on May 15, 2007
In case you haven't noticed, the world is going through a seismic change. No one can say what the human experiment will look like on the other side, but I think we may reasonably conclude this --- the badly educated will suffer.
And by "suffer" I don't mean the old chart that shows you how much more a college graduate earns over the course of a lifetime than a high school grad.
In this new world, a college graduate who lacks what Howard Gardner calls "multiple intelligences" will be in the same boat as the high school dropout collecting an hourly wage at Jiffy Lube.
So a book that outlines the kind of smarts the future will require --- and reward --- automatically merits our attention. And we read more closely when the author is Howard Gardner, who has made a career of this subject at Harvard and collected a MacArthur Prize Fellowship along the way.
Who needs the "five minds" that Gardner discusses in this brief (167 pages), jargon-free book?
Well, you, for starters, because knowledge is expanding exponentially each year and if you are not actively engaged in some kind of lifelong learning, you are condemning yourself to the glue factory.
And, of course, your kids, because as sure as "the children are our future," they must learn to survive in a world far more demanding than ours.
So without conscious, continuing, multi-disciplinary education, it looks grim for you and your kids.
What "minds" does Gardner say you need to master?
1)The disciplined mind. Learn at least one discipline --- a ten-year process --- or you're "destined to march to someone else's tune."
2)The synthesizing mind. As information floods in, you need to connect, understand and evaluate information from disparate sources.
3)The creating mind. So you can break new ground.
4)The respectful mind. "Intolerance or disrespect is no longer an option."
5)The ethical mind. So you can work for more than self-interest and improve the quality of life for all.
Why these five and not others? Because, says Gardner, these minds are at a premium now. Their scarcity suggests they're likely to be even more highly prized in the future.
Wait a minute: Isn't our problem that we're falling behind in science and engineering? Shouldn't we be launching a national campaign in the province of hard data? Nope, Gardner says. That's "a trap into which many enthusiasts of globalization fall." And then --- how cool is this? --- he dismisses America's favorite guru, Thomas Friedman, in a phrase.
The well-rounded mind, the fully engaged life --- that's Gardner's grail. These are not new ideas. What's new is the notion that your personal survival depends on multi-disciplinary learning.
Gardner is a smart teacher. He tells stories, tosses off anecdotes, quotes Major Minds. He throws off ideas --- like, a society obsessed with creativity would be cutting its own throat: "History suggests that the 'hotter' the creative center, the more rapidly it is likely to spend or extinguish itself."
Gardner describes the contours of each mind, but there's a maddening quality to his book. You want it to be a "how to" guide. Instead, it's a call to action. I can easily understand why --- the country is in crisis, and a lot of that crisis has been deliberately manufactured by people motivated more by personal gain than societal good. You don't have to be a blogger to want to attack this culture; now we have an academic taking his turn.
If Gardner is short on specific answers, I do feel he's got the general picture: You need to know something about everything, the arts matter at least as much as the sciences, and doing right is a way to do well. To that, add one more idea: This broad, humanistic education is something you're going to have to do for yourself --- and something you're going to have to create for your kids.
Feel like taking a nap? Understandable. But consider what Gardner says is at stake.
Master only one discipline, and you and your kids "will not be able to succeed at any demanding workplace and will be restricted to menial tasks."
Don't learn to synthesize knowledge, and you and your kids will be "overwhelmed by information and unable to make judicious decisions about personal or professional matters."
Don't maximize your creative capabilities, and you and your kids will be "replaced by computers."
Don't learn respect for others, and you and your kids won't be worthy of others' respect --- in fact, you will "poison the workplace and the commons."
Don't live ethically, and you and your kids will help to create a planet you won't want to live on.
Okay, so Gardner's heavy-handed. Maybe that's what it takes to get Americans to understand that no one is going to rescue us, no public program will prepare our kids for life. You can do worse than read this book --- and then begin the process of saving your loved ones and yourself.