The Minds That We Will Need in the Future
So much of our current discussion about education is about matters that could be deemed technical or political—Should we have charters or vouchers? Should NCLB be maintained, revised, or scuttled? How do we recruit and retain the strongest teaching candidates? Is home schooling good or bad? Against this background, it is salutary to step back every once in a while and ask a big question: What minds should we be cultivating in our young persons?
In my just published Five Minds for the Future (Harvard Business School Press, 2007), I argue that we can and should nurture five kinds of minds:
1. The disciplined mind. Students should learn the ways of thinking associated with the major disciplines, in particular mathematics, science, history, and at least one art form. A disciplined mind does not simply know information; it approaches issues, puzzles, and products in expert ways.
2. The synthesizing mind. Nowadays everyone is inundated with information. How do we decide what to pay attention to, what to ignore; how do we organize critical material so that it is useful to us; and how do we communicate to others? The synthesizing mind has strategies for selecting and organizing materials effectively.
3. The creating mind. Almost everything that can be done by machine will soon be so executed. Ever more, individuals must remain one step ahead of the technology: raising new questions, creating new methods, devising works that could not have been designed algorithmically. The creating mind is ever on the lookout for what is novel but can ultimately be deemed acceptable by knowledgeable others.
4. The respectful mind. In an era of globalization, we can expect to encounter individuals of the most diverse backgrounds, interests, and goals. No longer can one live in splendid isolation. We need to cherish these differences, and know how to work effectively even with those with whom we have little in common. The respectful mind affords others the benefit of the doubt and seeks to make common cause, whenever feasible.
5. The ethical mind. While the capacity to respect arises early in life, an ethical stance requires an abstract attitude. The ethical worker asks: “What are my responsibilities as a worker, as a professional? The ethical citizen asks, “What do I owe my community, my region, the world at large?” An ethical mind acts according to principles even when such action may go against one’s own self interest.
As I reflect on these minds, I discern both the temper of the time and the evolution of my own work. For many years, as a psychologist, I was interested principally in discipline and creativity. But the advent of the new digital media impressed on me the ‘synthesizing imperative.’ As a scholar, I used to think that my responsibility ended when I finished my studies or my writings; but when I saw how my work could be abused, I realized that my responsibilities were much broader. And that is when I began to think seriously about the importance of respect and the need for an ethical stance, if we are to be good workers and good citizens.
Howard Gardner, the Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education is the author of the recently published Five Minds for the Future and co-author of Good Work: When Excellence and Ethics Meet.#