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Education has always been a major focus of Carnegie Corporation's work. Over its long history, it has concentrated on different levels of education, from early childhood through graduate programs. Whatever the specific focus, the foundation has always had a close relationship with educators in general and has helped develop innovative forms of education. It has funded brilliant people who have contributed to our understanding of the human mind and consciousness.

The Corporation's role in advancing and supporting educators often builds on itself. One example begins with a grant Carnegie Corporation gave to Harvard in the 1940s that funded Jerome Bruner's work in cognitive studies. Bruner concluded that the brain develops much more quickly in early childhood than was believed, and that young children develop cognitive categories in the first phases of linguistic development. Bruner's ideas are very different from the Montessori approach, which argues that we only learn through the senses, through tactile stimulation and the physical manipulation of objects. Bruner's research proved valuable to Lloyd Morrisett, a Corporation vice president with a background in cognitive psychology and education, and television producer Joan Ganz Cooney, who developed the children's television show Sesame Street with funding from Carnegie Corporation. In her oral history, Cooney explains that, although it was understood that children learn cognitively, this had to be supported by scientific research in order for the federal government and foundations to fund the creation of television shows that built on children's cognitive abilities. If children could sing beer commercials, couldn't they learn their alphabet at the same time? This was the idea behind Sesame Street. So this link between the Corporation's decision to fund Jerome Bruner in the 1940s and the creation of Sesame Street several decades later is an example of the foundation's long-ranging impact on the field of education.

The Corporation has also developed a series of very important reports on how children learn best in school, from early childhood through adolescence. These reports make compelling recommendations about classroom size. They analyze the impact of big schools on the learning process and dispel the notion that bigger is better, arguing instead that children need small classrooms. When she was first lady, Hillary Clinton, a former consultant for Carnegie Corporation, helped bring the results of the Corporation's studies to a broader public. This illustrates another aspect of the Corporation's process: the foundation works in areas for long periods of time and builds communities of experts in the academic and nonprofit sectors and maintains those ties in order to build sustainable programs.