Noted Harvard psychologist Jerome Bruner died this year in June at 100 years of age, in the same year that the world commemorates the centennial of the publication of John Dewey’s Democracy and Education. These two great educational thinkers have provided bookends for the vast change – and disturbing lack of change – that marks a century of thought on how people learn and develop. In Bruner’s obituary in the New York Times, Howard Gardner said, “He was the most important contributor to educational thinking since John Dewey – and there is no one like him today.”
When it comes to teaching, I confess that I’m a sucker for iconic texts: Shakespeare’s Othello, Mary Godwin Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Frankly, it bothers me that these authors’ fame derives from ubiquitous cultural allusions so divorced from their work. Boris Karloff immediately comes to mind when people hear the name Frankenstein. People blithely characterize someone as a “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde-type” without knowing the original story. And they refer to a talented person as a Shakespeare without having read enough of the Bard to know why he’s a genius. With the mission of connecting cultural allusions to their sources, I have introduced these texts to Books@Work readers, and several anecdotes will tell that tale of how well my approach has worked.
Man is a storytelling animal—we tell stories to preserve our past, record our legacy, and to teach our children. And we have done so in writing at least since the Epic of Gilgamesh (c. 2100 BC). By using high quality stories about the human condition, Books@Work gives our participants a lens through which to examine the whole of human behavior, in ways that provide for rich and relevant conversations. We know that when we read narrative literature, we identify with characters and reflect on their relationships. We see ourselves in the stories of others and we share our stories.
This is why we don’t read business or self-help books: they tell people how to behave rather than provide an opportunity to explore and learn about themselves and each other.