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Leading the Learning on Human Development

HDP Illustration

Since its inception more than 50 years ago, the Human Development and Psychology (HDP) Program — led by pioneering faculty with diverse expertise in early childhood development; organizational psychology; emotional, cognitive, and moral development; developmental psychology, trauma, and child advocacy; neuroscience; and more — has been an influential model for educators with a shared passion for understanding how children and adults develop and grow.

With legendary faculty who helped put developmental thinking at the center of HGSE’s engagement with the field, the Human Development and Psychology Program made a singular and lasting contribution.

“I can’t think of anything more profound or exciting than understanding why people are the way they are, and how they develop,” says Richard Weissbourd, Ed.D.’87, faculty director of HDP.

The Laboratory for Human Development — from which HDP evolved — was established by Dean Francis Keppel in 1949, part of his vision for a school of education focused on psychology. “The idea was to study how children were socialized and how to get them to self-control,” said Howard Gardner, describing the early years of the program in his remarks at an HDP 50th anniversary celebration in early March. “But it was also a dollop of psychoanalysis.”

Over time, the program grew in size and scope, bringing in new faculty members and areas of study. Prominent researchers such as Gardner, Kurt Fischer, Catherine Snow, Robert Selman, and Carol Gilligan joined the faculty, introducing new ideas in the realms of intelligence, brain science, literacy development, and the study of girls, and building on and complementing the work of senior faculty like Jeanne Chall and Lawrence Kohlberg.

From identifying when the human brain is most receptive to input (e.g., second language learning) to determining how signals and perceptions impact adolescents’ impressions of adulthood, cognitive development and psychology are linked to the field of education in timeless, interdisciplinary ways that are grounded in everyday experiences.

Indeed, that emphasis on everyday experiences and contexts is one of the defining legacies of HGSE's work in this area, said Professor Nonie Lesaux at the HDP anniversary celebration. “Today, we see disciplines in other fields pushing theselves hard toward work that has real-world impact and even partnerships at the core without compromising on standards. In fact, that is a longstanding feature of HDP tradition here," she said. "For decades, faculty and the work have been rooted in questions about the context of development, questions about the role of the environment, the influence of specific inputs at home, school, at work, and in the community, across all domains of development, and thinking always about learning. . . .  The work and ideas [of HDP] have advanced the science by pushing the field to question and unpack assumptions — to transcend arguments about the singularity of any given construct and to go deeply into the phenomena themselves, to understand their real-world, everyday significance.”

Today, students enrolled in HDP are future practitioners and researchers who spend their time in the program conducting applied research, participating in local apprenticeships, connecting with their diverse classmates, and engaging with program faculty — including Guggenheim Fellows, MacArthur Prize recipients, and award-winning authors. They study in schools and departments across the university and employ complex, sophisticated, and creative methods to advance the field and probe critical problems.

And in many ways they personify something distinctive about HGSE as a whole. Thanks in large part to the strength and impact of the HDP program and its faculty over the last half-century, “HGSE has, unlike so many settings, put development and developmental thinking at the heart of our work with the field,” said Lesaux.
– Timothy Butterfield

Learn More and Connect

Watch Human Development and Psychology: The Long View — to hear from experts about the future of the field.

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