Leaders in Education
New NYU Jacob Javits Visiting Professor
Before a packed auditorium and balcony in the expansive Skirball Center at NYU, Howard Gardner–the “Mick Jagger” of developmental and cognitive psychology, as he was more than once jokingly referred to, given the crowd—delivered the inaugural Jacob K. Javits lecture on his specialty: Multiple Intelligences. Dr. Gardner was recently named Jacob K. Javits Visiting Professor at NYU, a position he will hold for a year, during which time he will continue to refine his much-heralded—and still controversial—theory of cognitive development. Indeed, quipped Dr. Mary Brabeck, Dean of NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development, this “developmental” talk in the series was right up Dr. Gardner’s professional alley (and hers).
Preceding the talk, NYU President John E. Sexton read a proclamation from Mayor Bloomberg, proclaiming October 30, 2007 Jacob K. Javits Lecture Day, in honor of the former US Senator and the foundation that bears his name and that of his wife, Marian B. Javits, who is an ardent supporter of the university. The speaker was then introduced by Marcelo M. Suarez-Orozco, Courtney Sale Ross University Professor of Globalization and Education, at the Steinhardt School, an expert in cultural psychology and psychological anthropology, and co-founder of the Harvard Immigration Projects. The audience included family, friends, distinguished NYU faculty members, the Board of Trustees and representatives of the political and diplomatic communities. Particularly impressive was the turnout of young people who may not have read all of Dr. Gardner’s two dozen books and hundreds of articles but got a lively, organized, power point presentation of Dr. Gardner’s basic ideas, interspersed with photographs. They also got an absorbing and entertaining, not to mention relaxed and humor-filled rumination, filled with personal asides and professional critiques. It’s not everyday that an internationally known researcher opens an address with a picture of himself at the age of five. In fact, he referred to his talk as “autobiographical” and noted that many of the pictures shown in the slide presentation were of his own selection, many, significantly, emphasizing cultural diversity.
Dr. Gardner, the John H. and Elisabeth A. Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, started working over 40 years ago on questions about “what was human about human beings, how did they get that way and what might be done to make them—us—more so?” The inquiries soon led him, by way of controlled studies and direct observation of human beings from all over the world—“all kinds of children,” including both gifted and brain injured subjects, all kinds of data—to his hypothesizing several intelligences, over one (“g” for general) and repudiating single or standardized testing. Out of the extensive research the theory of M.I. was born, positing basically eight types of intelligences—linguistic, logical/mathematical, musical, spatial, body/kinetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal and naturalist. As a scientific theory, Dr. Gardner stressed, M.I. makes only two claims: that human beings have all of these intelligences; and that no two people, even identical twins, have them the same. He also noted, with good humored criticism, that M.I. has been taken up by various advocates and practitioners who infer their own agendas and argue in the name of M.I. for particular schools, classrooms, groupings, styles, curricula. Not his recommendations, he says, though he does hope to see individualized instruction, joined to inexpensive technology, introduced into schools in such a way that students are given a variety of ways to learn, depending, of course, on teachers who know and appreciate different pedagogies. “Are there a half dozen ways to learn algebra? Great!”
The talk’s title, “From Multiple Intelligences to Future Minds,” was good evidence of Dr. Gardner’s own style, a mix of rumination and reference and an invitation to watch a well-honed mind refine itself. He called attention to the prepositions—“from” and “to”—as constituting the “subtext” of his talk. And the phrase “Future Minds,” he stated, did not refer to his eight intelligences minus three, but to goals: The Disciplined Mind, the Synthesizing Mind, The Creating Mind, The Respectful Mind and the Ethical Mind. Each of these will be necessary for the 21st century world that will increasingly involve more thinking out of the box, more working in teams, nonlinear, systematic thinking, more problem solving and, most important, Good Work—work that is excellent in quality and socially responsible. He wants to “give away” these ideas by way of journalism curricula, toolkits for secondary schools and new graduate courses (he is already working on Good Work curricula and orientation programs at Colby College in Maine). Indefatigable, imaginative, persistent—Dr. Gardner provided a memorable start to an important new lecture series. More on his ideas can be found at: www.howardgardner.com.#