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The Disciplined MindBeyond Facts Standardized Tests K 12 Educ That Every Child Deserves
By Howard Gardner
Penguin BooksCopyright © 2000 Howard Gardner
All right reserved.
A Personal Introduction:
An Education for All
From the Parochial to the Universal
As a psychologist with a deep interest in education, I have been gratified by the growing concern about educational issues throughout the world. Whether I am traveling in the United States or visiting Europe, Latin America, or the Far East, I find a surprising consensus: the belief that the quality of a nation's educational system will be a chief--perhaps the chief--determinant of its success during the next century and beyond.
Yet I often feel frustrated as well. Everywhere, much discussion about education remains mired in the parochial. Frankly, I am tired of writings by educators that focus on the instrumental or the momentary: Should we distribute vouchers so that youngsters can attend private schools? What are the advantages of charter schools? Are teacher unions the problem? The solution? Should teaching degrees be granted at thecollege level, only in graduate school, or only for those trained "on site"? How much education should take place at the computer or over the Internet? Should we have local control, national standards, international comparisons? And I am equally weary of debates that array one educational philosophy against another--traditionalists versus progressives, proponents of phonics versus advocates of "whole language."
These discussions, while not unimportant, skirt the most fundamental question. They avoid consideration of the purposes of education--the reasons why every society should devote monetary and human resources to the education of its young persons. During my years of studying education, writing about education, and visiting hundreds of schools throughout the world, I have come to my own conclusions about this question. These conclusions are personal; in a sense, I am addressing this book to my own four children and their descendants. At the same time, however, I intend this book to be universal, to speak to individuals all over the world who care about education: indeed, as the title of this chapter states, my concern is the education of all human beings. Not that I think there is only one ideal education; that idea is naive. Still, I've come to believe that certain features ought to characterize good education--or, more properly, good educations--everywhere in the world.
An Uncluttered Perspective:
The True, the Beautiful, and the Good
I want everyone to focus on the content of an education--the meat and potatoes: on how that content should be presented, mastered, put to use, and passed along to others. Specifically, I believe that three very important concerns should animate education; these concerns have names and histories that extend far back into the past. There is the realm of truth--and its underside, what is false or indeterminable. There is the realm of beauty--and its absence in experiences or objects that are ugly or kitschy. And there is the realm of morality--what we consider to be good, and what we consider to be evil.
To make clearer what I include in these realms, let me mention three topics that I would like individuals to understand in their fullness. My example in the realm of truth is the theory of evolution, as first articulated by Charles Darwin and as elaborated upon by other scientists over the last one hundred and fifty years. This is an important area of science, with particular significance for a developmental psychologist like me. Unless one has some understanding of the key notions of species, variation, natural selection, adaptation, and the like (and how these have been discovered), unless one appreciates the perennial struggle among individuals (and populations) for survival in a particular ecological niche, one cannot understand the living world of which we are a part.
The processes of evolution are fascinating in their own right, as countless budding scientists have discovered. But such understanding has also become necessary if one is to participate meaningfully in contemporary society. Absent a grasp of evolution, we cannot think systematically about a whole range of topics that affect human beings today: the merits and perils of cloning; the advisability of genetic counseling, gene therapy, and various forms of eugenics; assertions that "lifelike entities" have been created computationally and that these entities evolve in a manner similar to organic matter; claims that human behavior is best explained by sociobiology or evolutionary psychology.
As my example in the realm of beauty, I select the music of Mozart: to be specific, his opera The Marriage of Figaro. This choice begins in the personal. I love classical music, and in particular the works of Mozart; for me, at least, they represent the pinnacle of beauty fashioned by human beings. I believe that everyone ought to gain an understanding of rich works like Figaro--their intricate artistic languages, their portrayals of credible characters with deeply felt human emotions, their evocation of the sweep of an era.
Again, such understanding is its own reward; millions of people all over the globe have been enriched by listening to Mozart or immersing themselves in other artistic masterpieces from diverse cultures. Moreover, a sophisticated grasp of Mozart's achievement can be brought to bear on unfamiliar works of art and craft and perhaps also inspire beautiful new creations. And such understanding also proves relevant to the decisions that we make as citizens: which arts, artists, and other creative individuals to support; how to support them; how best to encourage new works; whether there are artistic creations that ought to be censored or regulated, and, if so, by whom; whether the arts should be taught in school, after school, or not at all.
Finally, as my example in the realm of morality, I would like individuals to understand the sequence of events known as the Holocaust: the systematic killing of the Jews and certain other groups by the Nazis and others, before and especially during the Second World War. This event has personal significance, since my family came from Germany and several of its members were victims of the Holocaust. But every human being needs to understand what it is that human beings are capable of doing, sometimes in secret, sometimes with pride. And if the Holocaust is mostly an account of unprecedented human evil, there are scattered incidents of goodness and heroism even in that grim chapter.
Like the study of science and art, accounts of historical events can be intrinsically fascinating. But they have a wider significance. I believe that people are better able to chart their life course and make life decisions when they know how others have dealt with pressures and dilemmas--historically, contemporaneously, and in works of art. And only equipped with such understanding can we participate knowledgeably in contemporary discussions (and decisions) about the culpability of various individuals and countries in the Second World War. Only with such understanding can we ponder the responsibility of human beings everywhere to counter current efforts at genocide in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia and to bring the perpetrators to justice.
The understanding of striking examples of truth, beauty, and goodness is sufficiently meaningful for human beings that it can be justified in its own right. At the same time, however, such an understanding is also necessary for productive citizenship. The ways of thinking--the disciplines-that have developed over the centuries represent our best approach to almost any topic. Without such understanding, people cannot participate fully in the world in which they--we--live.
One might think that at least some understanding of these well-known topics is widespread. It is therefore sobering to discover that the theory of evolution is considered to be false by one out of every two Americans, and even by 20 percent of science educators. According to the noted scientist Carl Sagan, only 9 percent of Americans accept that humans have evolved slowly from more ancient beings without any divine intervention. As for the Holocaust, about one-third of all Swedish high school students believe that the Holocaust did not take place. Comparable skepticism (if not outright denial) is expressed by various American groups; 20 percent of Americans admit that they do not know what happened in the Holocaust and 70 percent wish that they were better informed about it. Robert Simon, who teaches philosophy at Hamilton College, reports that anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of his American students cannot bring themselves to say that the Nazi attempt at genocide was wrong.
It is not difficult to anticipate a response to this trio of topics: How can one call this an education for all human beings? It is time-bound (the modern era); it is place-bound (Western Europe and places influenced by it); and it is even linked to the author's personal concerns.
"Right and not right," as they say. I would indeed be pleased if all human beings became deeply immersed in the themes of evolution, Mozart, and the Holocaust. There are worse ways to enlarge one's universe. But--note well--these choices are not privileged, and certainly not uniquely so. Within the West, there are numerous other scientific theories of importance (Newtonian mechanics and plate tectonics, to name just two examples); other singular artistic achievements (the works of Michelangelo or Rembrandt, Shakespeare or George Eliot); other morally tinged historical events (the French and Soviet revolutions; the American struggle over slavery). And within other cultural traditions, there are abundant examples of the true (these would include folk theories about healing or traditional Chinese medicine); the beautiful (Japanese ink and brush painting; African drum music); and good and evil (the precepts of Jainism, the stories of Pol Pot and Mao's Cultural Revolution; the generosity of bodhisattvas).
I am not contending, then, that everyone needs to be able to explain what constitutes a species or to discern the development of melodies and the intermingling romances in a work like Figaro, or to analyze the reasons why so many Germans were complicitous in the Holocaust. Rather, what I claim is that "an education for all human beings" needs to explore in some depth a set of key human achievements captured in the venerable phrase "the true, the beautiful, and the good."
Another possible objection. Aren't the categories "true," "beautiful," and "good" themselves time- and culture-bound? Again, this is a valid point, but not a decisive one. The articulated concepts of "truth," "beauty," and "goodness" reflect a philosophically oriented culture; indeed, our first records of explicit discussion of these virtues are the dialogues recorded by Plato in Greece nearly 2500 years ago. Other cultures have developed similar notions, although how they parse the three domains may well differ. However, the beliefs and practices of cultures--the beliefs and practices that they value, transmit, punish, or prohibit--reveal that each culture harbors specific views of how the world is and how it should (and should not) be. And these views embody implicit senses of truth, beauty, and morality.
There is another, more important reason for my endeavor. In the end, education has to do with fashioning certain kinds of individuals--the kinds of persons I (and others) desire the young of the world to become. I crave human beings who understand the world, who gain sustenance from such understanding, and who want--ardently, perennially--to alter it for the better. Such citizens can only come into existence if students learn to understand the world as it has been portrayed by those who have studied it most carefully and lived in it most thoughtfully; if they become familiar with the range--the summits, the valleys, the straight and meandering paths--of what other humans have achieved; and if they learn always to monitor their own lives in terms of human possibilities, including ones that have not been anticipated before. No doubt there are various routes to this wisdom; in this book, I lay out my preferred path.
I've selected my three textbook examples because they are familiar to me, and because they will be familiar to many readers. But I must repeat: there is nothing sacrosanct about this trio. Another book, on another day, could focus upon relativity, revolutions, and the ragas of southern India. And I would devour such a book.
About This Book
Though this is a personal book, I would like to think that it is not an idiosyncratic one. It is based on my analyses of educational efforts in the past, and, equally, on what the sciences have learned about the human mind and human culture. In the next two chapters, I survey that past and identify new pressures on education today. Indeed, never has the world changed more quickly. We need an education that is deeply rooted in two apparently contrasting but actually complementary considerations: what is known about the human condition, in its timeless aspects; and what is known about the pressures, challenges, and opportunities of the contemporary (and the coming) scene. Without this double anchoring, we are doomed to an education that is dated, partial, naive, and inadequate.
Following this look at the timeless and time-bound aspects of education, I move to an account of what we now know (from recent scientific and humanistic research) about the human mind, the human brain, and human cultures. Each of these vantage points is crucial and irreducible. Studies of the mind/brain (reviewed in chapter 4) tell us about how human beings come to know and understand. For example, they reveal the different ways in which individuals acquire knowledge and represent that knowledge mentally; and such researches indicate the difficulties of changing early understandings of the world, even as they suggest possible approaches for effecting needed transformations. Studies of human cultures (reviewed in chapter 5) convey the array of educational routes that human beings have followed. In some societies, education is prescribed in the finest detail, while in others, students are encouraged to "construct" knowledge for themselves or in tandem with a group of peers.
Jointly considered, the mind/brain and the spectrum of human cultures define both the possibilities for education and the constraints on it. Alone, the topic of education refutes the naive opposition between nature and nurture. An education for all human beings needs to be constructed upon these foundations, even as it must incorporate the remarkable knowledge that has been achieved in this century.
In the latter half of the book, I turn directly to issues of education in and outside of classrooms. Much has been established about the difficulty of achieving deep understanding in the classroom; and much has been learned recently about which educational practices are likely to succeed in cultivating such understanding. It is timely to review these findings and to craft an education that builds upon the most powerful insights.
Yet it is often frustrating to read about effective education in the abstract. Examples are at a premium. As my primary illustrations, I revisit the three areas of study that I've already introduced. I show how, building upon new insights, one might craft an education that yields deep understanding of questions and issues as important as evolution, Mozart, and the Holocaust: an understanding that is worth achieving in its own right, and that permits meaningful participation in today's (and tomorrow's) world.
My survey of these three topics represents a sustained effort to bring together the two most powerful ideas with which I have worked. Specifically, I draw on findings about the attainment of understanding and findings about the multiple intelligences of human beings. I contend that educators can reach many more students, and affect them much more deeply, by activating the multiple intelligences of their students, in ways spelled out in chapters 7, 8, and 9.
In the final pages of this book, I confront the difficult question of how to achieve, on a large scale, the kind of education that I would like for all. I draw on certain promising educational experiments in which I and others have been involved in recent years. Clearly, I have my own preferred educational approach; this book stands, in a sense, as a brief in favor of that regimen, as well as a guide to how it might be realized.
At the same time, because of the huge differences in value systems found across groups and cultures, I doubt that it will ever be possible to develop one ideal form of education and to implement it throughout the world. Perhaps that is just as well; a world with a single educational system--or, for that matter, a single culture--might be a dull place. It seems far more feasible to design a limited number of powerful approaches, each of which can meet the needs and desires of a significant portion of the world's population. Accordingly, I describe how one might develop six distinct educational pathways, including the one I prefer, each with its own set of standards. And finally, I return to the indispensable issue of values: which educational values we cherish, and how to make sure that a good education is also a "humane education" for all human beings.
That, in short, is what this book is about. Let me now erect a few signposts that signal my beliefs--or, to adopt an even more basic metaphor, let me lay my educational cards on the table.
First, education consists of more than school. Much of what I write about concerns what does--or should--occur in classrooms. But education took place long before there were formal institutions called schools; and today, other institutions--for example, the media--vie with schools in their educational scope and power.
Relatedly, discussion of education has often been restricted to the cognitive realm, even to specific disciplines. My own scholarly and applied work has often been viewed as being restricted in this way. Yet I see education as a far broader endeavor, involving motivation, emotions, and social and moral practices and values. Unless these facets of the person are incorporated into daily practice, education is likely to be ineffective--or, worse, to yield individuals who clash with our notions of humanity.
Much of education occurs implicitly rather than explicitly. One can certainly mount specific courses in how to think, how to act, how to behave morally. Some didactic lessons are appropriate. Yet we humans are the kinds of animals who learn chiefly by observing others--what they value, what they spurn, how they conduct themselves from day to day, and, especially, what they do when they believe that no one is looking. Continually, I will call for schools--more properly, school communities--that embody certain values, and for teachers who exhibit certain virtues. Ditto with respect to the media, the family, and other influential educational institutions.
I turn next to labels. Much of what I write about can be identified with the educational tradition of John Dewey--with what has been called progressive or neo-progressive education. I reject the baggage that has (inappropriately, I believe) come to be associated with this label. One can be progressive while also espousing traditional educational goals and calling for the highest standards of work, achievement, and behavior. In the words of Dewey himself: "The organized subject matter of the adult and the specialist ... represents the goal toward which education should continuously move."
What about the canon? Given my examples of evolution, Mozart, and the Holocaust, it may seem as if I have taken up the cause of Western thought, or even championed the controversial legacy of the Dead White Male. I am indeed dedicated to in-depth study of the most important human achievements, topics, and dilemmas. I think that everybody should have heroes and that we can learn even from those figures who, like all heroes, are flawed. But unlike those who define an a priori canon, I believe that decisions about what is important are best left to a specific educational community; that all such decisions are tentative at best; and that they should be subject to constant negotiation and reconsideration.
To put it in the terms of my endeavor, I do not believe in singular or incontrovertible truth, beauty, or morality. Every time period, every culture will have its own provisional favorites and tentative lists. We should begin with an exploration of the ideals of our own community, and we should also become acquainted with the ideals of other communities. We may not endorse the aesthetics of postmodernism or the morality of fundamentalist Islam or the truths of the Vatican Council. But we live in a world where these preferences exist, and it is necessary and proper for us to learn to live with them--and for them to learn to live with us.
It should be evident that I believe even less in "core knowledge" or "cultural literacy"; not only is this an idle pursuit, but it conveys a view of learning that is at best superficial and at worst anti-intellectual. If this book is a sustained dialectic--read "disagreement" with any contemporary educational thinker, that thinker is the noted literary analyst and educator E. D. Hirsch. Hirsch calls for a sequenced K-12 curriculum in which students cover a large number of specified topics and concepts for each year of school. To be sure, I cherish individuals who are familiar with their own and other cultures, but such literacy should come as a result of probing important issues and learning how to think about them in a disciplined way--not as a consequence of mastering fifty or five hundred predetermined topics each year.
On my educational landscape, questions are more important than answers; knowledge and, more important, understanding should evolve from the constant probing of such questions. It's not because I know for certain what the true and the beautiful and the good are that I call for their study. In fact, I distrust people who claim that they know what is true, beautiful, or good. I organize my presentation around these topics because they motivate individuals to learn about and understand their world, and because, frankly, I reject a world in which individuals cease to pursue these essential questions just because they do not permit unequivocal resolution.
No one likes jargon, especially other people's jargon, and few bodies of professional lingo are less beloved than the argot of educators. I try to keep "ed talk" to a minimum and to introduce and illustrate terms when I use them. Still, the study of education is itself a discipline; it would be foolish to ignore its insights, disingenuous to censor its vocabulary. And so, with a tinge of regret, I will on occasion speak about educational goals (why we want/need to educate); curriculum (the topics and contents that one chooses to emphasize); disciplines (which subjects and, more critically, which ways of thinking are important to inculcate); pedagogy (the strategies, tactics, and "moves" made by those formally charged with responsibility for education); and assessment (the means, formal and informal, by which educators and the wider community establish what has and has not been mastered by the "student body").
A final concern. If readers know my work at all, they are likely to be familiar with my claim that human beings have at least eight separate forms of intelligence, and that we differ from one another in our "profiles of intelligence." Others, as well as my own associates, have devoted a great deal of effort to investigating the educational implications of this theory, and I'll touch on some of that work later on.
My psychological work on multiple intelligences has had an unanticipated consequence. This is the assumption on the part of some critics that I am unsympathetic to a rigorous education, and that I eschew high standards. I suppose that is because the idea of multiple intelligences is rightly seen as a critique of the notion of a single intelligence, and of a school curriculum targeted exclusively to linguistic and logical capacities and concerns. Also, my critique of traditional standardized testing, with its almost total emphasis on linguistic and logical skills, has also led some to conclude that I am uncomfortable with assessment more generally.
A belief in multiple intelligences, however, is in no sense a statement about standards, rigor, or expectations, and it is certainly not a rejection of these desiderata. On the contrary: I am a demon for high standards and demanding expectations. I do not always succeed in my own life and work, but it is not for lack of trying. It pains me to see my work aligned (I could have written "maligned") with that of individuals who are apologists for low standards, low expectations, "anything goes."
Perhaps there is little that I can do to correct such a misrepresentation. But I can state, as emphatically as I know how, that an education for all human beings is an education that demands much from all of us--a teachers as well as students, societies as well as individuals, and (if I may) readers as well as writers. Moreover, an education for all human beings cannot succeed unless we have ways of ascertaining what has been understood and what has been mildly or fatally misconstrued. I envision a world citizenry that is highly literate, disciplined, capable of thinking critically and creatively, knowledgeable about a range of cultures, able to participate actively in discussions about new discoveries and choices, willing to take risks for what it believes in.
This statement of values may confound both friends and foes. "Progressives" may fear that, in my talk about truth and standards, I have left their fold. "Traditionalists" may welcome these "confessions of middle age" but will continue to quarrel with my focus on individualized education and my resistance to a fixed canon. I hope that this book will stimulate partisans of both stripes to examine and reexamine their unexamined assumptions.
So far as I know (this is a surmise about truth), we only come to this planet once (at least in a precloning era). Let us make as much of our brief appearance as we can. I hope that most of us will use this opportunity positively, building on what has been established in our culture about the true, the beautiful, and the good. I believe that the educations for understanding described here can yield rewards for the individual as well as for the communities in which we must live together.
Excerpted from The Disciplined Mind by Howard Gardner Copyright © 2000 by Howard Gardner. Excerpted by permission.
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