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MAY 2006

Harvard’s Howard Gardner
Receives Standing Ovation at Bank Street Event

By Liza Young

Professor Howard Gardner is at it again, never ceasing to create innovative approaches to traditional conceptions of thinking and learning. His groundbreaking theory of multiple intelligences spawned a re-evaluation of school curricula, highlighting the importance of including the arts and culture in mainstream learning.

Recently, at the annual conference of the National Association of Laboratory Schools (NALS), co-hosted by the Bank Street College School for Children and The School at Columbia University, Gardner’s keynote included the framework for his upcoming book, Five Minds for the Future. “It’s in part an essay in psychology and education, but it’s also a programmatic book in the sense that I think these are the five minds we need to develop in the future,” Gardner explained. The book takes into account the intellectual thirst of the individual as well as the role of a person within the framework of society and humanity.
The five minds—disciplined, synthesizing, creating, respectful, and ethical—differ from multiple intelligence in working in a more synergistic fashion as opposed to separate categories of intelligences.

The “disciplined mind,” Gardner argues, is not simply knowing a particular subject but “learning to think the way people who are experts in the field think,” and should develop by the end of secondary school.

The second type of mind, the “synthesizing mind,” is defined by “deciding what to focus on, what’s important, what to ignore, and putting that together in a way that makes sense.” With a dearth of information about synthesizing in textbooks, Gardner has become most intrigued by this concept. Gardner considers himself primarily a synthesizer, but now as a “fish that has suddenly discovered he’s in water,” Gardner is faced with the challenge of uncovering what goes on as people synthesize, what is good versus bad synthesis, and how to enhance the process.

Discussing the creative mind, Gardner points out that today “creating is a premium and not an option.” While one needs a certain amount of discipline and synthesizing to create, too much of either will stifle creativity.

To foster creativity in the classroom, Gardner recommends that teachers “model novel approaches and answers to questions and indicate [to students] that those responses are legitimate.” Students should be encouraged to come up with innovative approaches, discussing ideas that did not work and alternative models. There should also be study of “examples of creative ideas, actions, behaviors,” figuring out how success was attained, and what obstacles had to be overcome.

While the first three minds are more cognitively oriented, the last two, respect and ethics, have more to do with personality and emotion. The respectful mind, Gardner indicated, has to do with “how we think and relate to other people, most importantly to other people around us.”

While this mind develops at a relatively young age, a kind of intuitive altruistic sense of reaching out to those around us, “attempting to understand differences and work with them,” the ethical mind is more abstract, and generally develops during adolescence. It has to do with fulfilling one’s responsibility in the world in terms of job role and as citizen, thinking in terms such as: “I’m a teacher…journalist…physicist, carrying out that role in the most professional way I can.”

Contemplating these two minds for the past two decades, Gardner points out that the difference between them is clear for him, but he’s still working on conveying the difference to others. He finds the conflict faced by Abraham Lincoln during the civil war period as a good illustration of the difference. While Lincoln’s respectful mind longed to free slaves, it was his ethical mind that chose not to abolish slavery in favor of preserving the union.

Lincoln’s case is an indicator of the conflict that may arise between respect and ethics. Gardner described the dilemmas teachers often face, struggling between respect and ethics. In the latter part of his book, Gardner explores the interaction between five minds. He doesn’t see them as isolated categories, but as a general taxonomy followed by respect before ethics, discipline before synthesis, ultimately creating. Within the classroom, a teacher is faced with the challenge of deciding whether to have students work synergistically, or focus and build on strengths.

In today’s educational system, teachers often must deal, as was the case with Lincoln, with personal challenges of respect versus ethics. The battle, for example, of teaching to the test versus presenting a broader, richer curriculum, leaves a teacher with the choices of: “maintenance”—the job is simply a necessity in order to pay one’s rent; “guerilla warfare,” saying yes, and then asking for forgiveness after acting in the opposite manner; or “domain expansion,” changing the current institution, or finding a new one.

Five Minds for the Future holds promise for a positive, resounding impact, intellectually and socially, for students, educators, and lifelong learners.#



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