THE THIRD CULTURE
"EDUCATION FOR ALL HUMAN BEINGS"
A Talk with Howard Gardner
Howard Gardner, Professor of Education at Harvard University, is deeply
involved in educational reform, particularly in the United States.
He is dismayed by how much of the discussion, both in the United States
and abroad, is basically methodological and technical. "We argue endlessly:
shall we have charter schools, shall we have vouchers, shall we have
elected school boards, shall we have national standards, who gets
to decide on them, should there be national tests, are unions the
problem, are they solution, who funds education, etc.," he says. Those
questions are not trivial, but there is a paucity of discussion of
the purposes, the goals of education nowadays and in the foreseeable
Gardner, who is more or less on the progressive side
of education, is struck by the fact that most of the attention is
paid to people who can be described as conservative: "there's more
attention paid to Allan Bloom's book The Closing of the American
Mind and E.D. Hirsch 's book Cultural Literacy, both published
ten years ago, than almost anything else that's been written on education
in America in recent memory."
How do we push away the thickets and get to fundamentals? Gardner
is under no illusion that he's going to come up with answers that
other people haven't come up with before; "Plato and Socrates had
a lot to say on the topic, also Confucius and Rousseau among others,"
he notes. "But we can't simply repeat the traditional answers mindlessly.
We can't just go back to the trivium and quadrivium because they seemed
to work in the Middle Ages. We do know a lot about human beings that
we didn't know before, and we know something about the shape of the
world, which is very different than it has been in the past. I am
pondering the constraints of education as well as the things that
are changing; I am thinking about what we've learned about the mind
and the brain and different cultures. I want to lay out something
which at least I'd want to have for my kids, and at best what I'd
want to have for kids everywhere."
Gardner has written fifteen books, nine of which have the word "mind"
in the title. Read on and you will understand why.
HOWARD GARDNER, the major proponent of the theory of multiple intelligences,
is Professor of Education at Harvard University and holds research
appointments at the Boston Veteran's Administration Medical Center
and Boston University School of Medicine. His numerous books include
Leading Minds, Frames of Mind, The Mind's New Science: A
History of the Cognitive Revolution, To Open Minds, and Extraordinary
Minds: Portraits of Four Exceptional Individuals. He has received
both a MacArthur Prize Fellowship and the Louisville Grawemeyer Award.
"EDUCATION FOR ALL HUMAN BEINGS"
A Talk with Howard Gardner
JB: Howard, what is education? Are you talking about a metaprogram?
Is education a discipline? Is it a science? What happens at Education
GARDNER: One mistake that many people make, including
me, is to equate education to school. Of course schools are only one
of many institutions involved in education. In the United States the
media probably do as much education and miseducation as the schools;
there are messages on the street, there are messages in the family,
church, all those other institutions. A graduate school of education
ought to be concerned about all of those institutions which transmit
what the culture, or some part of the culture, values sufficiently
that it wants its young people to have. Richard Dawkins makes the
distinction between genes and memes; I suppose education doesn't have
much to say about the genes, but it has a lot to say about the memes;
sometimes the memes become the goal, sometimes they're incidental.
For example, I want you to buy something, but in the course of trying
to sell it to you, I may teach you lots of other things, for example
how to mount a persuasive argument. That entails a hidden curriculum.
Education entails many disciplines. There's certainly a lot of knowledge
and lore over the millennia about how you transmit culture. Indeed
if you go back to the Bible and Confucius, you discover education
is cumulative in that sense. But education is also a metadiscipline.
It's a discipline which is so to speak parasitic to many other disciplines.
In this country education has been parasitic to a degree upon psychology
I don't think particularly to its benefit. But psychology has
been a major discipline in schools of education, with anthropology,
sociology, economics, political science being less important players,
plus administration or management, which is maybe a doubly parasitic
kind of thing. This approach draws on the social sciences to figure
out how to run things, whether they're schools, or businesses, or
even countries. But to get more concrete, what you have as a faculty
at this graduate school of education are largely social scientists
interested in the issues of education. Sometimes we are quite second
rate. Sometimes, I hope, we are not. I could just mention a few intellectuals
associated with my own school: Pat Moynahan, Nathan Glazer, Carol
Gilligan, Sara Lawrence Lightfoot, and Robert Coles.
JB: Sounds like education departments have a complex
of some kind.
GARDNER: I'm trying to give you a straightforward
description; a disinterested one.
JB: Could you get a job in another department?
GARDNER: I like to follow problems wherever they
go. I've been studying extraordinary minds; I wrote a book about creativity,
a book about leaders, and in that I'm trying to be a naturalist and
figure out if extraordinary people represent a species as a whole,
what are the subspecies? There's not a department where you can do
that sort of stuff. I'm also working on the relationship between creativity
and responsibility; that's my major research project at present. There
are few funders who really understand what we're talking about, so
we've had to prevail upon their trust in us. To go back to the start
of our conversation, I'm writing a book about how everybody in the
world ought to be educated.
JB: How you educate everybody?
GARDNER: I want people at the end of their education
to understand the world in ways that they couldn't have understood
it before their education. In speaking of the world I mean the physical
world, the biological world, the social world their own world,
their personal world as well as the broader social and cultural terrain.
I believe that these are questions that every human being is interested
in from a very young age. They're questions which kids ask all the
time: who am I, where do I come from, what's this made out of, what's
going to happen to me, why do people fight, why do they hate? Is there
a higher power? Questions like that they don't usually ask
them in their words, they ask them in their play, in their stories,
the myths they like to listen to and so on.
These are also the questions that historically have
been looked at in religion, philosophy, science. While it's great
for people to ask these questions on their own, and to make use of
their own experience, it's crazy for people not to take advantage
of the other attempts to answer those questions over the millennia.
And the disciplines represent to me the most concerted efforts to
provide answers to those questions. History tells us where we come
from. Biology talks about what it means to be alive. Physics talks
about the world of objects, alive or not.
It's important to emphasize the role of disciplines when you're talking
about precollegiate education. Some people think the disciplines are
irrelevant, and some people think all the interesting work is interdisciplinary
so you can kind of jump right into that. I reject both of these claims.
Disciplines are what separates us from the barbarians; I don't think
you can do interdisciplinary work unless you've done disciplinary
The people who defend disciplines often go to the opposite extreme;
there's a joke in my field which is in elementary school we
love the kids, in high school we love the disciplines, in college
we love ourselves. I don't think disciplines ought to be loved for
their own sake; they ought to be seen as the best way to answer questions
that human beings are interested in. Therefore I see the purpose of
education as helping people understand the best answers that cultures
and societies have come up with to basic questions, what I would call
essential questions. So at the end we can form our own personal answers
to those questions, which will be based to a significant extent on
how other people have approached them, and will at the same time allow
us to make our own syntheses.
The word understanding is very important here because I would say
the overwhelming part of what we do in schools has nothing to do with
understanding. It has to do with memorizing material and feeding it
back in the form of short-answer tests. Understanding for me, on the
other hand, is taking something that you've learned, a skill, a bit
of knowledge, a concept, and applying it appropriately in a new situation.
We very rarely ask students to do that. The most interesting finding
of cognitive science for education is that when we ask even the best
students in the best schools to make use of the knowledge in a new
situation, they don't typically know how to do it.
JB: Maybe the premise of schools should be how to
take tests. I became very good at it I'm not being ironic.
GARDNER: What you're saying is more true than you
may realize. By and large throughout history, schools have not known
exactly what it is that they want to do, but those who fund and operate
schools have known that they want to have people who are responsible,
and show up, and can master a task. So over the years they have developed
what we might call ersatzes. If you wanted to go to Harvard
College a hundred years ago, you had to be able to read Latin, Greek
and Hebrew. Nobody went out and did a job where they had to read Latin,
Greek and Hebrew. Nowadays it's mastering a certain amount of mathematics,
even though almost nobody will be using that mathematics when they
go on. They are hurdles which we set up to discover whether somebody
has the Yiddish word is yechas, the German word is sitzfleisch
to sit down and do something they don't really want to do.
Suddenly the notion of seeing whether people can memorize lots of
stuff and can sit down and study becomes irrelevant. Because we can
get computers and other kinds of instrumentation to do that for us.
We don't need to remember the capital of Montana because it is likely
to be at our fingertips. When I talk about being able to understand
the discipline so that we can approach fundamental questions, I mean
that we need to be able to train ways of thinking, so when new stuff
comes along, people will be able to say, "Gee, I know how to approach
that because of some ways of thinking that I've learned;" or if not,
at least I have some recourse where I can go to figure out what to
do. And this can be other people, or books, or some kind of training
that you do yourself or with a simulation there are many options.
The notion of coverage, of going through a bunch of disciplines, and
learning facts and concepts, is assessed by schools all over the world.
It's never been a very good idea, but now it's really irrelevant.
I would throw away 95 percent of the coverage that we do; figure out
really important questions and issues, and give people lots and lots
of time to learn about how disciplined minds think about those issues,
and then to practice those disciplines themselves.
JB: Let's get more concrete about your present initiatives.
GARDNER: I'm a progressive in education a
follower of Dewey and people like that but I want essentially
to seize the initiative from the conservatives, who have dominated
educational discussion in this country to its detriment. I'm selecting
as my examples things which no conservative could possibly shake a
fist at, but which would drive postmodernists nuts. Truth, beauty,
and goodness. When I talk about truth, I'm talking about science but
also folk knowledge; when I talk about beauty I'm talking about the
arts, but it could be nature as well; when I'm talking about goodness
and evil I'm talking about morality.
My specimen topic in truth is the theory of evolution; my topic in
beauty is the music of Mozart; my topic in morality is the Holocaust.
Getting even more specific than that: my example in evolution is Darwin's
finches; within the music of Mozart my example is a trio in The
Marriage of Figaro it's the 13th performed set piece in
the first act; and in the Holocaust my example the Wannsee Conference
is the place where the Nazis actually launched the Final Solution.
These three things the finches, the trio, and the Wannsee Conference
actually respond to questions that kids are interested in.
(For example, why are there so many different kinds of birds on a
little island?) They are what I call entry points to topics which
are crucial if you want to think scientifically, historically or aesthetically.
What I would do as a teacher would be to spend weeks, months, even
years, really going into these things so that people will develop
the habits of mind so they can think about topics like that.
If you asked me should people be studying physics, or chemistry or
biology or geology in high school, I would say it doesn't make the
slightest bit of difference. They should study some topics, of course,
but the choice is wide open I'm interested in depth, not breadth.
I'm not talking about college education; I'm just taking on K to 12.
What I want when kids get through a K to 12 education is for them
to have a sense of what their society thinks is true, beautiful and
good; false, ugly and evil; how to think about it and how to act on
the basis of your thoughts.
JB: Where is the Howard Gardner of multiple intelligences
in all of this. Isn't this what you're known for in education?
GARDNER: There have been literally hundreds and perhaps
thousands of applications of my ideas educationally, both in this
country and in the world. I say that with as much mystification and
embarrassment as pride, because I have had almost nothing to do with
it; these are things other people have done. But one thing that struck
me is how incredibly superficial most of the applications have been,
and one obsessive thought that's stimulating me through this current
work in education is this: I don't want to be part of the trivialization
of education. What I'm arguing is that if you decide which things
are important and which things are worth spending time on, like evolution
and the music of Mozart, then you can approach such a topic in many
different ways. Multiple intelligences can be useful in three quite
interesting ways in dealing with important topics that are worth spending
First of all by providing what I call entry points. Any topic
that's worth spending time on can be approached in many different
ways. I, in fact, have seven different entry points which roughly
relate to my intelligences, but that's neither here nor there.
Second of all by providing powerful analogies or metaphors
for what you're trying to understand. Again we don't know if there
are seven analogies for anything you want us to understand, but there
is always more than one analogy or metaphor.
Third of all, by providing what I call different model languages
for understanding a concept. Let's take evolution. You can learn about
evolution in ordinary language, you can learn about it through logical
propositions; you can draw diagrams with the branching tree of evolution;
you can do taxonomic classifications of various kinds of species.
Many people (including experts) make the mistake of thinking that
one of these languages is so to speak a privileged representation
of a topic. I would say on the contrary that our understanding of
a topic is rich to the extent that we have a number of different ways
of representing it and we can go pretty readily from one representation
to the other.
Here I become Howard Gardner the progressive. We need to take what
we know about the different ways in which children think, the different
ways in which people can make sense of the world, and really build
that into the teaching of important topics. First of all we reach
more kids, because some kids learn from stories, some kids learn from
works of art, some kids learn from hands-on kinds of things. We also
give kids a sense of what it's like to be an expert, because experts
will think about something in lots of different ways. If you can only
think about a topic in one way, your understanding is tenuous at best.
JB: What will parents think of this?
GARDNER: It's going to confuse some of them, because
in a sense I'm trying to have the best of a progressive and traditional
perspective. When we talk about the true, the beautiful and the good,
that's very classical. Then you have multiple intelligences. I went
on radio and talked about how you could teach the Civil War through
dance. I received the most outraged correspondence from people on
that topic, even though I just heard about a wonderful dance about
the Holocaust that's really quite amazing, and powerful: and many
of us understand the Spanish Civil War through Picasso's paintings
or Andre Malraux's novels. So, it's really going to confuse people.
JB: Is this approach for everybody? Have you tried
it out on local boards of inner-city public schools, for instance?
GARDNER: I am not saying that everybody should study
evolution, Mozart and the Holocaust. I'm saying everybody needs to
work in his or her culture to figure out what are the important truths
and beauties and falsities and uglinesses and moralities, and to spend
time with those. And in the sciences there are hundreds of them. And
if you don't believe in the sciences, then there are hundreds of them
in folk knowledge. But the important point is to spend a lot of time
on something, rather than just superficially sampling a lot of things.
People say, well, you've got to read 500 books before you get through
high school I say bull! You've got to read a small number of
good books very carefully, and learn how to think about books. You
have the rest of your life to read Moby Dick, or Silas Marner
or The Color Purple.
JB: So what would your school be like?
GARDNER: At the "Gardner School," we're going to
interest your son, Max Brockman, and my son, Benjamin Gardner, in
these really interesting questions, which are human questions; what
life's all about. Then you encounter these funny squiggles you've
got to make sense out of the literacies. Why? Because we can't
read those books and listen to those works of art and understand those
machines unless we pick up some of those literacies. But the literacies
are not ends in themselves. President Clinton said we want to have
every kid reading by third grade. I say, we know how to teach kids
how to read; the problem is kids DON'T read. Literacies have to be
a MEANS to get to the disciplines. The disciplines are the handmaidens
to help us come up with reasonable first answers to all these essential
questions. We can't do it on our own.
But there are only three or four basic disciplines that we should
worry about before college. One, how to think scientifically. Most
people in America still believe in astrology; they're clueless of
how to make sense of an experiment. They don't know what a hypothesis
Two, they need to know something about the history of their country,
something about the background, maybe a little about the rest of the
world too. But again people don't know how historically; they think
the Punic Wars occurred about the same time as the Truman administration.
They don't understand the ways in which we are like and unlike other
cultures, other historical eras; they tend to think the past was all
different and all bad, the present is all good, they think history
is progress they're filled with misconceptions. So you need
to know something about history.
Three, people need to know something about how to
make sense of works of art, because those are treasures of the culture,
and four, they have to know something about mathematics because it's
the language of science, and they're going to be stuck if they don't
know. The particular books they read, the particular science they
learn, are completely irrelevant until you get to college. You're
picking up some tools so you can enter into the conversations of the
centuries on these and other important questions.
So what happens in this ideal school? Students have learned a lot
about some very important topics that the culture cherishes. And they've
secured some tools so if they want to know about something besides
the things they've focussed on, they can study it in college or read
about it on their own; they've got the rest of life there.
How do we find out what they've learned? We ask them to issue performances
of understanding. We give them materials that they haven't encountered
before, and ask, how can you make sense of it? You studied the Holocaust?
I'm going to tell you about Bosnia. Or about what happened in Armenia
in the first world war. And I want you to talk about that, or write
about it, or enact it do a play about it. Help me understand
what's going on and tell me in what ways Bosnia or Armenia is like
what happened in Germany and in what ways it's different.
You've been studying evolution? I'm going to tell
you something about virtual reality, if you're interested in that.
I'm going to tell you about computers. Stretch. Use that knowledge
in a new situation.
You've read and understood the George Eliot book? I'm going to give
you a book by Jane Austen. I don't care which book it is, it's simply
not relevant. And the students who get to go on scholarship to private
universities are not the ones who can tell me when every battle occurred,
or who can memorize every chemical formula. I'm going to admit those
students who can show me how to think about issues in those areas.
I'll give them a hundred choices. They have to perform their understanding
on something which matters in the culture.
An anecdote: I gave a talk roughly like this in New Jersey, and a
woman came up to me and began the following conversation: "Well,"
she said, "your talk was interesting, but your examples bothered me."
"How?," I said. "They're all Jewish," she replied. "Gee, that's odd
Darwin certainly isn't Jewish, nothing Jewish about evolution.
As far as I know Mozart never met a Jew and he certainly wouldn't
have known what one was. Admittedly the Holocaust involved Jews, but
it's about gypsies and gays and political dissidents and a lot of
Germans." "Well, it's that Jewish thing," she said. I kind of did
a double take. "Oh, I'm sorry," she said, "did I hurt your feelings?"
"I'm sort of upset that you would think that this is all about Jewish
things, I replied." I guess as a Jew myself the thought of anti-Semitism
certainly passed through my mind, but I talked to her a while, and
at the end I thanked her, I told her it was useful for me to talk
with you, because I didn't know how this was sounding, and it was
helpful to me.
JB: You're so civilized, Howard. Too many years in
GARDNER: I then wrote something about this; I wrote
an Op Ed piece. It was rejected over the phone by The New York
Times, rejected after being held for two weeks by The Washington
Post, rejected to my surprise by The Chronicle of Higher Education.
It got to the point I said well maybe this isn't publishable. I wrote
to a friend of mine and said what do you think of this, but I was
also going to England, and I took it with me because I thought I'd
work on it there. I happened to meet the editor of The New Statesman,
and I said, what do you think of this, and he ran it the next week.
JB: Interesting. My original essay on "The Third
Culture" was commissioned and accepted as an Op Ed piece by the Times.
But they buried it in "inventory." The New Statesman picked
it up and ran it.
GARDNER: I don't know if this is a story about England
and the United States, but let me tell you the lesson I came up with.
This woman was not making a statement about the mothers of Darwin
or Mozart. What she was saying was serious for me to hear, because
while she used the word "Jewish" I believe she meant intellectual
The examples I use are ones I'm comfortable with, and ones presumably
my own kids would be more comfortable with than someone who came from
a very different background. But my point is not those examples; my
point is to pick stuff that's important. And she, in her community,
needs to say what are the important truths you want your kids to know
about, and how do you think about it? What are the important art works,
JB: Some people don't know from nature, and they
don't know from art, period. They would not be able to articulate
a question like that. A lot of people don't see nature the way you're
GARDNER: I disagree with you here. Gerald Graff,
who teaches English at the University of Chicago, points out that
one of the interesting things about the United States now is that
the same conversation is going on in two places, and neither side
is aware of it. There's the conversation about canon, the curriculum
and postmodernism that takes place at the universities among tenured
professors and in the columns of Lingua Franca,. and then there's
the mass market talk radio stuff and the Oprah stuff. Superficially
they seem to be very different, but in fact people are talking about
many of the same issues, and they are talking about what they consider
beauty. What should kids be allowed to watch on TV, and why? Why do
you go to Disney World? Those are questions about people's esthetics.
Should you have abortions? What about Euthanasia? Those are questions
of morality and they're being discussed in similar ways but it's a
different discourse: hierotic and demotic, as they used to say. The
worst thing would be for people to think that I care whether people
know about Darwin's finches I couldn't care less. But I want
them to know about how what is valued as true in their community is
JB: Your examples are templates.
GARDNER: An invitation. But then when you get to
talk about it in your community, you discover where the real issues
JB: What did you learn from this woman?
GARDNER: I have not changed the examples I use, but
I want to make it as clear as I can that they're only illustrative.
And so when I talk now on this topic, I list other kinds of scientific
findings, I cite artists from all different groups, and you can study
slavery, the Inquisition, Gandhi there are lots of examples
of morality, it doesn't have to come out of the Holocaust. A lot of
professors who heard what I have to say, a lot of academics, would
be disturbed by it, because for many of us I'll speak here
as an academic what we're really trying to do is to figure
out how to make students into little "us-es." So the graduate curriculum
hands down history and science to the colleges, and the colleges hand
down history and science to the high schools. And people are saying,
how can we get the best graduate students eight years later? And I'm
What we need to talk about is what the citizens in our communities
need to know. And they're the ones have to be able to pick up a newspaper
which has an article about cholesterol, or E. Coli, or some new kind
of contraceptive, and be able to say, is this something credible?
Should I change my behavior on the basis of this? And similarly, you
want them to be able to decide in a plebescite in the community about
how they should be voting about something, whether it is a sewage
plant or the budget for a new arts center or term limits for legislators.
They need to be able to understand enough about analogies and dis-analogies
from previous periods in history, so they can make a judgment about
it. That's what public education before the college and university
should be about, and not figuring out exactly what the best prerequisites
are so you can take Chem II rather than Chem I.
JB: What about resistance from people who are in
the education industry teachers, among others?
GARDNER: For one thing I'm calling on people to change
what they do. For another, coverage is very comforting. One of the
reasons why E. D. Hirsch is so popular is you can say, god, they knew
300 things last year, now they know 600. Now they know 300 things
more. But I say facts are completely discipline-neutral. If you don't
learn how to think and speak differently about things then you really
haven't been schooled at all. You remember the old $64,000 Question?
Jeopardy and the $64,000 Dollar Question forms the American
consciousness about what it is to know things. Other countries aren't
much better, but international studies bear me out, that the kids
in East Asia and Western Europe who do better in science and math,
are the ones who attend schools where they actually do more uncovering
and less covering. They go more deeply into topics and they build
up more habits of thinking; they don't worry about spending ten seconds
on many different things.
In fact a lot of my ideas have been less confusing
to people in other countries than they have been in the United States.
Our education discourse is so primitive. If you compare, for example,
writing about science in our newspapers, to writing about education,
writing about science has really improved over the last 20 years
if you read Science Times and the science pages of other papers,
you learn something in areas where you are not an expert.
In writing about education, everything is about test scores, and every
six months about some cute place where they're teaching kids something
in the arts but there's no cumulative knowledge there, there's
no Wall Street Journal for people who are interested in education.
Yet in the rest of the world nearly everybody realizes that education
is what it's all about.
The irony is that in countries that are very resource-rich, like the
United states, Argentina, maybe Russia to a certain extent, one is
able to get away with an education system that has just been okay
for a small percentage of the population, because there are so many
resources. That's not going to be true forever. It's individuals who
will be better at problem finding as well as problem solving who will
be better at working together at groups, who'll be able to be very
good at troubleshooting, who will be able to take these disciplines
and bring them to bear in new areas. They're the ones that will be
in power 50 years from now. While there's some aspects of our society
which are very benevolent with reference to those things, our schools
aren't one of them. Our schools are behind except for very few schools
which the elite get the chance to send their kids to, but that's not
where the future's going to be cast. What's going to happen to the
75 percent of our population that doesn't have high-quality education?
That's the question.
JB: How do you see these ideas playing out over the
next years? Implications of this new book in terms of what you might
do with it, or other people might?
GARDNER: I've already given part of the answer to
this; these ideas will fall on more receptive ears in other parts
of the worlds, where not only is education taken more seriously, but
where it's possible to have a more unified kind of national conversation.
We may not like the French system, but when they make a decision,
it gets implemented very widely. There are many countries which no
longer are part French colonies which still run their schools the
way the French ran their schools 50 or a hundred years ago.
JB: We're too patchy for that.
GARDNER: The interesting thing will be to see whether
individuals who are traditionally oriented, whether scholars or lay
people, and who like the goal of a traditional orientation, will be
drawn to the notion of deep uncovering, rather than covering superficially,
and of being very imaginative and flexible in how you present such
a curriculum to a very diverse population. That's what the issue is
going to hang on. It could be that it'll serve as a meeting ground
for people who have hitherto thought they were at each other's necks
but it could also elicit a "plague on both your houses" reaction.
The people who are more liberal/progressive, will say, God, Gardner's
really lost it, because he's talking about "pale stale males," whereas
the people on the right will say, well, granted he wants to talk about
some things that are worth talking about, but first of all there are
thousands of other things that the kids have to know as well, and
he won't tell us what they are, and second of all what is all this
nonsense about teaching things in different ways; there's one way
to teach, the right way, and either the kids will learn it or it's
JB: You're right. People might think you're losing
GARDNER: Maybe I am!
JB: It's a departure.
GARDNER: I probably feel more of a personal commitment
to this than anything else I've ever undertaken it really comes
from my soul. I have been deeply involved in school reform for at
least 15 years. I've been very frustrated by the superficiality of
the discussion, and by my perception that people don't really get
down to the basic of what an ordinary citizen ought to be able to
know so that he can cope with a world that's changing very quickly
and is very confusing.
JB: Ideas like this don't have a prayer of getting
adopted by a typical school board but they certainly can seep
into the culture, in a very almost clandestine way.
GARDNER: It will take 50 years to see whether the
ideas I've developed have impact. One of the things I've pushed very
much is the idea of individual-centered education. Up to now, everybody's
taught the same thing, the same way, they're tested in the same way,
if you do well fine, if not too bad it's seen as being very
fair. My argument, which contradicts any argument ever made in history,
is it's the most unfair method in the world. It privileges one kind
of mind, which I call the language-logic mind, or sometimes the Al
Dershowitz mind (which I admire), this view that says, the more you're
like that, the better you'll do, and the more rewards we'll give you,
and the more you're different from that, tough nuggies. (A
technical term in Cambridge Ed. Note)
With the advent of the new technologies, individual-centered education
is only a matter of time. People in 50 years will laugh at the notion
that we thought everybody had to be taught the same thing in the same
way. Already anything that's worth teaching we know dozens of ways
of teaching it; we can make available technologically these things
to any individual. Moreover, because we have smart machines, they
can record what the child learned well, what he learned poorly, how
he learned well, how he learned poorly; and make use of that knowledge.
So that's an idea that I know is right.
Understanding, that's a much bigger enchilada, so to speak. We've
been content to see whether kids can sit on their duffs and do what
they don't particularly want to do; that's been the operational definition
of making it and that just isn't going to be enough any more. That
might take a hundred years, so our grandchildren will know whether
the world has become more receptive to an education-centered understanding.
The evidence that students are not understanding even what we're teaching
them, is legion now. It's malpractice to expose kids to things for
a week or two and go on to something else. We know that doesn't work.
In this arena, the work of Project Zero, where I've worked for over
30 years, both in multiple intelligence and in teaching understanding,
is promising. That's exactly the right word to use. If I had to go
to a congressional committee and make the best case I could give numbers,
but that would be a best case rather than the most accurate description.
It's promising; it's tough work, and because education is not a science,
it's an art, it's very hard when something goes well to know why.
Everybody in this country, including me, who knows about education,
admires Debbie Meier; the school that she founded is in NYC, Central
Park East, secondary school and elementary school. Those are schools
in very tough areas, East Harlem, and they really turn out kids who
get through, go on to four-year colleges, and do decently. But nobody
really understands whether it's one thing or two things or 20 things
there it's too hard to really figure out what the variables
are you can't do a controlled experiment.
The important thing for someone like me is to do no harm. For the
first ten years of work in multiple intelligences I kept my mouth
shut and let people do what they wanted to do, and then I finally
came to the conclusion that that was a mistake, because some of the
things people were doing were harmful. So I began to speak up about
it, and I began to take a more active role. In Project Zero we're
actually studying schools around the country that claim to be doing
well in cultivating the intelligences, and we are trying to separate
the wheat from the chaff. And I assume the same sense of responsibility
for these new ideas.
The new work that I'm engaged in with Bill Damon and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
explores the relationship between responsibility or ethics, and cutting
edge work in different domains and disciplines. Our analysis in a
nutshell is that all over the world now what's being rewarded is cutting
edge work; anything that's routine and algorithmic, the machine is
doing. However, if that's all that's rewarded, then the issue became
let's say that the work is not good, let's say it's dangerous.
Traditionally the law and religion were counterweights. They're weaker
now than they've been, and the changes are much too quick for them
to keep up. Just read EDGE, your own website, and look at the sorts
of stuff that people are discovering. No way that the church can keep
up with that they've just approved evolution after 150 years.
And this is a real dilemma for the world. We certainly don't have
a solution for it. But our notion is that within each of the domains
or professions or callings, to use the traditional word, there needs
to be a greater sense of responsibility for the implications of people's
ideas, discoveries and practices. And then either corporately, the
discipline as a whole, or when possible individuals in the discipline
or domain, need to address some of the more troubling implications
of what they're doing, and need to take some responsibility if their
ideas are misused.
That's the discussion that's going on now in the Internet; the Electronic
Frontier Foundation which was founded by Mitch Kapor and John Perry
Barlow; people connected with the genome project, genetic engineering,
cloning, virtual reality; etc. With the Manhattan Project it occurred
afterwards, an interesting historical phenomenon. But it needs to
be much more a part of the training of people. And this doesn't mean
you take a course in ethics; it means that when you're an apprentice,
when you're on your first job, that you realize that it isn't somebody
else's job to mop up the implications of what you're doing. That's
a big sea change as well. It's an empirical project that we've just
begun in the last few years.
JB: When do you launch this to the public?
GARDNER: We'd like to study several domains in some
depth. We've done a pretty reasonable job with the media; we're writing
about that at the present time; but we would like to compare several
domains and see the extent to which the same issues rise, whether
you're a scientist, an artist or a lawyer, or in the military; and
at the same time we want to begin to work with individuals who have
much more responsibility for the actual training of individuals
not just in training schools, but the first job. At least in my opinion
it's the first job which is a real bellwether. If you go to work in
a newspaper or a corporation or in a scientific laboratory where anything
goes, that's going to be very hard to overcome, so to speak. If you
work with people who have a sense of conscience about that, who ask,
if I'm doing a story what harm could it do? Or, if we don't check
that experiment again what might happen? That makes an impression
on you. And in particular we are very interested in people historically,
like Niels Bohr in the area of physics, George Orwell comes up all
the time in the media, as does Edward R. Murrow. Individuals who serve
almost as trustees for a whole domain, a conscience.
JB: Back to the book do you have a title?
GARDNER: My working title is "An Education for All
JB: How are people going to talk about it?
GARDNER: I guess "understanding for all" would be
a slogan. Understanding of important things being available to everybody,
not just for the elite. The elite always had a few such schools; the
French schools are terrific at helping the best students think about
these questions seriously, but it's been a luxury.
The issues of humane creativity which I call informally good work,
the connection to ethics and responsibility in your work, are things
we ought to be dealing with kids in school as well. When they're learning
about these things that are true, beautiful and good, we ought to
be talking about their social implications. Whether it'll be a new
religion, I don't know, but it's got to become a part of what we breathe,
or the world will not survive.
THE REALITY CLUB
Carl Steadman to John Brockman: "What was the name of your seminal
text on life, the universe and everything?" Brockman responds.
From: Carl Steadman
You know, I just gotta respect that. What was the
name of your seminal text on life, the universe and everything? I
haven't been able to find it.
CARL STEADMAN, the Cofounder of Suck, is coauthor of Providing
Internet Services via the Mac OS . He is a Producer for the HotWired
Network, and a contributor to CTHEORY.
From: John Brockman
To: Carl Steadman
Thanks for asking, Carl.
You must be referring to By The Late John Brockman, a book
I wrote thirty years ago. Upon completion of the manuscript, I presented
the book as a performance piece in November, 1968, one of a series
of avant-garde evenings at The Poetry Center of the 92nd Street Y
in New York. The show, interrupted four times by uninvited "audience
participation" in near-riot conditions, was a harbinger of things
to come. Publication of the book elicited extreme reactions, e.g.:
"Futuristic gibberish...Electronic Dada." (The Kirkus Review);
"A terrifying book" (Vogue); "The most important book since Wittgenstein's
Tractatus " (Alan Watts).
The history of my brief early literary career is summed up in the
cover copy to a slim paperback published in 1974 by Abyss Publications,
a small press, entitled After Brockman, A Symposium, a book
about my work:
"In 1969 and 1970, the first volumes of John Brockman's work were
published. By The Late John Brockman (Macmillan) and 37
(Holt Rinehart Winston) received little notice when they appeared.
These two early works have been included in his remarkable Afterwords
(Anchor Press, 1973), a book which has stirred profound interest among
his contemporaries because of the serious challenge it poses to contemporary
ideas of language, thought, and reality. Many people are beginning
to believe that Brockman, at 33, is unique among the writers and thinkers
of our time. Still, the reception to his work remains, at best, a
Where was I coming from? I was immersed in a milieu of explosive new
ideas about art and communication not unlike what is happening today
regarding the Internet and the World Wide Web. In fact, the following
banner headline (September 4, 1966) on the front page of The New
York Times Sunday "Arts & Leisure Section" was eerily prescient:
" 'Love Intermedia Kinetic Environments.' John Brockman speaking
partly kidding, but conveying the notion that Intermedia Kinetic Environments
are In in the places where the action is an Experience, an
Event, an Environment, a humming electric world."
At that time and place, new ideas and forms of expression were coming
out of happenings, the dance world, underground movies, avant-garde
theater. They came from artists engaged in experiment. Intermedia
consisted more often than not of nonscripted, sometimes spontaneous,
theatrical events by artists in which the audience was also a participant.
I arrived at this spot after managing the Film-Makers' Cinematheque,
home for underground cinema in 1965, where I commissioned thirty performance
pieces by world-class artists, dancers, poets, dramatists, and musicians
for the Expanded Cinema Festival which received major media attention.
I called the stuff we were doing Intermedia, a word I had coined
and used as my logo. Some of the people I worked with during that
period included visual artists Les Levine, Claes Oldenburg, Robert
Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Robert Whitman; kinetic artists Charlotte
Moorman and Nam June Paik; happenings artists Allan Kaprow and Carolee
Schneemann; dancer Tricia Brown; filmmakers Jack Smith, Stan Vanderbeek,
Ed Emshwiller, and the Kuchar brothers; avant-garde dramatist Ken
Dewey; poet Gerd Stern and the USCO ("Us" Company) group; and musicians
Lamonte Young and Terry Riley.
Through my art world activities, I knew, and was inspired by such
people as communications theorist Marshall McLuhan, anthropologist
Edmund Carpenter, composer John Cage, architect-designer Buckminster
Fuller, futurist John McHale, and cultural anthropologist Edward T.
Hall. I read avidly in the field of information theory, cybernetics,
and systems theory. I orchestrated an art and science symposium bringing
together New York artists and Harvard and MIT scientists. By the
Late John Brockman takes on board and synthesizes many of the
ideas of the period.
For the HTML version of the book, published under
its original title: By The Late John Brockman, click on: /btljb/cover.html
Today, September 22, 1997 is publication day of the Internet edition.
Oliver Morton on Gouldspar, Dawkinsite, and Goodwinclase
From: Oliver Morton
This i apropos of almost nothing, but I thought some people might
be interested. A while back Jaron Lanier referred in EDGE to the "spectrum"
of views on evolution, and the amount of debate and ill will seen
around the place definitely suggests polarisation and opposition.
But a spectrum is normally taken as one dimensional, and for a while
it has seemed to me that positions in the evolution debates are not
strung out along a line (no more than political debates are really
well characterised by a single left--right spectrum). A better analogy
(in the sense of more functional, I'm afraid, rather than more elegant)
is to a simple phase space like the one mineralogy students learn
to use when thinking about feldspars. Feldspars are minerals made
of aluminium, silicon, oxygen and X; they make up most of the earth's
crust. There are three extreme positions in the feldspar world; anorthite,
where X is pure calcium (CaAl2Si2O8); albite, which requires only
sodium, (NaAlSi3O8); and orthoclase, the most potassium rich (KAlSi3O8).
The differentiating X elements, however, can be mixed and matched,
so there are all sorts of combinations available. This is visualised
by means of a triangle with the endmembers at the vertices. Plagioclase
feldspars sit along the albite/anorthite side, differentiated by the
ration of calcium to sodium; alkali feldspars are ranged along the
The point of all this is that there are three endmember minerals in
the world of evolution, or at least in popular debates about it: Gouldspar,
Dawkinsite and Goodwinclase. In Gouldspar, the role of the historical,
contingent and conjunctural is maximised. In Dawkinsite the system
is saturated with adaptation. In Goodwinclase, the role of structural
form in and of itself takes pride of place. Between these there is
a variety of different possible mixed positions, acknowledging a role
for, say, history and structure, while being mainly adaptationist.
I suspect that all the men after whom I named the minerals might protest
that their views are exactly such complex amalgams. But these positions
would be pretty close to the corners of the triangle.
This may seem a very tedious way of dressing up the obvious, but I
find that it helps to explain why debates on evolution roll on (if
in a jerky way - that's the nature of rolling triangles). It's because
there is more than one way to be opposed to any of the end members.
People whose views are completely incompatible can come together in
their disagreement with a third party; two men in a pub in Oxford
can join in heaping scorn on a professor in a far-distant Cambridge
in good conscience, even though the pair of them are as far apart
along one side of the triangle as each of them is from the object
of their discussion along one of the other two sides.
Well, that's about it. Ideas from others about what spaces within
the triangle are untenable (are there tenable positions that correspond
to a half and half mixture of Gouldspar and Goodwinclase with no redeeming
Dawkinsite, for example?) and which are occupied (where does Stu Kauffman
fit?) would naturally be welcome, as would other ways of looking at
the issue, the more baroque the better.
OLIVER MORTON is a freelance writer, and a contributing editor at
Wired and Newsweek International. He used to edit Wired
UK, and previously worked at The Economist, spending almost
five years as Science and Technology Editor.
EDGE IN THE NEWS
"Today, "big science" generally takes place in cloistered sanctums
that are off-limits to noninitiates. At a site called Edge, however,
something of the spirit of the Royal Society (though, sadly, without
the victuals and drink) is being revived.
"There you can eavesdrop on a shifting cast of science luminaries,
including evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, MIT mathematician
Marvin Minsky, Nobel-winning physicist Murray Gell-Mann, philosopher
Daniel Dennett, and psychologist Steven Pinker. The style is decidedly
"after hours," as these brainy folk improvise new ideas like jazz
musicians testing their chopscompeting, collaborating, and sometimes
pontificating within the site's freewheeling text-only forums. Every
day, Edge offers an intellectual jam on topics like the origin of
racism and the place of emotions in cognitive science."
The WEB Magazine", October 1997. See "Science: Log On with the
Lab Coats: Real scientists talk shop after hours" by Phil Leggiere.
From: Stephen Miller
John! I've finished a big update to ZenPlanet, and included a rogue's
gallery page of pics of the people who are leaders in new self-organization
ideas, as well as others like Lanier and Dawkins. I confess outright
to having used quite a few of the pictures of these people which are
on your site as links to docs at the edge.org. I sincerely hope you
don't mind the idea is to send more people to you from Europe,
and thereby introduce them to these trains of thought, and to do it
in as interesting and easy way as possible.
(See: http://www.nirvanet.fr/zenplanet/ )
Stephen Miller, ZenPlanet
Copyright ©1997 by Edge Foundation, Inc.