“‘Individuation’ and ‘pluralization’ will revolutionize education; no longer will we have to teach everyone the same thing in the same way.” – USA

Howard Gardner has accomplished a great deal over the course of his career, including developing a theory on intelligence (Multiple Intelligence – or MI – theory) that continues to be applied and discussed 30 years after its publication. (A recent Bing search on MI theory yielded 120 million results, a testament to the idea’s strength and staying power). Gardner’s theory argues that students will be better served by a broader vision of education, wherein teachers use different methodologies, exercises and activities to reach all students, not just those who excel at linguistic and logical intelligence. Given that individualized education is a topic discussed almost daily by the innovators we feature here, it’s clear he was onto something.

Still, Gardner is perhaps most proud of the work he now does as head of the GoodWork Project, a large scale effort to “identify individuals and institutions that exemplify good work – work that is excellent in quality, socially responsible, and meaningful to its practitioners – and to determine how best to increase the incidence of good work in our society.” The project enables Gardner to apply his diverse academic background and deep expertise in addressing some of our most vexing issues, not just in education, but as a society in general. I’m very proud to share Dr. Gardner’s insights today — on the future of education, where his work has taken him, and even what it may take to get into Harvard.

Can you describe how your professional achievements have advanced innovation in education?

As a scholar, I develop ideas and try to give them a push in the right direction.  I am best known for developing the theory of multiple intelligences (MI).  The theory has inspired educational experiments in schools, museums, and businesses around the world.  In the book Multiple Intelligences Around the World, 42 scholars from 15 countries on five continents describe the changes that they have made “on the ground” as a result of their work with “MI theory.”

What has changed as a result of your efforts?

Having worked on issues of intellect for many years, for the last 17 years I have been working on issues of character, through the GoodWork Project.  While not as well known as “MI theory,” the GoodWork Project has addressed issues of ethics and morality in schools and colleges/universities in several countries.  You can get involved at goodworktoolkit.org.

How can others facing similar challenges implement what you’ve learned through your work?

The books and movies about MI theory have helped people set up MI educational experiences, but I do not proselytize.  Rather, I hope that people will be inspired, as they learn about the ideas, and try to adopt and adapt them in their own ways.  I don’t believe in ‘scaling up’ per se; I don’t believe that one should set up a model and make others imitate it.  Instead, I believe in being inspired by examples to construct practices that make sense in your setting and in light of your goals.  This is what has happened with the preschools of Reggio Emilia in northern Italy—in my view, the best education for young children. The schools have inspired parents and teachers to create their own “Reggio” blend.

How have you applied technology in innovative ways to support your work?

I am very interested in the uses of technology to make possible individualized learning and to present important ideas in multiple ways.  “Individuation” and “pluralization” will revolutionize education; no longer will we have to teach everyone the same thing in the same way.  I monitor technological innovations, but in my own work I am pretty “low tech.”

What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?

I teach graduate students at Harvard and so the obstacles are chiefly self-imposed: my own limits of time, imagination, and motivation.

What is your country doing well currently to support education?

On the basis of the findings of the GoodWork Project, I analyze the US educational challenges in this way.  In our inner cities, the problem is excellence:  helping students to become highly literate.  In the heartland, the problem is engagement: Students are adequately literate, and most finish high school and college. But they are not motivated to continue their learning and are rarely informed about news, politics, art, science, the international scene.  Among upper middle class children, in the suburbs and the gentrified cities, the problem is ethics.  These young persons are bright and engaged, but they do not strive to do the right thing. Too many of them just want to be rich, famous, well-travelled, and they do not devote themselves to improving the society in which they live.

What conditions must change in your country to better support education?

Of course, these are broad generalizations—and, I would add, the problems with our “best and brightest” seem to be occurring abroad as well.  We live in a selfish era.

What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?

Digital media make it possible to make available high quality educational materials all over the world at very little cost.  If these opportunities were taken advantage of, we would have a highly educated world population.  But left to their own devices, many young persons and many older persons do not seek self-improvement; they’d rather play games of dubious intellectual value or spend many hours a day traversing a social network.  Those countries and populations that take advantage of the educational potential of digital media will be the most productive and, I would add, the happiest; I fear that the US will not be among them.

What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?

Be alert to what is going on in the world and share it with your students;  get to know your students well and try to teach them in ways that make sense to them and to help them see what they are learning;  keep in touch with the students even after they leave your classroom.

If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?

The tool I’d give to the child is the capacity to read fluently.  Reading — whether online or offline — is still the best way to learn about our world and the many other worlds, which
others have seen or thought about.
Recently, I led a seminar with ten Harvard freshmen (age 18 or 19).  These are remarkable youngsters, on almost any criterion.  I asked them what they were like when they were 10 years old. Most of them said that they would have been sitting alone, reading a book.   I
remarked that this is probably advice that would never be included in a book “How to get into Harvard”—and yet, it is probably the best advice that could be given.


About Howard Gardner
Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education, Harvard University

Howard Gardner is a distinguished scholar and recipient of numerous fellowships, including the MacArthur Prize Fellowship and John S. Guggenheim Memorial Foundation
fellowship. His work in identifying multiple intelligences has significantly influenced education in the US and other countries since the work was published in the 1980s. Gardner was selected by Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines as one of the top 100 most
influential public intellectuals in the world. In 2011, Gardner won the Prince of Asturias Award in Social Sciences and he has received honorary degrees in twenty-eight colleges and universities, including institutions in Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy, and South Korea.

Name:  Howard Gardner
Job title: Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education
Birthplace:  Scranton, Pennsylvania
Current residence:  Cambridge, Massachusetts
Education:  AB Harvard College; Ph.D  Harvard University
Website I check every day:  New York Times, Harvard Crimson, GoodWork Toolkit
Person who inspires me most:  Mahatma Gandhi
Favorite childhood memory:  Going with my extended family (parents, sister, cousins, etc.) to see my grandparents go on their annual voyage to Europe, I especially remember the hors d’oeuvres on the deck of the ship.
Next travel destination (work or pleasure):  Two trips to Aspen this month, for conferences.
When was the last time you laughed? Why? The last time that I laughed heartily was when my son mimicked an elderly relative, whom we did not like very much.
Favorite book:  Claude Levi-Strauss’ autobiographical travel book, Tristes Tropiques
Favorite music: Mozart piano concerti
Your favorite quote or motto:  I regard every defeat as an opportunity – Jean Monnet, French statesman

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