Five Minds The World Needs Now

26 11 2006

Some so-called policy expert from Columbia Teachers College is doing “national research” focused on homeschooling, apparently determined to prove it’s a threat to all he holds dear. Can that be called research, really? Sounds more like a self-serving ax-grind to me, shades of Stanford’s philosophy prof Rob Reich, who loftily categorizes even socially successful and personally satisfying home education as some democracy-damning form of “ethical servility”. . .

I was muttering to myself and stewing about the stupidity of such priggish bias passing as elite higher education, so I pulled out Harvard’s cognitive psychology and education expert Dr. Howard Gardner, who ought to trump even Columbia and Stanford “education experts” when the Game of the Day is institutional ivy creeping up our walls at home.

“. . .improving performance on a particular test is a terrible goal for
an education system. . . .we need to cultivate five kinds of minds, if we want to be successful as a nation and, more important, as a world.”

Howard Gardner is the Hobbs professor of education and cognition at Harvard University’s graduate school of education, in Cambridge, Mass.

Beyond the Herd Mentality:
The Minds That We Truly Need in the Future

By Howard Gardner

Published: September 14, 2005

To be sure, there is nothing wrong with having a high standing in some kind of international comparison. No doubt there are things to be learned from effective schools in countries like Finland or Singapore. And yet, the more I have thought about it, the more I have become
convinced that the goal of topping the international comparisons is a foolish one, and the rush to raise one’s rank a fool’s errand. In the process of pursuing a higher rank, educational leaders are ignoring deeper and more important purposes of education.

Let’s begin with the obvious. Only a few countries can have the lead in these “league-table comparisons.” And so, as in Olympic-level basketball, backgammon, or ballet, most countries are destined to be disappointed, and most ministers of education advised to shift portfolios before the next list is posted.

Consider, next, the tenuous relation between performance on such measures and the success of the society on other metrics. In the early 1980s, many Americans disparaged their schools as the source of economic doldrums and looked admiringly at the Japanese example. If only we could have the test scores of those Japanese students! In the next two decades, Japanese students continued to do perfectly well in examinations, and yet the economic and social performance of the country was unimpressive. Meanwhile, though there has hardly been a sea change in American schools, our society has enjoyed enviable economic prosperity during the same period.

Even when tests are instituted or cited for praiseworthy reasons, undesirable results often obtain. The peril of making tests all-important and of “teaching to the test” has been

well documented. Ample examples of genuine cheating by students and teachers, or other,
subtler forms of compromised work, can be adduced. And when tests become dominant in our society, citizens with options cash them in. Parents who do not like a testing regimen place their children in independent schools or home-school. Accomplished veterans or promising new teachers, who want to be able to create their own curricula or to teach in ways that are not honored by the tests, migrate to the private sector or leave teaching altogether.

As far as I am concerned, however, all these criticisms are secondary. The decisive reason to avoid the “herd mentality” of education ministers is that improving performance on a particular test is a terrible goal for an education system. A transient numerical result, due to any number of reasons, becomes the raison d’être for the whole educational process.
What a depressing prospect.

The more I have thought about it, the more I have become convinced that the goal of topping the international comparisons is a foolish one, and the rush to raise one’s rank a fool’s errand.

Instead of beginning (and, all too often, ending) with test scores, we should begin by considering the kinds of minds that we want to cultivate in our education system. My own reflections suggest that in the future, we need to cultivate five kinds of minds if we want to be successful asa nation and, more important, as a world. Those minds include:

. A disciplined mind, that can think well and appropriately in the major

. A synthesizing mind, that can sift through a large amount of
information, decide what is important, and put it together in ways that
make sense for oneself and for others;

. A creative mind, that can raise new questions, come up with novel
solutions, think outside the box;

. A respectful mind, that honors the differences among individuals and
groups, and tries to understand them and work productively with them; and

. An ethical mind, that thinks, beyond selfish interests, about the kind
of worker one aspires to be, and the kind of citizen that one should be.

No doubt, some measures for each of these could be devised, though I doubt that a paper-and-pencil or computer-administered, short-answer test will prove adequate. But the important point is this: Any country–and certainly one as prosperous and well-positioned as the United States–should begin educational discussions with a serious consideration of the kinds of human beings we would like to have and to be in the future.

And that is why the education ministers of the world remind me today of lemmings–marching confidently, but proudly and disastrously, into a sea of ignorance.

Vol. 25, Issue 03, Page 44
© 2005 Editorial Projects in Education



6 responses

26 11 2006

I think it’s so obvious that the pro-public school professors fall short of developing the five types of minds in themselves, much less in others! Seems to me that Reich and Huerta are examples of not thinking creatively, of blindly rejecting novel solutions; failing to respect differences among individuals and to work productively with them; failing to think beyond their own selfish interests to seek out their own ethics and best purpose, rather than seeking to impose their ethics and models on others as right-thinking “education” or “science” — and failing even at that.

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