President Obama has agreed to exempt 10 states from the most rigorous tenets of NCLB, in exchange for adopting higher standards and creating more innovative ways of measuring student achievement. The president essentially signed this executive order because Congress has failed to amend the law in spite of widespread agreement that it needs to be revised. Let's face it, NCLB's main goal, getting all students up to par in reading and math by 2014, is not within reach, but it is a noble idea.
When George W. Bush and his bipartisan team originally drafted NCLB, I seriously doubt that they believed all of its provisions were possible. However, they knew that if the dream of educational equality was to ever be achieved in America, something drastic had to be done. The idea of 100% of America's students becoming proficient in the core subjects by 2014 was meant to send a message. For that, I applaud President Bush. He had the guts to draw a line in the sand and stick to it.
Now don't get me wrong, President Obama is my guy, but issuing waivers exempting 10 states from the 2014 reading and math proficiency deadline is a step in the wrong direction. I applaud him for calling on Congress to amend NCLB; however, the waivers serve as band-aids and cannot be considered viable school reform. Many of NCLB's goals were unrealistic, but by shooting for the stars, it dreamt that our children would land somewhere in the clouds. Scaling back accountability at this juncture is tantamount to retreat, and guess who will be the collateral damage? Our children. Regardless of what anyone says, leaving states to their own devices is lowering accountability. In order to appease the federal government, states will put on yearly dog and pony shows in an effort to feign compliance.
Now I agree that NCLB should have been amended a long time ago, but that's Congress's cross to bear. With a major overhaul of its provisions, NCLB could have fostered genuine school reform in the U. S. However, proponents and opponents of the landmark bill were too pigheaded to compromise and in the end, who suffered? America's children. Both political parties know that NCLB has serious flaws, but neither has made a serious play to amend it. NCLB was primarily created to ensure that poor and minority students received a quality education. Most of the public outcry against NCLB was fixated on maintaining programs and paying adults, not on seeking the best way to educate our children and for that we should be ashamed.
Schools in the states that were granted waivers will not face the sanctions outlined in NCLB, but they will be subject to a range of interventions, which will be determined by the state itself. Essentially, leaving the states the latitude to deal with failing schools as they see fit. But what about the least among us? What about poor and minority students attending schools that may treat them like collateral damage and focus on "students who can learn?"
I do realize that the president is attempting to operate proactively in areas where congress has failed to act, but there has to be a better way. This move is supposed to give states "flexibility" and that's exactly what it does. It gives them the flexibility to do as they please; leaving poor and minority children behind. In the end, me and the president will have to agree to disagree. However, in spite of my reservations about his latest decision, I will be casting by ballot for him on November 6, 2012. Team Obama!
In a responsive model of instruction, teachers seek out and include examples of achievements from both genders. While women have come a long way since the days of Dr. Edward Clarke, it is still difficult to find a curriculum that reflects an equitable picture of female accomplishments. Progress has been slow to incorporate gender-fair terminology into textbooks. Girls need to read about role models in science and mathematics -- not just see pictures of women in lab coats with occasional references to females in the text.
The accomplishments of minority women, women with disabilities, local women from the community, and working class women all are important to help present a complete, realistic and equitable picture of female role models in society. It is valuable for young women to see the variety of ways in which females can impact their communities and their society, regardless of race, ethnic background or financial status. Teachers help overcome gender inequities and change present perceptions by presenting accomplishments, and experiences, of both men and women.
A balance of the particularistic and the inclusive is required. It is not healthy or productive to promote the historical female experience as completely negative -- or to emphasize the struggles and minimize the triumphs -- such an approach presents an unrealistic picture and may produce bitterness. Nor is it positive to emphasize men as the "oppressors" -- this fosters resentment. Balance promotes equitable, respectful, and cooperative relationships with men in society.
There are many important reasons to emphasize women's achievements. One of the most important is to build girls' self-esteem. Blame the magazines, the movies, the models -- blame Barbie -- pin it on the pin-up girls, but the fact remains: girls struggle with the mixed messages about body image. Particularly impressionable adolescent girls struggle with bulimia, anorexia and the obsession with weight, and sometimes self-inflict injuries and other damage to their bodies.
Many girls who are bulimics and/or cutters have indicated that these actions are the only aspects of their lives over which they have control. Teachers lack the ubiquitous influence of the media to manipulate girls' self-image. Advertising often pitches to the fundamental needs of the subconscious mind. Sex sells, to be frank -- and while we cannot deny it, we do have some means to counter it.
Girls must be guided to see their potential in areas other than the physical. One helpful strategy is to acquaint young girls with the accomplishments of great women, including: Phyllis Wheatley, Marian Wright Edelman, Rosa Parks, Clara Barton, Mary Shelley, Jane Addams, Shirley Chisholm, Elizabeth Blackwell, Sacagawea, Wilma Mankiller, Isabel Allende, Deborah Sampson Gannett, Dolores Huerta, Frida Kahlo, Maya Angelou, Sonia Sotomayor, Margaret Sanger, Unity Dow, Sally Ride and other women who overcame great odds to be strong and successful.
Each of these women is a standout figure in history or in society because of her hard work, her inner strength and her determination. In a society where supermodels and sex appeal are overvalued, adolescent girls must be reminded of their important inner qualities.
Substantial educational change will never occur until we as a country decide that enough is enough and make a commitment to change, no matter what it takes. When America realizes all children deserve a stellar education regardless of who their parents are, their socioeconomic status or where they happen to live, we will be able to reform our education system. Americans have to stop treating minority students in underperforming urban environments like collateral damage.
The disheartening reality is that America has billions of dollars to fight a two-front war, but cannot or will not properly educate its children. If a hostile country attacked the U. S., it would take less than 24 hours for American troops to be mobilized into battle. However, we seem unable to mobilize a sea of educated teachers and administrators to wage war against academic mediocrity, which is a bigger threat to our national security than Iran or North Korea.
The structure of schools in the U.S. is no longer able to meet the educational needs of children today. No longer are the poor restricted to the prospect of becoming manual laborers in a local factory or simply entering just another blue-collar job. Nor are the benefits of education confined to the elite in society. Times have changed and it would be only natural to expect that the demands on our education system have changed as well. No longer can we rest assured that the best and brightest members of our society will educate our children.
Educational change will never occur if school systems are expected to implement change on their own. State and federal governments need to oversee changes to ensure that local school districts are held accountable for needed changes. School administrators often seem to buy in when educational reform is suggested, but somehow genuine change in education is rarely implemented.
Over the last century, many reform movements have come and gone, but in the end, it seems, there have been no substantial changes. Some might even believe the American educational system is now worse off than ever. From Bush’s NCLB to Obama’s Race to the Top, presidents have shown an inability to tackle the real issues of education reform. Reform is primarily used as campaign rhetoric, and when it comes time to take real action, the politicians simply unveil a grandiose plan with all the bells and whistles amounting to a dog and pony show.
America’s schools were originally intended to ensure that all citizens were literate. The founding purpose for American schools has long been obsolete, and Americans must have the courage to realize that in order for us to remain a world power, we must institute change. The risks have never been greater: the future of our country and its children is at stake. Americans cannot continue to allow the educational system to operate in its current state. While there is no magic formula or configuration to solve the problems our schools face, we must engender change, and we must do it now!
On the surface, the concept of sustaining school reform is an oxymoron, simply because change is inevitable. In many ways, what is needed is sustainable change! In other words, schools must change to meet the current needs of children and youth in order to support their development into contributing and productive adults. As the needs of our society shifts, our education system must adapt to ensure that it prepares an educated populous to meet society’s needs.
Education reform is possible, but it depends on what the nation is willing to do to achieve its educational goals. Will America develop and pass effective educational legislation aimed at creating viable solutions to the problem at hand? Or will America continue to develop legislation, such as No Child Left Behind, that operates under the fallacy that 100% of our students will be proficient in their core subjects by 2014? The bar for education should be set higher, but there has to be exceptions and differentiated goals in order to effectively accommodate all the differences among teachers, students, administrators, and school cultures.
Our youngsters are the future of this great country, and our educators must do their part to help put America back on the top as a major world power in both economics and education. Lasting and beneficial change in our schools will require hard work from a committed group of stakeholders—teachers, administrators, parents, policymakers, and community members alike. Ultimately, it is the children who matter most. At the end of the day, they are the reasons why we must champion the work of public education and adopt a new paradigm.
When we discuss parental involvement in schools, we often concentrate on ways in which parental involvement can help schools perform better and how parents can help their children excel in learning. It is a well-known fact that parental involvement can help students achieve success in school; however, it is difficult to measure how much parental involvement is required of parents in order for them to help their children to improve their learning skills and performance.
Parental actions that obstruct the learning process and other educational goals are equally immeasurable. Comprehending the impact of parental involvement requires understanding deficiencies that reduce student performance, and providing parents with tools to diminish their effects. This same principle applies to understanding the ways that schools can encourage parental involvement in low income communities. Situations like these necessitate sensitivity to ethnicity, race, religious affiliation, linguistic challenges, single parenthood, and familial characteristics.
Parents are often influenced by their ethnic background when trying to help their children improve academically. It is imperative that school personnel understand the importance of the family's cultural characteristics in the educational process. Schools should structure parental involvement programs that take advantage of the strong qualities individual parents bring to the schooling process, as a means for promoting improved relations between parents and the school. Interactions between parents and school personnel are meant to provide information and assistance to both the school and parents.
It is important to monitor how parents act on the instructions, information, and advice offered through such programs. Due to various cultural differences, some families may succeed in obtaining the maximum possible benefit of such interactional programs, while other families may fail to utilize these opportunities. Another factor to consider is the possibility of conflicts between parent's cultural and linguistic background, and the social, linguistic, and cultural values existing in the school.
Schools often promote common ideals of a capitalistic culture, and in doing so; present the impoverished, minorities, the disabled, and immigrants as inferior. The success of parental involvement programs often depends on reaching parents living within different political, economic, cultural, and social realities. In order to help parents make better use of parental involvement programs, it is necessary to attend to these differences, and incorporate ways to meet the varied needs and expectations of parents within the parental involvement program.
The success of parental education and involvement programs depends on the ways parents can make use of their social, human, and financial resources to help their children perform better at school. Parents can also help their children improve their learning skills by providing attention to their children's studies and participating in meaningful collaboration with school personnel and authorities. Historically, schools have played a major part in improving social conditions. Collaboration between schools and parents can help alleviate the challenges facing students who are living in families that have a lower socioeconomic status.
Policy makers must realize the importance of public schools and their role in facilitating the prosperity of our nation. Federal and state agencies have initiated various programs to improve the relationship between schools, parents, and communities. In order to increase parental involvement and reduce barriers that restrict parents from participating in the education system, it is essential to offer parent education for impoverished parents or parents with disabilities, so that they may learn better ways to boost their children's learning skills.
The value of parental involvement programs has been well established. Effective parent involvement programs are best achieved when the program originates with the study of the school community, and then proceeds to develop instruction, and provide advice and information that reflects the circumstances, needs, and potential contributions of families who are a part of the school community.
Schools must be prepared for the fact that one outcome of effective parental involvement programs will be the desire of parents to become partners in the decision-making process existing in schools. Thus, school personnel must possess a genuine belief that shared responsibility for multiple aspects of the educational enterprise will result in improved learning environments for children and youth.
When initiating reform, an action plan must be developed before the school can determine how the reform will be carried out and how it will be measured. Too often, administrators become anxious and feel the need to change the reform before any data has been collected. More patience is warranted because if a plan is not working, it can be amended. The school team, which consists of educators, administrators, and other stakeholders, must make the necessary amendments without hindering reform efforts. Creating too many changes within one reform plan would be counterproductive and frustrating for all parties involved.
Many new administrators enter the field hell-bent on making a name for themselves and refusing to live in the shadows of their predecessor. Often, they feel as though their only choice is to go in a totally different direction, making the previous reform null and void. This situation creates frustration among the surviving faculty and staff. New administrators often make changes before they fully think about the consequences or repercussions of their actions. Perfectly competent adults massage their egos instead of thinking about what is in the best interests of the school and the children.
It is counterproductive to start one reform and then decide to start another several months later. Once a reform has been implemented, all parties involved must show fidelity to it until there is concrete data or evidence that indicates that it is ineffective. Reform is about creating an environment in which students are the priority and we as their teachers assist them in starting and finishing their journey to becoming educated citizens.
It is hard for many administrators and educators to grasp the fact that frustrations may worsen as the reform is being implemented. Often, issues arise because people do not welcome change. Some educators need to see that change is for the better before they completely support the reform. Once the rebellion to change has subsided and the reform has been implemented correctly, the waiting game begins. During this time, educators and administrators must go about the business of collecting data for analysis. The findings will give them a clear indication of whether or not the reform has served its intended purpose. If students are not progressing under the implemented reform, then it may not be fulfilling the needs of the students or faculty.
Strategic planning and the implementation of school reform sometimes require schools to absorb temporary setbacks in order to reap the benefits of long-term gains. Student progress might dip for a month or two before teachers and administrators see a significant gain in student learning and performance. Teachers and administrators need to allow change to take place and not panic when instant changes are not apparent. In many school reform efforts, educators and administrators must understand that policies and practices that met the needs of the past, do not necessarily address current needs or the needs of the future. They must realize that in order to obtain a great future you must let go of a great past.
Some administrators fall into the trap of emulating model schools. Model schools can be found in every major city, but when trying to recreate their success, many schools fail to achieve the same results. Trying to recreate another school's success is potentially dangerous, even when schools share similar characteristics. This is because, regardless of the similarities, every district is unique. Often, after a large amount of time, energy, and money has been spent, the school declares the plan a failure and has nothing to show for the efforts.
Strategic planning, which is widely used in the educational arena, can assist districts in setting goals and implementing school reform. You would be hard pressed to find a school district that does not have one or more strategic plans awaiting execution. Strategic plans are a district's consistent road map, even in the face of adversity. In the end, a strategic plan that reflects the culture and needs of each individual school is a better route than attempts to replicate the success another school.
The second installment of "Living Legends" features one of America's foremost poets and intellectuals, Nikki Giovanni. Her literary works investigate a plethora of topics, from jazz to racism and are extremely individualized messages conveyed through a range of emotions. Her folksy manner makes her poetry accessible to the masses. In 1968, she became an assistant professor of black studies at Queens College and has taught at several other colleges and universities, most notably, Ohio State University and Rutgers University. Since 1987, she has been a professor at Virginia Tech.
Giovanni was very active during the Civil Rights movement and published her first book of civil rights poetry, Black Feeling, Black Talk, at the age of 25. Even at 68, Giovanni seems as determined as ever to fight the good fight for equality and civil rights. She has received nineteen honorary doctorates and a throng of other awards and accolades, including an NAACP Image Award and "Woman of the Year" awards from three different magazines. Her literary works have influenced hip hop culture and she is frequently mentioned in songs by artists such as Nas and Kanye West. With a resume like hers, it is easy to see why she inspires and motivates people across the globe. Their devotion has continued to keep her literary works in print and fill the venues in which she lectures. Giovanni's spot in the pantheon of literary history is unquestioned because her poetry speaks to and for all mankind in a dialect that they can understand.
Without further ado, let's begin the interview.
ML: I remember reading an interview in which you were asked, "Would you consider yourself a legend?" and you replied, "No, I consider myself a working poet." I found your response quite fascinating. Would you elaborate on your answer?
NG: The poet Melvin B. Tolson once said "A civilization is judged only in its decline." That made sense to me. I would imagine the same is true for poets and tennis players.
ML: As you look back over your career, out of all of the poems you have written, which one is your favorite?
NG: Favorite poems are like favorite children. We definitely have them but we never tell as the others would have their feelings hurt.
ML: After 4 decades of scholarly and creative activity, you still continue to produce literary masterpieces. Where do you get your drive and motivation from?
NG: Thank you for the compliment. I am totally fascinated by people and our history as I understand and continue to explore it. People have so much to give and so far to go and yet we have given and gone a great distance. It's really just interesting to ask: why not? And see where that takes me.
ML: Over the years, you have been very supportive of hip hop culture. What do you think about the current state of the hip hop music industry?
NG: I am proud of the hip hop generation. They are good business people and, actually, good people. It's strange that the only time the major press talks about them is when someone gets killed or does drugs or something; yet these are the same press people who made heroes out of the Mafia and other crooks, you know. I like the younger generation. When you look at the career of a Queen Latifah or Jay-Z and when you see them supporting each other as with that ad for Kobe Bryant, it brings a smile to my heart. They are our future. And the future is in good hands.
ML: What is your reaction when you see international comparisons showing that American students lag behind their international counterpoints academically? How can we as a country, better educate our children?
NG: School should be eleven months of the year. School buildings should be opened and used twenty four hours a day. Schools should serve breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack. No sugared drinks, no fast type food. Schools should be integrated by race and by class. Language instruction should start in the first grade. Writing, also. We also need to make sure our children travel to see things. Not necessarily long distances but at least out of the neighborhood. On a train. A boat. An airplane. In other words: war is not a jobs program. We must invest in tomorrow. And pay our teachers for teaching as we pay our coaches for coaching.
ML: What advice would you give aspiring writers?
NG: Write! Read! Write!
ML: So, what's next for you? What projects do you have in the works?
NG: In October, Maya Angelou and I are celebrating Toni Morrison and her work at Virginia Tech. We are inviting about 30 poets and writers to join us in reading from Morrison's work. I am thrilled about this project. As for me, I am working on a book about my lung cancer.
Well, that concludes the interview. I would like to thank Nikki for granting my interview request and for her contributions to the African Diaspora.
Question: Last month, I was appointed to a task force that was charged with
the duty of creating a viable school reform plan for my district. We recently
convened our first meeting and the biggest question that came up was "what is
the most important ingredient in sustaining school reform?" Can you shed some
light on this subject? Susan K.
Answer: Thanks for the question, Susan. As a school reformer, I am asked
this question over and over again. I subsequently tell them that the most vital
part of sustaining school reform is retaining staff members to implement the
reforms and improvements. Why? Because the success of any given reform often
depends on the consistency of its implementation. Of course, the implementation
of reforms can withstand a certain level of leadership or staff turnover, but it
is more difficult to sustain reforms when new faces are being introduced all the
A shared vision is challenging to create and maintain without stable leadership, and a supportive culture from the staff. It is a simple fact of life that high staff turnover can create instability and have a negative impact on efforts to establish a consistent learning environment for students. High staff turnover is also quite costly, particularly when the recruitment of teachers, and then the training of new teachers in the intricacies of the reform effort are considered.
As schools and districts initiate reform efforts, support needs to be given to the recruitment process for teachers. Hiring teachers who “fit” reform goals will likely reduce teacher attrition. Still, more support needs to be available for new teachers. Even teachers who ostensibly have skills and attitudes that align with reform goals will need mentoring and other supports as they begin their jobs. Every attempt must be made to reduce the debilitating rate of turnover. If you apply the strategies from my column to your situation, you should have no problem sustaining school reform in your district.
Initially, I was hesitant about writing an opinion piece on the murder of Trayvon Martin and the subsequent public outcry, because a multitude of gifted writers had already tackled the story from seemingly every angle. However, after reading Charles M. Blow’s, “The Curious Case of Trayvon Martin," I was inspired by the last line of his piece, which states, “And that is the burden of black boys, and this case can either ease or exacerbate it.” As always, the New York Times columnist delivered his commentary in a poignant and articulate manner. This motivated me to write my own critique of the situation, and hopefully, someone will benefit from my thoughts and observations.
In case you haven't heard the story, Trayvon Martin, an unarmed seventeen year old African American male was gunned down on February 26, 2012 by George Zimmerman, an overzealous neighborhood watch volunteer. His murder outraged people from all around the world, especially once the circumstances surrounding his death were released. More specifically, statements made by Trayvon's girlfriend, who was on the phone with him during the incident, and reports from eye witnesses who heard Trayvon cry out for help seconds before the shots were fired. This certainly refutes Zimmerman's claim that he acted in self defense.
What makes this case so appalling is that Zimmerman has yet to be charged with the crime, because investigators purportedly cannot find evidence to dispute his claim of self defense. However, ask yourself this; what if all other things remained constant and Trayvon grabbed Zimmerman's gun and shot him in self-defense? Police would have taken Trayvon into custody and at the pre-trial hearing; he would have been remanded without bail. Seemingly, the Florida law would not apply to young black males "standing their ground."
Point blank, Trayvon Martin was racially profiled and subsequently killed with an Arizona brand ice tea and a bag of skittles in his possession. That was his crime, craving snacks while watching the NBA all-star game with his father and subsequently walking to the store for an Arizona brand ice tea and a bag of skittles. It seems that "walking while black" is a class B felony in the state of Florida.
Hopefully, this case will entreat the state of Florida to repeal its "Stand Your Ground" law, which stipulates that a citizen who feels as though they are in clear and present danger can claim self defense even if they chose not to flee from their assailant. Since the passage of the law, self defense claims pertaining to homicides have almost tripled, and many of the people killed were unarmed.
Zimmerman's claim is not viable, because under the law, the instigator of the confrontation cannot claim self defense. The body of evidence that is presently available clearly shows that Zimmerman instigated the altercation and carried out his crime with impunity. He is apparently nowhere to be found, and disconnected his phones before going into hiding. He should know that because of his crime, he will always be in jail, just minus the bars.
Trayvon's senseless killing illustrates “the burden of young black males.” The burden that I speak of is the burden of knowing that once you reach puberty and start exhibiting adult features, you will be labeled as a threat. The burden of knowing that “I am Trayvon Martin” and that his fate could be your own.
How do I tell my 12 year old nephews that once the cute and childish features make way for more mature ones, for many people, they will instantly graduate to "suspect zero" status? How do I tell them that some people will attempt to minimize their success and magnify their failures, simply because of the color of their skin? How do I tell them that minor infractions will be treated as B felonies? To be young and black in America in some ways is tantamount to being perpetually on probation.
Talk to young black males all over America and ask them if they have ever experienced discrimination and an overwhelming majority of them will tell you vivid stories of police harassment, profiling and blatant racism. We all remember the point when we received our “education.” When we first realized that for some people, nothing we could do would ever be enough. When we learned that the measure of a man in America is not the content of his character, but the color of their skin. When we realized that we had to adhere to a different set of rules and instead of complaining, we took note of this inequality and worked diligently to combat it.
No matter how hard you try, unless you have been in our shoes, you cannot fully understand the damage that these experiences can have on a person’s psyche. However, we have a choice; we can wallow in self pity or we can resist the stereotypes that are thrust upon us and become the men that our creator wants us to be. Our young black boys need our help; they are under attack from all sides, even from within their own race. They cannot weather the storm on their own.
We have to demand justice and put America on notice. It needs to stop racially profiling young black males, and imprisoning and executing them inequitably. How long will we allow the genocide to continue? A black male in America is indeed an endangered species, especially in the country’s urban cities, where the unemployment rate is well above the national average and going to prison is “business as usual.”
Going forward, let’s write a new chapter; not only for ourselves, but also for our children and grandchildren. Our forefathers did not die so that our young males can be gunned down in the street for no other reason than being black. This has happened before and unfortunately will happen again. However, when it does, we will exhibit the same outrage and resolve that we're exhibiting in response to the cold blooded murder of Trayvon. In the words of the great Eldridge Cleaver, “You’re either part of the solution or part of the problem.” Which will you be?
In part I of my interview with Howard Gardner, he discussed his famed Theory of multiple intelligences, in addition to some of his other theories and concepts. Without further ado, here is part II of the interview.
ML: In 2011, you received the Prince of Asturias Award in Social Sciences for your creation of the Theory of multiple intelligences. How does it feel to know that your accomplishments and hard work hard are appreciated?
HG: This was a wonderful honor. I was able to travel to Spain with my wife Ellen, and two of my children (Kerith and Benjamin), to visit various sites in Spain, and to meet other awardees, including conductor Ricardo Muti, Nobel Prize winning biologist Paul Nurse, singer-composer Leonard Cohen, the firefighters from Fukuyama, and to be reunited with Bill Drayton, the premier social entrepreneur in the world and, as it happens, a college classmate and friend for 50 years.
I am knowledgeable enough about the world of prizes to realize that there is a large degree of luck—both for the recognitions that you receive and those that you did not. What meant the most to me was that I was being recognized as a social scientist. I am trained as a psychologist, and I think of all human issues in terms of psychology, neuroscience, genetics, and evolutionary theory. And yet I don’t think that social science is the same as physical or biological science.
Put simply, when we study plants or atoms, they are not affected by what we learn. But when we study human beings, our findings can affect the future behavior of humans. To use my own work as an example, if you believe that people are either smart or dumb, and you don’t perform well on a certain kind of test, you may throw up your own hands and quit. But if you learn that there is evidence for a range of intelligences, and that weakness in one does not necessarily entail weakness in others, you may be motivated to work hard and become successful even on tasks that initially seemed formidable.
ML: Many people know you as the famed creator of the Theory of multiple intelligences, but do not know much about your recent research endeavors. What new and exciting concepts and ideas are you and Harvard Project Zero exploring?
HG: As for myself personally, I’ve spent the last fifteen years working on issues of ‘good work’—work that is technically excellent, personally engaging, and carried out in an ethical way. My major colleagues have been Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Bill Damon, two psychologists whom I have known and cherished for most of my professional life. You can learn more about that project at goodworkproject.org
Out of the GoodWork Project, have come a number of offspring, including studies of good play (in the digital world), good collaboration (particularly in the area of education), and good participation (in political and civic endeavors). We have also created a set of materials called the GoodWork Toolkit, which is being used in schools and other educational environments all over the world. My valued colleagues in these areas are Kirsten Adam, Lynn Barendsen, Katie Davis, Wendy Fischman, and Carrie James. You can learn more about our activities at goodworkproject.org.
Project Zero was begun by the eminent philosopher Nelson Goodman in 1967. David Perkins and I were graduate students at that time and we succeeded Goodman as directors of the project in 1972-2000. Originally Project Zero looked primarily at skills and understandings in the arts but in the last 45 years it has examined a whole range of psychological, educational, and managerial topics. I like to say that “Project Zero develops ideas about learning and educating and gives them a push in the right direction.” Hundreds, perhaps thousands of researchers and students have passed through the portals of Project Zero over the decades and many of them now use and teach some of the research and findings that have emerged during that period. At present, PZ (as it is usually called) has a dozen principal investigators, and they are investigating a wide range of activities from the understanding of causality to the nature of interdisciplinary research. Each summer we have two Institutes, which are sold out quickly, and which are attended by hundreds of individuals from all over the world. We are planning additional off-site Institutes, including one on Good Work in March 2013. For more information, see pzweb.harvard.edu
While I’ve worked on many topics and written many books, I have not abandoned my interest in multiple intelligences. This year I am planning to launch a website called OASIS, which will be a repository for authoritative information about MI theory. Watch for an announcement on howardgardner.com
ML: What is your reaction when you see international comparisons showing that American students lag behind their international counterpoints academically?
HG: Of course, I’d be happy to see the U.S. do well on any number of measures. But on balance, I’m not confident that these international comparisons are beneficent. I sometimes joke that “France would rather be #23 if Germany were #24, than #2 if Germany were #1.” The problem with the United States is less our mediocre standing than it is the vast difference between our best educational opportunities and our least propitious ones. People from all over the world come to admire our best public and independent schools, and are appalled if they happen to visit an under resourced inner city or rural school. And in fact, what distinguishes Singapore and Finland (generally considered to be the best countries on measures like the PISA and the TIMSS) are the Professionalization of Teachers, and the Egalitarian nature of the system (that is, great efforts are made to insure education of equal quality across the whole student population).
Frankly, I’d rather see comparison made on the basis of respect and ethics, than on the basis of test scores. The United States has done well historically because it is a country that people admire, they want to come here from other countries, they admire the access, the opportunity, and the institutions like a Free Press, Fair Law Courts, Accurate Auditing, Equal Opportunity, and Accountable Science. Any fair minded reader will recognize that all of these institutions are under threat in the U.S. at the present time, and if they continue to dissolve, then we will not be admired and we will not deserve to be admired.
It’s important to underscore that it is not mediocre test scores that have caused the major problems in the U.S. It has been unnecessary wars, ranging from Vietnam to Iraq, and unfair financial practices on Wall Street. And these were brought about by ‘the best and the brightest’, many of whom were educated at my own institution. I’d rather see the United States as a beacon of Good Work and Good Citizenship, rather than as #1 on some international educational measurement.
ML: If you had to rate the performance of America’s K-12 public schools under the Obama Administration (on a scale of A-F), what grade would you give?
HG: I am basically a supporter of Barack Obama--- it is not easy to be a post-partisan president in a hyper-partisan era. That said, there has essentially been a single federal educational policy in the U.S. throughout the George W. Bush-Barack Obama regime, and indeed, that policy dates back to the Charlottesville Summit of 1989, hosted by the two preceding presidents, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush. That policy is well motivated but I don’t think it has worked and I don’t think it will work. The problems in our educational system are indissociable from broader malignant trends in our society and they can’t be solved by lots of testing and by punitive actions against schools that are not performing well.
A year or so ago, I—who was usually not speechless—found myself unable to respond to a comment by the Minister of Education in Singapore. He said to me: “It takes 15-20 years to change an educational system. How can you hope to effect real change in a country where everything is determined by quarterly profits and biennial elections?”
By nature, I am not an optimist, though I try to act as if I am. In this context, and in light of your last two questions, I like to think back to the words of Winston Churchill: “The American people always do the right thing—after they have tried every other alternative.”
Well, that concludes part II of my interview with Howard Gardner. I would like to thank Howard for consenting to this interview and for his contributions to humanity.
On Christmas Eve 2011, I came up with the idea of developing an interview series entitled “Living Legends,” to spotlight people who are considered to be at the avant-garde of their perspective fields. Developing the concept was easy, but I couldn’t decide who to ask to do the first interview. After many days of going back and forth, I decided that Howard Gardner was the logical choice. His contributions to the field of education inspired me to become a university professor.
For those of you who may not know Howard, he is a professor of Cognition and Education at Harvard Graduate School of Education, the Senior Director of Harvard Project Zero and the author of over twenty books. Howard’s most celebrated accomplishment is the development of the Theory of multiple intelligences, and he recently received the 2011 Prince of Asturias Award in Social Sciences. I could go on and on about his accomplishments, and the accolades that he has received, but even that would not do his legacy justice.
Without further ado, let’s begin the interview.
ML: In 2013, your famed Theory of multiple intelligences will be 30 years old. When you originally proposed it in your 1983 book, Frames of Mind, did you have any idea that it would revolutionize the way that the world viewed intelligence? Were you surprised by the negative reaction that you received from the psychology community?
HG: I had no idea that the book would contribute significantly to a widespread change of mind about the nature of human intelligence. Till 1983, I wrote primarily for other psychologists and expected that they would be the principal audience for my book. I was surprised as anyone that the book was soon picked up by educators, first in the United States, and then in many other countries around the world. As Andy Warhol would have put it, Frames of Mind catalyzed my fifteen minutes of fame!
As for the reaction of my colleagues in psychology, I’d say that the reaction ranged from mild enthusiasm (mostly from developmental and educational psychologists) to ignoring (by mainstream psychologists) to condemnation (by psychometricians—the technicians who make the tests and who feel that they ‘own’ intelligence).
Biologists have been much more sympathetic to the theory, because they think—as do I—in terms of evolution and of brain development and organization. Mathematicians initially didn’t like the theory, but they changed their minds if one of their children was diagnosed with learning problems.
I need to add that my work on multiple intelligences received a huge boost in 1995 when Daniel Goleman published his book on Emotional Intelligence. I am often confused with Dan. Initially, though Dan and I are longtime friends, this confusion irritated me. But when it resulted in an increase in the advance that I received for my next book on intelligences, I forgave him!
ML: The Theory of multiple intelligences has been translated into practice in schools across the world in many different ways. What would a school that has embraced multiple intelligences look like?
HG: In 2009, colleagues and I published a book called Multiple Intelligences Around the World. In that volume, 42 scholars from 15 countries on 5 continents put forth their own implementations of “MI theory.” It’s quite an experience to sample the different ways in which teachers, administrators, museum directors, neurologists, and others have made
use of what is essentially a simple claim: rather than the mind/brain having a single all-purpose computer (which yields a single IQ score), it is better described as consisting of a number of relatively independent computers of information, which we call the ‘multiple intelligences.’
Still, three decades after having developed these ideas, I can state the two major educational implications quite succinctly:
Since we all have different cognitive profiles, educators should take those individual differences very seriously. We do so by teaching individuals in ways in which they can learn comfortably; and by assessing them in ways which allow them to show what they have understood (as well as ways in which they have not understood).
At one time individualized education was available only to people who had the means to hire a tutor. But now, thanks to the new digital media, we live at the first moment in human history where anyone with access to a ‘smart device’ can have individualized learning. That’s amazing!
Anything that is worth teaching can be presented in many different ways. These multiple ways can make use of our multiple intelligences. Whether we are teaching about the theory of evolution, the music of Mozart, or the Holocaust, we can approach these topics through narrative; through logical and numerical analyses; through works of art; through hands-on activities; through group work or a ‘jigsaw’ exercise, where each learner takes on a different part of the exercise.
When we teach in pluralistic ways, there are two wonderful dividends. First of all, we reach more students, because some learn best through stories, some through works of art, some through role play etc. Second of all, we show what it is like really to understand something. If you understand something well, you can represent it, describe it, embody it in several ways. Indeed, if you can only present it in one way, then your own mastery is likely to be tenuous.
I go into this point in great detail in my book The Disciplined Mind.
ML: In Five Minds for the Future, you outline what you see as the essential ways of thinking and behaving in the modern era. How can the “five minds” help young people be better prepared to meet the challenges of today and the future?
HG: In Five Minds for the Future I consider how education might change in view of four factors: l) globalization; 2) the technological/digital revolution; 3) lifelong learning; and 4) increasing knowledge about the mind, the brain, and the human genome. Three of the minds that I describe are primarily cognitive: the disciplined mind (mastering the major ways of thinking that human beings have developed over the centuries); the synthesizing mind (organizing the vast amount of information with which we are all regularly inundated); the creating mind (going beyond orthodox findings and methods to innovate, ‘think outside the box’).
The other two kinds of minds have to do with our relation with other human beings. The respectful mind accepts, indeed welcomes, the differences among human individuals and groups and tries to make common cause with the rest of humanity. The ethical mind, which I’ve been studying for the last fifteen years, attempts to do the right thing in our roles as workers and citizens.
As for the first three minds, only those young people who achieve cognitive sophistication are likely to find work and, should they lose their job, be in a good position to secure employment.
As to the last two minds, few of us would like to live in a world bereft of respect and ethics. I certainly wouldn’t! It would be nice if we could depend on parents, religion, or the media to develop respect and ethics in our young people. But, alas, for many reasons, we can’t depend on these forces. And so the burden for engendering respect and ethics falls on our educational system and on the broader society—which is to say, every one of us—whether or not we happen to be parents or teachers.
ML: I just finished reading your most recent book, Truth, Beauty, and Goodness Reframed: Educating for the Virtues in the Twenty-First Century. One of the most memorable sentences reads, "The advent of the digital media has not fundamentally altered the establishment of truth." Care to elaborate on this powerful statement?
HG: If we were to abandon concern for what is true, what is false, and what remains indeterminate, the world would be totally chaotic. Even those who deny the importance of truth, on the one hand, are quick to jump on anyone who is caught lying.
The digital media pull in two different directions. On the one hand, they supply so much information that it is easy to be deceived or to throw up one’s hands or to be susceptible to what Stephen Colbert calls ‘truthiness’—just accepting what is repeated often enough as being true. On the other hand, everything is out there—there are no secrets (except perhaps in completely totalitarian societies like North Korea); and so for those of us who are willing to persevere, the chances of finding out the actual state of affairs is greater than ever before.
And so, to return to your question, it’s still vital to establish truth. We are not going to get rid of the digital media—nor should we want to—and so our challenge is to use the media to determine the truth, rather than to let the media obfuscate matters.
Well, that concludes part I of my interview with Howard Gardner. In part II, Howard discusses his reaction to winning the 2011 Prince of Asturias Award in Social Sciences and also the state of the American educational system.