least an effective agent of change within the game world.

Perhaps successful cultures… should be considered as “countercultures” that serve to raise the consciousness and meta-cognition of their participants as well as enhancing their self esteem. (p. 77-78)

Wow. Here is today’s Hallelujah, brother. Did I mention I long to be more disruptive?

It is through this process of becoming aware of practice that the good school and the healhy classroom can provide even the child of poverty, even the outsider immigrant child, some working vision of how a society can operate. (p. 79)

This is why reflection through blogging can be a powerful tool for supporting professional learning communities (and small learning communities). In fact, as I sat in a SAIT meeting today and contemplated what in the world an Ed Tech guy was doing in a meeting about program improvement schools when no one in the room had any intention of tapping his knowledge base, it occurred to me how much focusing on the read/write web and other disruptive technologies (rather than focusing on remedial efforts) could change the culture of a school to support more meaningful student learning and achievement, possibly even raising test scores as a side effect.

“We probably have little better sense of where the culture is heading than did the French in 1789.” (p. 83)

Scary isn’t it? But very likely true.

We need a surer sense of what to teach to whom and how to go about teaching it in such a way that it will make those taught more effective, less alienated, and better human beings… then we can mount the kind of community effort that can truly address the future of our educational process – an effort in which all of the resources of intellect and compassion that we can muster, whatever the price, are placed at the disposal of the schools… all the standards in the world will not, like a helping hand, achieve the goal of making our multicultural, our threatened society come alive again, not alive just as a competitor in the world’s markets, but as a nation worth living in and living for. (p. 118)

Perhaps when Bruner wrote this we needed that surer sense… now I think we have it (to the degree possible in our changing culture), and the question now is how to effect the changes he dreams of as well. This is what Educational Technology and Life is all about for me. At the best of times, this is what my job is about, too. I believe the read/write web will play a roll in mounting this community effort, because what Dewey calls our medieval educational system cannot serve us much longer, and the change is coming.