The Biology of Learning

1) James Q. Wilson. “Thinking about Parent and Child.” The Public Interest, 1999. Wilson reviews Judith Rich Harris’ book The Nurture Assumption. It is an interesting review of current ideas about the ancient controversy over the impacts of nature and nurture on children. It’s an excellent overview of the difficulties one faces in trying to balance different academic and ideological perspectives on human nature.

2) Sharon Begley. “Your Child’s Brain.” Newsweek, 1996. Begley gives a general review of how new insights from neurology are used to better understand the importance of nurture in brain development.

3) Paul R. Ehrlich. “Evolving Brains, Evolving Minds.” Human Natures, 2000. This is the one book to read on human evolution. This chapter seeks a balance between nature and nurture in brain development.

4) “Newsweek. Your Child: Special 2000 Edition.” Fall/Winter 2000. A fascinating and eminently readable and relevant collection of articles.

5) Francis Fukuyama. “Is it all in the Genes?” Commentary, 1997. What does the human genome tell us about human nature? Fukuyama writes about a few of the possible insights we may expect from the mapping of the humane genome.

6) Ronald Kotulak. “Learning How to Use the Brain,” 1996. In a series of articles for the Chicago Tribune which won Kotulak a Pulitzer Prize the author describes how recent findings from the brain sciences may impact how we view children’s learning.

7) Steven Rose. “Brains, Minds and the World,” 1998. Rose provides and overview of the technologies that have allowed the recent exploration of the human brain.

8) Catherine C. Lewis. “The (Japanese) preschool experience: Play, community, reflection.” 1998. Lewis lived and worked in Japan while her two young sons attended Japanese schools. She writes how the Japanese appreciation of social skills is at the center of the primary school experience for children.

9) John Bruer. The Myth of the First Three Years, 1999. This chapter from Bruer’s book outlines what cognitive science has to say about young children’s learning and why his research collides with some of the findings being celebrated by child advocates.

10) Alison Gopnik, Andrew Meltzoff, and Patricia Kuhl. “Ancient Questions and a Young Science,” The Scientist in the Crib: Minds, brains and how children learn. 1999. In this immensely readable chapter the authors share their findings from developmental psychology, neurology and cognitive science. They explain how the mind of young children works like those of scientists.

11) John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid. “Learning in Theory and Practice.” 2000. Drawing from rich learning experiences at Xerox PARC, and from historical, social, and cultural research the authors show that information outside the context of a viable community is worthless. Understanding requires community, and this chapter explains why.

12) Lauren Resnick. “Learning in School and Out.” Educational Researcher, 1987. In a speech given to the leading organization of educational researchers in the United States Lauren Resnick makes the case for reconnecting what happens in the classroom to real world. This is an essential article to understand why the Initiative argues education is “inside out.”

13) Etienne Wenger. “Communities of Practice: The Social Fabric of Learning Organizations,” 1996. Wenger shows the difficulties businesses face in trying to build true learning organizations. Too often, Wenger notes, organizations talk about helping all members learn, but such efforts are often circumvented by the politics and inertia of the organization itself.

14) Terry Ryan. “Learning: The Evolutionary Legacy?” 2001. This paper reviews many of the books and articles that have been written in 2000 and 2001 about the “nature of human learning.”