In October 1986, John T. Bruer was appointed president of the James S. McDonnell Foundation, St. Louis, Missouri. The Foundation awards $18 Million annually in support of biomedical science, education, and international projects. Dr. Bruer is the first full-time professional to head the McDonnell Foundation and has developed and initiated major new programs for the Foundation. In collaboration with the Pew Charitable Trusts, he established the McDonnell-Pew Program in Cognitive Neuroscience, a new-mind brain science that links systems neuroscience and psychology in the study of human cognition. His program Cognitive Studies for Educational Practice supports applications of cognitive science to improve educational outcomes. The McDonnell Fellowships in Molecular Medicine have become one of the most prestigious young investigator awards in cancer biology. He has also involved the Foundation in international programs to control Hepatitis-B in developing countries and to alleviate effects of chronic disease and malnutrition on children's mental development.
Subsequent work in applied cognitive science funded through the McDonnell Foundation resulted in the book, Schools for Thought: A Science of Learning in the Classroom (MIT Press, 1993). Schools for Thought explains in clear, straightforward language why extending and applying the research base for education must be an integral component of any serious attempt at school reform. Schools for Thought was awarded the 1993 Quality in Educational Standards Award by the American Federation of Teachers and the 1994 Charles S. Grawemeyer Award in Education by the University of Louisville. This work is the basis for a collaboration, including educators and researchers in six North American cities, to develop a research-based middle school curriculum.
John's latest book The Myth of the First Three Years: A New Understanding of Early Brain Development and Lifelong Learning debunks many popular beliefs about the all-or-nothing effects of early experience on a child's brain and development urging parents and decision-makers to consider for themselves the evidence for lifelong learning opportunities.
Nationally, Dr. Bruer serves on advisory boards at Carnegie-Mellon University (Philosophy Department), Stanford University (Center for the Study of Language and Information), and Washington University (Program in Philosophy, Neuroscience, and Psychology). He is a director of the St. Louis University Club Fund for Education and works actively to facilitate collaboration between the national educational research community and local educators who desire to apply cognitive research in their classrooms. Dr. Bruer is an adjunct professor of philosophy at Washington University, teaching occasional courses in philosophy of science. In 1995 Dr. Bruer was appointed to the newly formed National Educational Research Policy and Priorities Board established by Congress.