From Mundare to academic stardom
Albert Bandura thrilled to be named to Order of Canada
As a young boy, Albert Bandura did his share of sheer hard work as his parents carved a homestead out of rocks and trees near Mundare, in the early decades of the 1900s.
It’s a familiar pioneering story of struggle and endurance on farmland east of Edmonton, but with an unusual ending.
Bandura, 89, rose from the one-room school in Mundare to become one of the most influential psychologists of all time, a giant in his field along with B.F. Skinner, Sigmund Freud and Jean Piaget.
This month, Bandura was appointed an officer in the Order of Canada — an honour that he’s thrilled to receive from his home country.
“I felt a profound sense of gratitude,” said Bandura.
“I also feel my parents share the honours,” he added quickly in an interview from Stanford, Calif., where he has been a university professor since 1953.
Well-known Edmonton entrepreneur Cal Nichols was also named to the Order of Canada. Nichols, who started his business in Saint Walburg, Sask. in 1962, is best known for his key role in retaining local ownership of the Oilers hockey team in 1997.
Bandura’s Polish father worked on the railroad and his Ukrainian mother at the Mundare store to save enough to buy their land. They had no formal education but believed in it for their children.
Bandura, born in 1925, was the youngest child and only boy in a family of six children. He lived mostly in Mundare, where the family by then also owned a mill and stables. The youngster played hockey, had the run of the town and worked on the family farm in the summer.
Bandura recalls with a chuckle that he was not impressed with his first day at school in Mundare.
“I told my mother when I got home: ‘I’m not going back, they speak some kind of funny language there.’
“My mother replied: ‘I think that’s English.’ And sent me back.”
Life was hard at times. In the Depression, his father lost some of his land. But the family prospered and Bandura learned important lessons of self reliance or “selfdirected learning” that would influence his academic life.
After he completed high school there, his parents sat him down for a chat.
“They said: ‘You have to decide what to do. You can stay here, go farming, play pool, drink, or get an education.”
The teenage Bandura chose education. To make money for university, he worked in Edmonton learning carpentry at a sash and door plant. The city’s population was just 87,000.
Then he was off to the Yukon to work on the Alaska Highway, another “broadening experience,” among construction workers who ran their own still in the woods. (He still recalls the day six grizzly bears got to the still first.)
By accident, he discovered the discipline of psychology at University of British Columbia and graduated in 1949. He arrived in Stanford in 1953 with his PhD and began a remarkable 60-plus year academic career, and a long marriage to Virginia (now deceased).
They raised daughters Mary and Carol.
Bandura would challenge many standard theories, lay the foundation of modern social psychology and receive numerous honorary degrees, including from the University of Alberta.
He made his mark early, studying the aggressive behaviour of young men from well-to-do families in his first book Adolescent Aggression (1959). He challenged the traditional notion that parents shape the child, with a more complex view that children play an active role and learn from observing their parents. That was the origin of his new “social learning theory.”
He also devised his theory of “self-efficacy” (the degree to which individuals have the capacity to influence their circumstances).
Two years ago, at 87, Bandura began another book also on a contentious new issue — a shift in morality that allows people and corporations to carry out and live with conduct that causes harm.
Moral disengagement — How People Do Harm and Live with It, is the title of the book that will be published in 2015.
In the book, Bandura covers a range of examples of moral disengagement — tobacco companies and asbestos companies that deny harmful effects of their products, Wall Street ethics that caused the 2008 financial crash, acts of terrorism and the “moral disengagement around the environment.”
Bandura identified eight factors that allow people to rationalize harmful acts these days. They include simple techniques such as denying harm (as tobacco companies did) and using euphemistic language to describe the harm, such as “collateral damage” in war. Demonizing and blaming the victim are also effective in rationalizing harm, as is pushing off responsibility, (“I was just following orders.”)
For years, Bandura visited Mundare whenever he could — though he doesn’t fly anymore. The village still holds a place dear to his heart, he said. email@example.com
“I felt a profound sense of gratitude. I also feel my parents share the honours.”
Albert Bandura, professor emeritus of social science in psychology at Stanford University, and a new officer of the Order of Canada, stands in front of the farm in Mundare where he spent his childhood. Bandura, 89, rose from the one-room school to become one of the most influential psychologists of all time.