Scots take a lead in new thinking

1st September 2006 at 01:00
Howard Gardner, the Harvard-based professor best known for his work on multiple intelligences, is to launch his new educational theory next week in Glasgow to an audience of 1,200 Scottish teachers.

In an exclusive interview with The TES Scotland, Professor Gardner revealed that his key discovery in his Five Minds for the Future thesis is the "synthesising mind - the most coveted in the modern era".

Such a mind has the capacity to decide what is important and what to ignore, how to evaluate that information objectively and how to convey it to other people, Professor Gardner will suggest.

He says he has yet to find an educational book "on how to teach kids how synthesis works".

Professor Gardner's choice of Scotland to launch his new thesis is a coup for the Tapestry organisation, whose directors have built up a reputation for introducing leading education thinkers to Scottish teachers. Its board is chaired by Keir Bloomer, chief executive of Clackmannanshire Council.

The new theory is intended to show what kinds of minds people will need to develop to survive in the 21st century. While Professor Gardner's previous work on eight or nine multiple intelligences (even he has not yet declared definitively how many intelligences an individual has) was largely descriptive, he is now straying into the more controversial territory of ethics and respect.

A long-term critic of education systems built around narrow assessment and tightly defined curricula, his new theory challenges conservative and right-wing policy in the United States and beyond.

While highly critical of America's focus on testing and assessment - and the UK's tendency to go in the same direction - he says he has been impressed by the interest shown in Scotland in "more creative uses of the mind, problem-finding and problem-solving, and synthesising new kinds of thinking".

He adds: "Many parts of the world look to the US for leadership, but I think for pre-tertiary education that is a big mistake. The US is going the wrong way at a vast rate in many educational spheres."

In his opinion, the world leaders in education are France, for its maternal, early-stage nursery schools, northern Italy, for its pre-school sector, Japan, for its "elementary" or primary schools, and European countries that operate the lycee or gymnasium models of secondary school.

But Professor Gardner warned: "Some of the mistakes the US is making, the UK is making." England, like the US, was tending to "deprofessionalise"

teaching.

However, Professor Gardner added: "What I have learnt through Tapestry is that there is a stronger counter-theme in Scotland - and that is one of the reasons to give it a booster." That booster comes in the form of a full-scale exploration of his new work, when he will explain what these "five minds" should be.

His other four minds are:

* The "disciplined mind", which has mastered one or more specific disciplines or crafts and knows how to work steadily over time to improve skill and understanding beyond secondary education.

* The "creating mind", which thinks outside the box. Professor Gardner comments: "We live in an era where everything that can be automated will be. Only those individuals who can regularly go beyond the conventional wisdom will be valued."

* The "respectful mind", which is essential in a world of diverse individuals and populations, who are in regular contact with one another, face to face or electronically. Going beyond mere tolerance, he says that "a respectful person seeks to understand others, to work with them, to instill a respectful environment at work and in the community".

* The "ethical mind" ponders how to work beyond oneself or the society in which one lives, and is prepared to go beyond self-interest and work unselfishly to improve the lot of everyone.

He added that his focus on respect and ethics was an attempt to resolve world conflict. Hostile countries already had nuclear weapons, and Iran now had the potential to have them within a decade. "As long as we demonise one another, the chances are that one of these things will go off deliberately.

Respect is no longer an option - it's a necessity," he said.

Current education systems were failing on two fronts, he suggested. So much in school now seemed irrelevant or antedeluvian to children surrounded by television, computers, interactive museums and video games. Nor could schools afford to ignore the fact that their pupils came from diverse cultures and spoke different languages.

Professor Gardner will launch his Five Minds for the Future theory at the Tapestry conference next Friday (September 8) at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall.

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