1994 – John T. Bruer

Identifying the need to improve the American education system isn’t enough; schools need strategies to battle their students’ poor performance. And those strategies must include an examination of cognitive learning.

In his book “Schools for Thought: A Science of Learning in the Classroom,” John T. Bruer lays out strategies for improving student achievement. Those ideas have earned Mr. Bruer the 1994 award.

Published by MIT Press in 1993, the book explores some of the basic principles of cognitive psychology and examines results of research that seeks to explain how students learn.

Bruer introduces techniques to teach children to think about thinking. Those techniques suggest that fundamental changes can occur in how students learn in school and how teachers can modify instruction to achieve the goal of universal high-level thinking.

He argues that such studies are vital to any attempt at school reform. A better understanding of the learning process will enable teachers to adapt their strategies and better guide students who now are unable to understand or generalize concepts.

Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said he expects Bruer’s research “to have enormous long-term implications for what happens in the classroom” and the book to be “the handbook that everybody who wants to understand the educational implications of cognitive science reaches for.”

Bruer backs up his research on cognitive learning through his work at the James S. McDonnell Foundation in St. Louis. President of the foundation since 1986, Bruer has overseen awards totaling more than $11 million annually in supporting biomedical science, education and international projects.

Bruer has a doctorate in philosophy from The Rockefeller University in New York. He is an adjunct professor of philosophy at Washington University in St. Louis.