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Howard Gardner, professor of cognition and education at Harvard Graduate School of Education (the Multiple Intelligences Guy) argues that in our rapidly changing world, the following five minds, encapsulating skills, values, attitudes and knowledge, are crucial.

  • The Disciplined Mind
  • The Synthesizing Mind
  • The Respectful Mind
  • The Creating Mind
  • The Ethical Mind

In his introduction, Gardner rightly points out that education is a very conservative profession. This is not necessarily bad, he argues, because it means that centuries of practical knowledge has been assimilated into the profession. However, when when conditions in the world are changing, educational change must happen.

Gardner takes a swipe at policymakers who are unable to articulate the aims of education and who instead use glib phrases about "using the mind well", "having the skills to compete" and (the latest one) "leading the world in international comparisons of test scores." He then attacks the trend for emphasising science, technology and maths teaching, arguing that none of them can develop a sense of values, nor can we apply science to every area of life (I wonder if this is a veiled attack on standardized testing).

Excessive focus on science and technology reminds me of the myopia associated with ostriches or Luddites. (p.15)

Like other writers I've come across, he argues that the current school system is preparing students for the past, not the future:

I believe that current formal education still prepares students primarily for the world of the past, rather than for possible worlds of the future." (p.17)

The Disciplined Mind

Individuals without one or more disciplines will not be able to succeed at any demanding workplace and will be restricted to menial tasks.

A disciplined mind has mastered a way of thinking about a specific scholarly discipline (such as history, mathsm science, art), craft or profession (such as law, medicine, management, finance) and strives to renew and refine this mastery. This thinking goes beyond knowledge, embracing the habits, skills, processes and attitudes of a particular discipline, such as history, science or law. Gardner suggests that mastery of a discpline takes at least ten years while renewing and refining is a lifelong process.

Gardner makes a distinction between the subject matter (facts) and the discipline (the thinking behind a subject). For example, science as a discipline involves thought processes such as investigation, analysis, questioning and the generation and testing of hypotheses as well as attitudes such as curiosity, as well as scientific facts. Schools tend to focus too much on factual content at the expense of the processes and attitudes: "we acknowledge the importance of science and technology but do not teach scientific ways of thinking."

Gardner points out that most students will not enter a specific discipline, such as science, history, law, engineering or medicine, so should teachers teach disciplines such as history, maths and science on the basis that some will need it even though the majority won't? Or just to teach the facts and let students fend for themselves when it comes to thinking.

Neither. Gardner's argument is that schools should aim to provide students with a taste of what it is to think like and feel like a scientist, a historian, an engineer or a lawyer (etc) by studying a limited number of key topics in depth - substantial chunks of deep learning rather than vast swathes of shallow, fact-filled learning - developing knowledge in key areas while developing the skills and attitudes that are part of the discipline. He suggests that science, maths, history and an arts subject should be seen as gateways: a topic on gravity introduces skills and attitudes used across science; a topic on the First World War introduces skills and attitudes used across the social sciences. (an idea that lends support to the notion of organizing the curriculum into areas of learning, which was suggested in the Rose interim report)into the review of the primary curriculum in England). Gardner points to research indicating that students are unable to apply what they have learned to topics they have not been directly taught: for example, they cannot intelligently discuss the civil war in Rwanda after having been taught the American Civil War because they haven't developed the skills and thinking of a historian, only factual knowledge.

The trouble with the current curriculum is there is too much there, especially in Science. Science must involve experimentation, the development and testing of hypotheses and simply being curious about the world. But under time constraints imposed by looming tests, a tight timetable and a lengthy list of curriculum objectives, it's tempting to teach science as a body of facts that must be transmitted to the students as quickly as possible. Gardner would argue that the latter approach is teaching the subject matter of Science, not the discipline, since it doesn't develop the processes or thinking of a scientist. Gardner's approach overcomes that, developing knowledge of key areas along with scientific thinking and processes that can be applied to other areas of science; knowledge not covered can easily be found in books and on websites on a need-to-know basis. Gardner also argues that the knowledge gained through chunks of deep learning will be more meaningful, and thus will also breed a desire for more knowledge.

This is a powerful argument against fact-based learning. Facts, regardless of whether they are historical, scientific, mathematical or literary facts, all require the same thinking skill (usually memorization and recall) so more and more facts develops knowledge but keeps thinking at the same level. Secondly, even if you were to teach all the curriculum objectives, there is always more knowledge to learn, and new knowledge being created every day. To be able to understand this additional knowledge by oneself requires the skills, habits, attitudes and processes of a disciplined mind (what others call a lifelong learning skill), or else to make sense of new knowledge or to make decisions based on this knowledge people will be totally dependent on others (eg tabloid journalists); Gardner suggests there is then no difference between the responses of an educated person and an undeducated one; a disciplined mind is what empowers an individual to think for themselves. Someone without a disciplined mind is disempowered and may feel alienated, stupid and resentful. Facts are, in Gardner's words "a useful ornament"; a disciplined mind is "the Christmas tree".

How to achieve a discliplined mind

1. Identify significant, consequential topics or concepts within a discipline: content or skills (eg the nature of gravity, how to interpret a historical document)

2. Spend a significant amount of time on the topic. Study it deeply.

3. Approach the topic in different ways, eg by taking account of multiple intelligences. This engages all students and enablces students to think about a topic in a variety of ways.

4. Set up "performances of understanding". This gives evidence of and deepens understanding and allows opportunities for formative assessment. It also gives students the opportunity to apply their skills and knowledge to other contexts.

Here, in brief, is why most standardized measures of learning are of little use; they do not reveal whether the student can actually make use of the classroom material - the subject matter - once she steps outside the door (p.35)

The Synthesizing Mind

Individuals without synthesizing capabilities will be overwhelmed by information and unable to make judicious decisions about personal or professional matters. (p.18)

Gardner uses a great quote from a navy captain about what it feels like to synthesize lots of information:

I have been through this wringer. Synthesizing massive amounts of data, intelligence, slants, opinions, tactics, and trying to maintain a strategic big picture was a challenge. You feel it creeping up into your brain like a numbing cold and you just have to choke it all down, sift faster, and stay with it. [It's] challenging to be sure, but if you practise it, you develop a good tool for the leadership toolbox. (p.46-47)

The synthesizing mind takes information from disparate sources, understands and evaluates that information (working out what's important and reliable and what's not), and puts the pieces together in a way that is meaningful to the synthesizer (and possibly to others too, although here we are moving towards the creative mind).

A synthesizing mind is crucial because of the vast amount of information available today, and growing every day, from a wide range of sources. Gardner refers to the nineteenth century English scholar, Matthew Arnold, perhaps the last person "to have known everything worth knowing." Since Arnold's day, the massive expansion and dissemmination of knowledge makes such a feat impossible. Instead "our most talented minds know more and more about increasingly narrow spheres."

Gardner lists a number of types of synthesis: narratives, taxonomies, concepts, rules, metaphors, non-linguistic representations of ideas such as music and art, and theories.

And he lists the components of the synthesizing task: setting a goal of what the synthesis is trying to achieve; the starting point (the work that you are trying to synthesize); selection of type of synthesis; drafts and feedback.

How to achieve a synthesizing mind

Gardner notes how little attention synthesis gets in schools. He notes the use of projects and theme-based curricula in schools and suggests the best way of using these to develop the synthesizing mind is to give explicit instructions. For example, how to create rich narratives, powerful metaphors and non-linguistic representations; and the components of synthesis. And he suggests that students should aim to generate several representations of a synthesis to deepen understanding.

The Creating Mind

Individuals without creative capacities will be replaced by computers and will drive away those who do have the creative spark. (p. 18)

Ths Creating Mind puts forward new ideas, poses unfamiliar questions, suggests fresh ways of thinking and generates unexpected answers. Creativity is essential as it allows us to keep one step ahead of computers and robots (not sure this argument works), although he also says that every task that can be routinized eventually will be; creativity is not something that can be turned into routines.

Gardner explains that we should see creativity in a broad sense (not the Edward de Bono one-size-fits-all approach). Problem solving is a creative endeavour; as are scientists who formulate a new theory. What defines a creative person is really temperament, not skill: 

The creator stands out in terms of temperament, personality and stance. She is perennially dissatisified with current work, current standards, current questions, current answers. She strikes out in unfamiliar directions and enjoys - or at least accepts - being different from the pack...There is a reason why so many famous creators hated or dropped out of school - they did not like marching to someone else's tune (and, in turn, the authorities disliked their idiosyncratic marching patterns.All of us fail, and - because they are bold and ambitious - creators fail the most frequently and, often, the most dramatically (p.83)

The implications for schools are clear: risk-taking and failure are natural parts of the creative process and perhaps those bored by school, and drop out, are the very ones who need an infusion of creativity in the classroom. And as Gardner points out, young children are natural creators - the task of the teacher is to nurture this natural creativity (but, sadly, school squeezes it out of them).

Gardner's suggestions for doing this in the classroom are disappointing though. He only goes as far as proposing "sluices of creativity" rather than integrating creativity into the kind of project/topic-based learning suggested for developing the disciplined mind.

[After early childhood] it is indeed appropriate to master literacies and the disciplines. However, even during periods of drill, it is vital to keep open alternative possibilities and to foreground the option of unfettered exploration (p.86)

He suggests encouraging children to take up creative pursuits or pursuits in which they might fail; by bringing creative people into the classroom; through teachers suggesting alternative ways to solve maths problems or interpret texts. This may be because of his belief that both a synthesizing mind and creating mind need "a baseline of literacy and discipline", but this implies that people can't be effective synthesizers or creators until they have at least partially mastered a discipline, which he asserts earlier in the book takes at least ten years. "You can't think out of the box until you have a box" (ie a discipline) as he says in a video lecture. So I'm left wondering what place he feels creativity has in the classroom.

The Respectful Mind

Individuals without respects will be not worthy of respect by others and will poison the workplace and the commons. (p,19)

The respectful mind notes, welcomes and responds sympathetically and constructively to differences between people and cultures. It seeks to understand different cultures and to work effectively with them, In our globalized, connected world, the respectful mind is essential.

In the classrom, this mind can be developed through teachers modelling respectful behaviour (and management to teachers!) and also by exposing students to materials from other cultures, primarily through history, the arts and the humanities (presumably literature too).

The Ethical Mind

Individuals without ethics will yield a world devoid of decent workers and responsible citizens: none of us will want to live on that desolate planet. (p.19)

The ethical mind is more abstract than the respectful mind. It is more about meaning: our role as a student, future worker and citizen; how we can serve a greater, common good that goes beyond self-interest




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