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Generating New Worlds

Bruner is TC's Marx Lecturer

Imagination and its uses in teaching were the theme of this year's Virginia and Leonard Marx lecture, delivered in October by Jerome Bruner at Columbia's Alfred Lerner Hall.

Children are affected by "the inevitable struggle between the conventional and the possible in constructing the world around us," said Bruner, a medalist at TC's commencement last spring. He encouraged educators to "cultivate a sense of make- believe in young children so they can first master the art of generating new worlds." Education is not "teaching a fact for its own sake, but for teaching children to go on beyond what is given." It should never become "just a transmission of what we know without a sense of what is possible."

Bruner, co-founder of cognitive psychology along with Jean Piaget, and an architect of the federal Head Start program in the 1960s, said that leaps of imagination have driven history. He cited, as an example, the political revolution that led to women getting the right to vote. " What was the sudden shift in meaning-making about gender?" Bruner asked. "How did historians make sense of gender disenfranchisement in the past, and what made them change their minds in the early 1900s?"

Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, the Virginia and Leonard Marx Professor of Child Development and Education, said in her opening remarks that Bruner himself is responsible for broad imaginative leaps in Education theory. "In his book, The Process of Education, Jerome Bruner said that -'any subject can be taught effectively, in some intellectually honest form, to any child at any stage of development,' " Gunn said. "In saying this, he challenged convention and provoked an entire field to discuss his ideas."  

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