YPP Network Description

The MacArthur Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics (YPP) formed out of recognition that youth are critical to the future of democracy and that the digital age is introducing technological changes that are impacting how youth develop into informed, engaged, and effective actors.

Howard Gardner
Subscribe to Howard Gardner feed Howard Gardner
Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education / Harvard Graduate School of Education
Updated: 2 hours 14 min ago

“A Rage to Master”: A Blog on Gifted Children by Dr. Ellen Winner

December 10, 2018 - 1:46pm

Below, we are reprinting a blog post concerning gifted children that originally appeared on Howard Gardner’s official website for MI Theory, multipleintelligencesoasis.org.

Consistent with the name and purpose of this website, most of the entries provide support for the notion of several, relatively independent intellectual capacities, called the “multiple intelligences.” That includes reports on gifted children, most of whom have jagged profiles—that is, they may be very strong in one or two intelligences, less strong in others. Having studied gifted children, Ellen Winner has described many of these youngsters as having a “rage to master”—spending many hours each day engaged in, say, playing chess or practicing the violin.

But, counter to popular lore, there are no necessary patterns across the intelligences. Life is not fair! Some individuals are strong across several intelligences (Leonardo da Vinci comes to mind), while others, less fortunate, struggle in several intelligences. And the reasons for these diverse patterns are also multiple—genetic, cultural, and/or familial.

Recently, my wife, Dr. Ellen Winner, spent time with a remarkable child who, quite unusually, exhibited a “rage to master” across a wide range of learning opportunities. I’m pleased to post this blog—a contribution to our understanding of human giftedness.

-Howard Gardner

A Rage to Master… Everything

Ellen Winner

October 2018

As a developmental psychologist with a particular interest in gifted children, I have observed many unusual children. Most gifted children have one domain in which they excel. Domains in which one most often finds such children are language (speaking in sentences at a very early age), music (playing an instrument), drawing (typically very realistically), mathematics, and chess. These children exhibit what I call a “rage to master,” the domain in which they are strong. They spend hours working at developing their craft, and it is often hard for parents to tear the child away in order to eat, go to school, or go to sleep. These children have an enormous amount of energy which they focus exclusively (or at least primarily) on their domain of strength.

Recently friends of ours visited with their daughter who was on the cusp of turning six and who showed such a rage to master. But hers was unusual. She did not zero in on any one particular domain. Everything she came in contact with seemed to stimulate a rage to master. Because of her boundless energy for everything, she seemed to have a compulsion to keep busy, and if there were no obvious activities to engage in, she made up games for herself.

An example…

When she found some fine markers in our kitchen, she asked for paper and then proceeded to write out the alphabet and numbers up to 20 in very neat handwriting. She did this numerous times, and then used the phone to photograph each image.

Next, she discovered a puzzle where you have to put wooden shapes into a square box so that they all fit perfectly. She used my phone to time herself and was satisfied when she got her time down in half from her first try. After thus competing against herself, she then insisted that everyone else (six adults) try the puzzle, and she timed us each time, smiling broadly each time another person’s time was longer than hers.

In terms of attention, she also stood out. She noticed everything that the adults said in conversation even when she seemed to be concentrating on something else. We could tell because every once in a while she would look up from what she was doing and make a relevant comment.

I was surprised by the acuteness of her memory. At dinner she had asked me for my iPhone code which I gave to her orally. The next morning she picked up my phone and immediately typed in the code. When I told her I was amazed that she remembered, she began to tell me the code for the phone of one of her mother’s friends.

Her personality was strong, and she liked to be in control. She consumed all of our time and attention. We were like pieces in a human chess set that she manipulated. When she saw me holding my iPhone, she took it from me and began to take photos and videos of everyone in the room, including selfies of herself making funny faces. (I should note that her parents rarely take out their phones in front of her.)  She was however an iPhone expert, and instructed me on how to take a still photo and then to press loop or bounce to make the picture move in funny ways (this was news to me!).  She did allow me to take a few photos if I pointed the camera exactly where she instructed me. She was behaving like a movie director – making it clear she was in charge, and we were working for her.

Another way in which she “ran the show” was recounted to me by her father. He told me how he tried to keep her amused at a restaurant by showing her his two closed fists and asking her to guess in which hand he held a piece of paper. After one or two trials, she took over and insisted that he be the one to guess in which hand she was holding the paper.

When she was four, Trump was elected. She asked her parents what a president was. Her father, a policy scholar, listed to her all the things that presidents do and that the government does. When he finished, she said, “Then I want to be president!” That evening over dinner her parents found themselves being bossed around by their daughter. Her mother paused for a moment and then turned to her and asked, “Who set the rules in this house?” Their daughter’s instant reply: “Me because I’m the government.”

Most gifted children have very jagged profiles—ahead in language, average in math; ahead in drawing, average in music. But this child seems to be high in many different intelligences—verbal (did I mention that she is bilingual and speaks fluently a language unrelated to English?), spatial (that puzzle), mathematics (timing everyone on the puzzle; remembering iPhone codes), bodily-kinesthetic (she climbed to the top of the three story climbing structure at the Boston Children’s Museum), musical (she plays the recorder and recorded herself singing for me on my phone), and interpersonal (she had everyone marching to her orders; she formed a strong relationship with both my husband and me the first night she arrived, and I observed her strong connection not only to her parents but to two adult siblings). About intrapersonal intelligence, I can only say that when she was asked a hard question (how can you test which colors a dog can see?) she thought for a while and then said (reflectively and accurately) that she did not know. In addition to her gifts across the board she showed a powerful motivation to compete and an equally powerful motivation to fill her time with goal oriented activities.

The point of this sketch: While most gifted children have a rage to master in one area, this child showed a rage to master everything she came into contact with. Of course, it’s not at all clear what she will grow up to become. But perhaps Bill and Hillary looked like this as young children. Perhaps she really will grow up to be president—of something. I suspect she will not be passively taking orders from any boss.

Categories: Blog

Peer Advising: Benefits and Challenges

December 3, 2018 - 8:39am

by Alina Fein and Wendy Fischman

In many ways, the African adage “it takes a village to raise a child” also applies to college-age students. In speaking with graduating students from many different institutions about their college experience, one would be hard-pressed to find a student who managed to get through the undergraduate years without any help. Given the academic focus and structure of college, we might habitually associate advising with professor-student mentorship. However, in our large national study of higher education, we have discerned an important misalignment: in general, faculty members lament that students don’t come to office hours, while at the same time, students don’t feel that they get the help they need (see recent blog post here). Certainly, faculty and staff influence students, but according to the participants in our study, this influence occurs mostly in the academic realm.

When asked directly, the majority of students identify “peers” as the most influential group on their college experience. This appears to be the case because students most often seek help for personal problems—for example, juggling academic work with jobs outside of school and extra-curricular activities in school, smoothing out dynamics with roommates or friends, or satisfying personal, peer, or familial expectations. Thus, one obvious strategy for providing support is to make greater use of peers.

In recent years, there has been a proliferation of peer advisor programs on campuses. Conceptually, peer advisors, who have training and college experience, are meant to combine the comfort and familiarity of fellow students with the knowledge and wisdom typically associated with a professor or older mentor figure—an ideal combination. Though students and others on-campus speak mostly in positive terms about peer advising programs, we encounter yet another misalignment: while schools invest significant resources in setting up such programs, students more frequently rely on their own pre-established relationships, rather than an “assigned” advisor. Peer advising, like any type of formal advising, proves to be complicated.

Our study has identified four main challenges to peer advising:

1) Lack of adequate training: With the increase of mental health issues on campus, some campuses have developed programs and approaches for student ambassadors and peer counselors— individuals who help to create awareness for students about mental health issues as well as resources available on campus. However, these peer advisors are not necessarily trained to deal with specific problems that students may share (ranging from cheating on assignments to sexual assault)—and as a consequence, the ambassador and the confiding student find themselves in uncomfortable positions. One student describes his desire to just be a helpful “peer,” and not a formal “peer advisor” for this very reason: “I don’t think I would want to be [a peer advisor] just because I don’t know how to deal with those issues. I guess I would be trained to. But I… I’d rather someone come to me and talk to me about it instead of feeling like they have to talk to me because I’m a peer advisor.” In addition, though peer advisors go through training sessions, they may not have enough experience or information to know exactly when to refer a student to a professional, and whom a student should see. In a nutshell, undergraduates do not have the graduate training or clinical experience sufficient to help someone in crisis.

2) Confidentiality: In most jurisdictions, students must now report incidents of sexual misconduct and harassment to school administrators. Because of this requirement, these peer advisors no longer have the authority to say that they are a “confidential” resource for students. School administrators hope that peer counselors will still facilitate conversation, but students are less likely to share information that makes them vulnerable, especially if they know that they (or the incidents) will be reported. One student notes the fragility of the student hotline: “[Now] students in need can’t call [other students] in the middle of the night… [which] has caused like a huge uproar because [these peer counselors] are such a great resource for people who don’t feel comfortable going to actual therapy or can’t get an appointment…” For those in an emergency situation, confidentiality may no longer be a possibility.

3) Competing responsibilities: Once students develop a connection with a peer advisor, they may come to rely on this specific person. But peer advisors are college students themselves. Their schedules can be overloaded with coursework, paid jobs on or off campus, as well as unanticipated personal needs. One student laments: “My… counselor… she was helpful at the beginning. But then I like needed a lot more help, and she kind of dropped the ball…” Unintentionally, some colleges may be placing an additional burden on student advisors, a situation that can negatively affect those who come to depend on them.

4) False sense of authority: Students who need help may find themselves caught between two available and apparently knowledgeable peers. Both may intend to help—but they may approach a problem differently. One student describes an uncomfortable situation: his residential advisor and dorm president disagreed about how to bring people together, specifically in structuring activities in the dorm. Though this student acknowledges that while both advisors “want what’s best,” he felt “caught between them.” Instead of providing opportunities for students to bond, this student says, “it’s all gotten very political.” With peers, sometimes, it is not clear who is really in charge.

These four scenarios that we’ve outlined can create difficult situations. Schools want to rely on peers in order to provide some help to the overburdened mental health centers. But responsible administrators cannot afford the liability that arises when students, who are not properly trained, mishandle a delicate, or even a dangerous situation. 

To be sure, peer advisors have the potential to be positive influencers for college students. But in order for this cohort to reach its full potential, schools need to attend to the aforementioned challenges. For example, to overcome training challenges, schools could recruit graduate students (from their own or nearby campuses), who are roughly the same age, but have had more specific training. These graduate students could serve as “counselors in training.” It may be possible to pair graduate students (or even undergraduates) with clinicians, on or off campus, who would be available for referrals, particularly in perilous situations. Schools could also consider offering course credit for being a peer counselor—a policy that might make the responsibilities more manageable for those with limited time. In addition, both peer counselors and students could complete anonymous evaluations about their peer advising experiences. Such reports would include feedback from both parties about the quality of the experience, and particular challenges that arose. Importantly, these strategies would require individuals on and off campus to work together—across departments and divisions—to improve and reimagine peer counseling programs.

All institutions of higher learning strive to inculcate critical thinking in their matriculating students. Administrators and others at these institutions also need to exhibit such thoughtfulness when they institute programs that can harbor high reward, but also pose high risk.

© 2018 Wendy Fischman and Howard Gardner

Categories: Blog

Keeping the Professions Alive and True to their Mission: Lessons from the Netherlands

November 29, 2018 - 1:15pm

by Howard Gardner and Danny Mucinskas

For those of us who believe that the professions are a remarkable human creation, worth maintaining and even enhancing, these are depressing times.

On the one hand, so-called professionals, equipped with titles, prestige, and generous income, all too often behave in ways that are embarrassing, if not patently illegal. To mention just a few examples, we have recently seen medical researchers who hide support from drug companies from the public and then provide the results that the companies seek, and educators who falsify test scores in order to receive higher salaries.

On the other hand, powerful and “intelligent” digital applications perform many of the major tasks once handled by trained professionals, in ways that are quicker, more accurate, and far less expensive—and these trends are guaranteed to continue and intensify in the years ahead. “Intelligent” programs can now diagnose melanomas more accurately than physicians, and at least half of the routine work done by lawyers can now be done more efficiently and less costly by digital applications.

When Howard and his colleagues began a study of “good work” a quarter of a century ago, involving both traditional professions like law and medicine, semi-professions like journalism and education, and non-professions like theatre and philanthropy, we had already begun to sense these trends. In studying journalism, we already saw disruptive forces at work—and fully one third of the one hundred journalists whom we interviewed were ready, even eager, to leave the profession altogether. (We interviewed an equal number of researchers in genetics, and none of them even considered leaving their jobs). We also interviewed five kinds of lawyers and found that those in the developing arena of “cyber law” were among the most energized.

The purpose of our project was to understand how people do “good” on the job, what their values, motivations, and responsibilities were, and how they handled vexing situations as they arise. Researchers often heard interviewees talk about the supports or lack thereof within their professional domains and associations that supported or hindered their ability to carry out “good work.”

But members of the Good Work Project (which has now morphed into the more expansive initiative known as The Good Project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education) were unprepared for the speed and decisiveness of the decline of the professions over the past two decades—at least in the United States, and, as we have learned from the writings of Richard and Daniel Susskind, in the United Kingdom as well. Since the appearance of the Susskinds’ important book The Future of the Professions in 2015, our team has made diligent efforts to voice our concerns and to seek partners, but on American soil we have had modest success. Still, we persevere and are grateful for our collaborators. For example, legal scholar John Bliss of the University of Denver has used our frameworks and tools with law students to explore their professional identities; and colleagues at several educational institutions over the years, such as tGELF in India, have used our GoodWork Toolkit as a part of professional development activities for teachers.

In one of our most fruitful associations, as early as 2009, we were in initial contact with a group of scholars and practitioners in the Netherlands. Led by Thijs Jansen of Tilburg University, members of this group shared our concerns and hopes for the professions today. They created the Professional Honor Foundation (PHF). This organization is dedicated to the study of the professions and professional identity and, to the extent possible, their revitalization in the current social, economic, political, and technological environment, all of which continue to rapidly change in the 21st century.

Over the years, thanks particularly to the efforts of Wiljan Hendrikx, we at The Good Project in Cambridge have kept in touch with the individuals who are spearheading the many activities of PHF. In addition to exchanging messages, papers, books, and regular updates, we also had a very useful gathering at Harvard in October 2016, bringing the two teams together face-to-face for an exchange of ideas and a reaffirmation of our common enterprise.

Recently, as part of our continuing contacts, Howard travelled to the city of Utrecht and spent several hours with Thijs, Wiljan, and a number of their colleagues, all of whom are studying and attempting to refashion for the better different areas of professional practice.

Howard’s visit came as the Brazilian president-elect Jair Bolsonaro had just won the 2018 election in his country, as the U.S. mid-term elections were a mere week away, and as worrying political trends were all too salient across much of the globe, from the Americas to Eastern Europe to East Asia.

Yet, within just a few hours, Howard’s spirits were lifted, and he felt a new surge of hopefulness.

Why this renewed optimism? Because on several fronts, PHF has made genuine inroads. To be specific, here are some of the promising developments:

  • In work in the profession of accounting, their recommendations have been widely discussed and at least partially adopted in the Netherlands on a national level, with promising signs as well in the United Kingdom, customarily a bastion of neo-liberal thinking in the erstwhile professions.
  • In the management of local municipalities, several teams of civil servants have met regularly to discuss the rights and responsibilities of those who need and should merit public trust. These teams have drawn on the Good Work Toolkit, which PHF has used and further developed over the past 7 years.
  • Teams of medical workers—physicians, nurses, aides, and more—have convened to sort out their individual and joint responsibilities and to reconsider healthcare management practices. Some of the results are described in a book on the medical profession.
  • Most dramatically, in education, our own field, a fledgling effort to raise the position and stature of educators around the world has picked up considerable support in several countries as a component of the Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM). This movement started with the book Flip the System, published in 2015. As the title signals, this book put forth the radical notion of turning the education system upside down. In lieu of the top-down bureaucratic approach currently dominating the sector, this movement puts individual educators at the heart of good education. The particular foci in this case are decent salaries, respect for professional judgment, and popular support from the public.

Why, in comparison to the United States, have these efforts been crowned with more success? We can suggest a few possibilities.

First of all, while The Good Project is largely the effort of trained social scientists, PHF draws on several disciplines (e.g. philosophy, management) and on expertise in several professions (as noted, medicine, accounting, management, teaching). Rather than focusing on general processes and practices that ostensibly travel across the professions, most of the efforts of PHF have been directed at specific professions, and their work may therefore be more directly applicable.

Second, rather than depending largely on conceptualization, exhortation, and scholarly writing, PHF has devoted efforts to developing hands-on interventions with practitioners, which begin with the practitioners concerns and involve co-development over time of effective sessions, practices, and policies. A PHF-developed version of the Good Work Toolkit has been quite helpful in facilitating these interventions.

Third, the materials developed by PHF have been directed largely at specific professions—for example, attending (and even convening) conferences and authoring short pieces in profession-specific publications.

Our final “takeaway” is the most speculative. When individuals think of the professions, they typically envision law and medicine. That is understandable, because these are the best known and most attention-grabbing professions. But they may also be the most difficult for outsiders to influence; they are large, powerful, well-protected, and equipped with strong justifications and rationalizations for current practices and malpractices (consider the mammoth United States ABA and the AMA, basically lobbying organizations).

A possible lesson for The Good Project and others lies therein. Instead of focusing on trying to impact those more established professions that have been around in essentially their current form for centuries, begin instead with less visible and less powerful (and therefore less defensive) professions like accounting, K-12 teaching, and municipal management, leaving law and medicine for a later day.

Two possible candidates come to mind from the United States. First, the principles of good work are crucial in engineering. Our colleague Richard Miller, President of Olin College of Engineering, has been a champion in this respect, and to our knowledge, no one has had as much success in conveying the central role of ethics in the professions in the U.S. and abroad as Miller and colleagues, and their work has spilled over into higher education more generally.

Second, almost invisible to many of us, information technology professionals, who “serve” our computers, networks, and digital systems, have tremendous power, and we trust them to act in a professional way, even when we find out that this is not the case (as the recent firestorm of allegations against Facebook would indicate). Wouldn’t it be the ultimate irony if those whose work has done so much to disrupt the professions could end up serving as a model for professional behavior in the 21st century?

As The Good Project’s team looks ahead to the future and the opportunities we may have to influence professional practice in the United States, we see there is much inspiration to take from the dedicated work that PHF has done and continues to do in the Netherlands and beyond.

Categories: Blog

To Belong, or Not To Belong: That Is The Question

November 19, 2018 - 9:58am

by Wendy Fischman

What is the most transformative educational experience you have had to date?

In our national study of higher education, we posed this question to individuals across 10 disparate colleges and universities. Students (incoming and graduating), faculty, young alums, trustees, parents, and job recruiters gave a predictable wide range of responses—specific college courses, study abroad programs, high school books, lifetime friends, and even first job experiences.

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a daylong conference on Remaking Education. Participants were asked to think “out of the box” about how higher education could be reinvented—and I was not surprised that stories of transformation were highlighted. But I was surprised at a theme that emerged—one that we’ve rarely heard from the 2000 interviews that we conducted (all of which I’ve reviewed). The theme: persevering in an educational context as an outsider. At the conference, these individuals, called “storytellers,” described challenges with “belonging” in college. Findings ways to overcome feelings of alienation led to their respective transformative experiences.

Three poignant examples:

Storyteller #1. An African-American woman reports being questioned by her professor (and academic advisor) as a freshman in college as to whether she was sure that she wanted to be in a particular science class. This experience comes after a similar high school experience in which her teacher specifically told her that she might not be capable of becoming an engineer. As a direct result of these interactions, she developed an attitude of, “I will show you.” She is now the STEM diversity coordinator for a selective university.

Storyteller #2. A young business executive reminisces about meeting his lifelong mentor while an undergraduate student in the mentor’s seminar. Each week, students wrote a paper for the class. Once a week, the professor posted the paper with the most grammatical errors on a screen for everyone to see (without identifying the author), so that students could correct the errors together. The storyteller says that each week, his paper was the one posted, and he was absolutely mortified. However, this “record” led the student to form a special relationship with this professor, which he still maintains today. He is now a writer for several well-known publications, including The Chronicle of Higher Education and The Huffington Post.

Storyteller #3. This student, currently a college junior, has felt marginalized on campus because virtually no one looks like him (at his small school, he indicates that less than 5% of students are Latino). He has difficulty relating to the majority of students, who have grown up with more lavish lifestyles, including vacations, attendance at independent schools, second homes, etc. Coming from a low-income background, he spent his free time helping his mother with housekeeping tasks in other people’s homes. He now works at his school’s admissions office, hoping to serve as an advocate for other first generation students.

In 2012, when we set out to understand various perspectives about higher education, we did not anticipate one striking finding: “belonging” would emerge as a major obstacle for students at every college and university in our study. Though half of our 40-question semi-structured interview focuses on academics, and the other half focus on campus life, broadly construed, students’ personal issues often emerge as the most important topic on their minds. Accordingly, we devised a coding scheme to capture student descriptions of belonging and/or alienation. Specifically, we parsed the topic into three main categories:

1. Academics: Do students feel supported, respected or challenged in their coursework? Do students express academic motivation, feelings of achievement, and/or a mastery of content? Or, do students describe feelings of isolation and minimal help in their academic pursuits?

2. Peer: Do students describe meaningful connections with peers? Do they express a sense of “fitting in” with the larger community? Or, do students indicate loneliness or detachment from others on campus?

3. Institution: Do students identify with the overall mission and spirit of the school? Or do they convey alienation or a lack of connectedness to the school?

Through this tripartite scheme, our team of coders can specify a sense of belonging to one area, and not to another. After reading each interview, we “score” students on a five-point scale, ranging from strong belonging to strong alienation, with “balanced” in the middle of the scale. In the scheme, there is a “N/A” option for coders, when we lack sufficient information to make a decision.

Consider the following statements from students, which indicate, respectively, strong belonging or strong alienation for each of the three categories (note that in coding, we have more contextual information on which to base our decision).

Academic

  • Strong Belonging: “That class [Psychology 101] itself was like one of my first college classes where I did a really amazing…and I’m like, ‘Oh, college is like my thing.’”
  • Strong Alienation: …I think that my self-perception of, of like not knowing…as much as everybody else, and feeling like because I came from a different place that I wasn’t supposed to be here.”

Peer

  • Strong Belonging: “I didn’t expect [the student body] to be as integrated as it is. I kinda expected it to be a little more cliquey, like athletes do their things and these people do their thing. But it’s a pretty integrated community, I think, so that’s something that’s definitely caught me by surprise for, I think, the better.”
  • Strong Alienation: “At times I found myself isolated and stagnate in conversations ’cause I can’t have the individual conversations I want ’cause nobody has the intellect for it.”

Institution

  • Strong Belonging: You know, to be honest, for the whole campus, I feel like [name of sport] is our biggest sport. We truly bring the whole campus together…Everyone celebrate[s]…we felt like one.”
  • Strong Alienation: “It feels like there’s one dominant culture. It feels like there’s, like, one overarching…way to be a college student. So…me [not] being with that is a little bit…was difficult.”

As interviewers, and coders, our job is to describe what we have observed and heard: the good, the bad, and the ambiguity of belonging and/or alienation. But as citizens who want to improve the quality of higher education, we are also eager to help students address difficulties and challenges.

On the surface, it clearly seems preferable to belong than to feel alienated. But my experience at the conference gave me a different perspective on whether it is okay, and maybe even helpful over the long haul, to experience a lack of belonging in a particular situation or context. Perhaps this kind of challenge, though initially difficult, can also push students to undergo a positive change, or transformation for good.

Consider the storytellers at the Remaking Education conference. Each of the three individuals cited the initial lack of connection—or even blatant alienation as motivation for mobilizing a “can do” attitude. In each case, the process of overcoming perceived marginalization, changed the shape of their work—respectively, promoting for diversity in STEM fields; or gaining a lifelong mentor; or becoming an advocate for newly enrolled students.

Certainly, we do not want students to experience pain. At the same time, as educators, parents, and friends, we should be careful not to coddle students so that they miss opportunities for growth and transformation.

Here are two possibilities: Schools could offer a town meeting—Stories of Transformation—featuring students who overcame a challenge in college. Such a forum might help students to see that they are not “alone” in their struggles; listening to others’ successes might provide motivation to persevere. (Our own school, the Harvard Graduate School of Education, hosts a similar event called “Double Take.”)

As another example, peer counselors, faculty, administrators, or residence hall advisors could facilitate periodic convenings open to students who want to talk about their own stories, and particular challenges they have faced and how they navigated them.

Both of these approaches help students to reflect, listen to others, and formulate their own action plans. Finding the right balance may not be easy. But helping students to see that sometimes, recognizing and confronting short-term problems, may actually be beneficial over the course of a career and, indeed, a lifetime.  

© 2018 Wendy Fischman and Howard Gardner

Categories: Blog

Advising for Students: A Problem or Solution?

October 24, 2018 - 12:10pm

by Wendy Fischman

Students go to college for various reasons. Some want to pursue a particular academic interest or passion, possibly one in which they may specialize thereafter in graduate school. For others, college is simply the obvious next step after high school; in the absence of a particular academic goal, they may want to meet new people, explore campus life, or just earn a diploma.

Regardless of these differing “mental models,” as we call them (see blog post), how do students make sense of the college experience? How do they learn about requirements for their major, for scholarships, or for graduation? How do they find out about campus resources—the writing center, mental health support, study abroad programs and the like?

Enter the faculty. On some college campuses, faculty members serve as formal advisors to students. Faculty advisors may be assigned to students in their first semester or students may request a particular faculty advisor once they have chosen their major and/or met with faculty members in their respective departments. The assumption being that these “on-campus adults” will provide helpful tips and recommendations about choices in the curriculum, as well as information about supports, services, and opportunities on-campus.

However, in our national study of higher education (see blog post), many students report that they do not receive sufficient guidance from their advisors for either academic or campus life issues. Students claim that advisors lack sufficient and accurate information about the general curriculum and its requirements. Sometimes, advisors lead them astray, which in extreme cases can result in an additional semester or year worth of work! Yet, we have also heard from faculty members about apathy among students. Many faculty members in our study claim that they make themselves available for students during office hours and even invite them to attend—but students don’t show up. When students do come to office hours, it is only to get course registration forms signed, not to talk.

This “misalignment” begs two important questions.

To whom are students turning when they need help?

In our interviews, we ask students specifically to whom they turn when they need help with a problem. Students respond that they rely on a number of people on and off campus, mainly their peers (and peer advisors, including peer residential advisors), college and university staff members (e.g. those who deal explicitly with student life issues), and their parents. Perhaps because of the influx of technology, apps, and social media, students (including those at residential campuses) still ask their parents for help—even regarding course selection and decisions about their major. One high-level administrator at a public state university told us that at course registration, when students don’t get their first choices, they immediately call their parents (on their smart phones) to discuss other options. Students frequently identify faculty members as “influencers,” but mostly for a particular course that sparked an interest or a teaching style that was enjoyable and/or effective; rarely is a faculty member cited as an “advisor” or “mentor.”

What kind of help do students want?

For the most part, students indicate that they seek help on personal and inter-personal issues with which they struggle. It becomes clear, then, why many students turn to peers, to family members, and to those adults on-campus who are specifically trained to help young people with such problems, including mental health counselors. Students often seek curricular advice, but it is usually in terms of how to satisfy requirements (for both the general curriculum and the respective majors or programs).

In both cases, faculty may be unable to help students.

First, most faculty members do not feel comfortable (or do not feel that it is their place) to help students with mounting personal problems, such as roommate woes, sexual abuse, or depression. One faculty member, a psychology professor, told us that she actually got rid of the couch in her office because students viewed it as an opportunity to come in to talk about these kind of situations, which she did not feel equipped (or responsible) to handle. 

Second, even in the academic realm, faculty members lament that their knowledge can be thin when it comes to advice about the ever-changing and often complicated requirements for graduation. For example, a biology professor may not know the particulars about the school’s language requirement.

So perhaps the essential question is: “What kind of help do students need?” Certainly, students need help with both personal issues and curricular issues: but perhaps students could benefit most from conversations with faculty “advisors” about their goals for higher education, areas of interest, and how these may connect for a meaningful life after graduation.

What can be done?

In our study of ten disparate colleges and universities, we have encountered different models for bringing students and faculty together. At small, residential campuses where students and faculty essentially live within the same community, we have seen faculty invite students over for dinner and, in the happiest circumstances, become a part of students’ lives. At the other end of the spectrum, at large community colleges, individuals are employed exclusively to advise students by means of “intrusive advising.” For example, in City University of New York’s (CUNY) Accelerated Study in Associate Program (ASAP), students and advisors are required to meet a certain number of times over the course of a semester and to document the goals and outcomes of the meetings.

Situated between these two models are other school-sponsored, voluntary programs, which provide opportunities for students to interact with faculty.

One such program is Duke University’s Focus Program. “Focus,” as it is often dubbed, brings together faculty and students who choose to live in residential living communities that center on interdisciplinary topics of mutual interest. Involvement in this community includes attending gatherings featuring a public speaker or a student debate and dinner conversations. Among foci in recent years are: Cognitive Neuroscience and the Law, in which students learn about how the brain is structured, how it produces and comprehends language, and how it influences people’s judgments on issues of legal responsibility; and Visions of Freedom, which combines a variety of disciplines to explore the concepts of free people, free government, free economy, and personal or moral freedom.

A second example is The Ohio State University’s STEP program (Second-Year Transformational Experience Program). In STEP professors interact with students, either in small groups or one-on-one, to structure opportunities for personal and professional growth and to help them make sense of the college experience. As one faculty member put it, STEP encourages and facilitates “substantive interactions” through regular meetings of students and faculty members outside of the classroom. As part of the program, students also receive small stipends to carry out a “signature project,” which they design with their mentors. These projects range from an archaeological dig in Ireland to exploring the concept of happiness, to visiting every national park in the country.

While programs like FOCUS or STEP can be effective for select students, their overall impact is limited since only a small proportion of the student population qualify, sign up, or get accepted for these voluntary opportunities. So we face this challenging question: How can colleges instill advisory opportunities for more students on a regular basis? Perhaps some of the features of the aforementioned models can be combined.

For example, imagine that in order for students to get a required “signature” on their registration form, they must bring a question or a topic to discuss at the meeting—one that goes beyond logistics available on the college website. Then, at the end of each semester, students must submit a written take-away from this conversation—whatever that may be—to both the faculty member and the registrar, along with the required signature, in order to register for the following semester. Optimally, such a soft requirement would catalyze regular contact between students and designated faculty members (and perhaps even the department as a whole).

To be sure, the needs and problems students confront are not the same among disparate institutions of higher learning. While some students struggle to find balance among working for income, taking care of their families, and executing schoolwork, others look for guidance on how to partake in a field study or laboratory work. While some students need motivation to stick with their studies, others need a reminder to explore different areas and not to focus solely on building a resume for post-college careers.

It is clear that students need to take some agency to initiate conversations with their advisors. At the same time, faculty need to be accountable to keep office hours, to respond to substantive questions, and, when serious personal issues arise, to make sure that students connect with the appropriate personnel and resources. 

© 2018 Wendy Fischman and Howard Gardner

Categories: Blog

An Extraordinary Commentary on the Festschrift “Mind, Work, and Life”

October 15, 2018 - 10:02am

by Howard Gardner

I was thrilled–though also a bit skeptical—when my wife, Ellen Winner, and my long time colleague, Mindy Kornhaber, proposed a Festschrift (a celebratory book) to make my 70th birthday. My skepticism evaporated when over 100 friends and colleagues wrote appreciations, which were compiled in two hefty volumes. And I was tremendously touched when most of these friends—as well as my mother, my wife, my four children, and my first two grandchildren—arranged a celebration at a local restaurant.

Taking advantage of an illness that kept me at home for a few months, I wrote a response to each of the contributors. (I don’t recommend heart surgery as the prescription for penning appreciative notes!) And then, once we had established that it was easy to do, we arranged to post the two volumes on the internet and to make them available at nominal cost via Amazon (click here for Volume 1 and here for Volume 2).

From time to time, friends and strangers will peruse the volumes and send me their thoughts. I respond appreciatively. That recognized, I was completely unprepared for the extraordinary document that I reprint here: a detailed and sophisticated review by Catalin Mamali of many of the contributors, and a quite original weaving together of many—perhaps most—of the themes introduced in the 116 separate contributions. Indeed, I dare to coin a new term—a meta-Festschrift.

At this moment, to my regret, I don’t have the bandwidth to respond to Catalin’s unique essay. (Though I don’t think that we have met in person, I have corresponded with him a few times over the years.) But at the conclusion of his essay, he raises two questions, and I believe that I owe him responses—and here they are.

“Your question about what I would have done had I lived in a totalitarian country: As you know, my parents escaped from Nazi Germany just in time, so my first thought is that I would not even have survived. I did visit my friend-student Miki Singer in Bucharest a few years ago. She is very musical and both she and her husband studied mathematics during the Ceausescu regime and she explained that this was a ‘pure’ topic and could not be seen as political. (They are both Jewish, which may have complicated their life choices.) I could not have done research in math, but I might well have become a math teacher, a music teacher or both. And probably my synthesizing mind would have worked on issues having great distance from contemporary politics, like the early Roman Empire!”

I close by reiterating my gratitude to Catalin for this singular gift to me. I dare to hope that some others will read and perhaps comment on what he has written. Even more, I hope that in the future, a practice of creating meta-Festschrifts will flourish—and if so, the world will join me in saluting Catalin Mamali.

 

Creating minds and the genesis, maintenance and development of a creative Ecology of interactive minds*

*Revised form of the letter sent to Howard Gardner on Sept 9th, 2018, at his generous invitation to post the letter on his site.

 

Dear Howard,

Here are my thoughts inspired by “Mind. Work, Life”.

The ecology of interactive creative minds

Mind, Work, and Life. A Festschrift on the occasion of Howard Gardner’s 70’s birthday, (Ed. Mindy L. Kornhaber & Ellen Winner. Cambridge MA: Published by The Offices of Howard Gardner, 2014.) is a fascinating and inspiring dialogical document for your unique and major contributions to psychology, education and scientifically-informed societal intervention. This monumental dialogical work initiated, assembled and edited in a wonderful mode by its outstanding editors Mindy L. Kornhaber and Ellen Winner is a resource that enhances the better grasping of the wide spectrum and originality of your crucial contributions and of the dynamics of the ecology of interactive creative minds, of truth-seekers who are at the same time dedicated to the common-good. I am convinced that this dialogical work, besides its functions for the history of science, besides its balanced assessment of crucial achievements, besides its bold epistemic suggestions, its practiced values, its profound interrogative spirit serves also the needs of other creative minds from all over the USA and from all over the World. The fact that other minds did not have the chance and the privilege to be actual members of this ecology of the interactive creating minds engaged directly by your path-breaking contributions and projects is generously compensated by these volumes that invite to systematic, open-minded and constructive processing of the essays and of your answers as a dialogical unit. The readers have the opportunity to explore a fertile land that is nurturing for new ideas and stimulating for other dialogues, solitary and/or joint creative inquiries.

It is obvious that at the origin of this enterprise is the innovative nature of your work that covers in a unifying way a wide range, not just of topics, but also of disciplines and action-oriented strategies designed for advancing the common well-being. The two volumes offer the chance to better realize the generative interaction between the creative core developed by your original work and a developing ecology of interactive creative minds. Your self-categorization, which is in tune with what most of us who studied your works might think, is expressed succinctly by yourself: “I think of myself as a synthesizer, one who desires to learn about a new topic or field, survey it broadly, and then tries to put it together in a way that makes sense to himself and, he hopes, to others as well. If one looks over the shelf of books that I’ve authored, several of the works are best described as syntheses…” (pp. XVIII-XIX, italics in original). This self-conception does not exclude features of other types of scientists, like those identified by Mitroff based on Jung’s typology, such as “hard experimentalist” or Saxe’s view, which characterizes you as “ethical theorist” on a very “solid ground” (Volume two, pp. 324-325). It seems to me that you share also features with the type called “humanist”. Almost no typology could capture the diversity and spontaneity of developmental processes, invites creative minds first to invent, and then to use fuzzy sets and Venn diagrams when applying a typology.

Howard Gardner confronts in an imaginative and transparent way the competitive nature that marks the development of science and says that being fundamentally “a synthesizer, rather a paradigmatic experimental psychologist [as Hiram Brownell, Ellen Winner or Edgar Zurif]”… I concluded that there were many dozens who could do what I did as well or better than I did. Instead I had a ‘competitive edge’ when it came to synthesizing disparate strands of thought, yoking diverse bodies of data…” (Gardner’s response to Hiram Brownell, p. 166, Volume one). I will return later on to the issue of types of scientists, and in a wider sense of truth-seekers, which include intuitive synthesizer, hard experimentalist, and abstract theorizer…types exemplified by many contributors to this epistemic fest that is concerned by the good societal use of its fruits.

Howard Gardner is a synthesizer for sure; it is a synthesizer who transcends a given state of the field (of a paradigm) and deepens and enlarges our previous understanding through one’s innovations and discoveries. Long before the theory of multiple intelligences had been in the making, with reproducible traces in personal notes (I’m not at all sure that such traces might not exist) papers and publications, Howard rebelled with pathos (but on a strong rational foundation) against the canonic view of the time that unintentionally reduced intelligence to an IQ score. You were still a student and had the privilege to express your perplexity to an icon of our field, Jerome Bruner, who listened and engaged in a many chats with you within an open intellectual environment with a long and healthy tradition of debates between teachers and students. I wonder what might have happened if you had been a biologist and had dared to discuss your new ideas with Trofim Lysenko within the repressive environment of Soviet Union that obediently preached the communist ideology.

The theoretical construct “creating minds” and the research that supports it is a landmark contribution to the understanding of Creativity (Gardner, H. (1993). Creating minds. New York: Basic Books). Creating minds ask fundamental questions and develop innovative and appropriate answers to major puzzles. Their new questions and innovative solutions fit to the major criteria of science, restructure an entire research field (paradigm) that later on will become the new norm (1993, pp. 34-36) . Creating minds might work in solitude, might be engaged in challenging research teams, might enter into strong conflicts while they are shaped by and boldly confront the conditions set by specific cultures. At the same time, creating minds spontaneously seek the company of other creating minds who might be contemporary with them – sharing the same environment, might live at great physical and un-crossable political distances dominated by opposing worldviews, or might seek the intellectual company of creating minds that lived long time ago. Groundbreaking creativity that shakes the old structures and generates new frames of understanding and development always imply inner gifts, personal effort and connectivity with previous creative performances plus some luck.

It seems useful to make some explicit connections with a few major theoretical approaches that suggest that creating minds emerge within creative networks, might generate and search for creative networks. My reading – and I am sure that I need to do a re-reading of “Mind, Work, Life” – suggested to me four such possible connections. Such possible connections might help one grasp the integrative force of the fascinating Two Volumes.

First, the emergence of creating minds needs a nurturing “ecology of mind”, using Bateson construct (Bateson. G. (1973). Steps toward and Ecology of Mind: Collected Essay in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution and Epistemology. Paladin).

Second, it seems to me that the understanding of the dynamics of any ecology, especially of those involved in the long-term intellectual development might be advanced by the conception of coevolutionary processes (Lumsden, C. J. & Wilson, E. O. (1981). Genes, mind and culture: The coevolutionary process. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.), which help to explore the complex influences on human behaviors of the interaction genes and environment while many collective actors are involved.

The third connection refers to the theoretical construct of memes (Dawkins, R. (1976). The selfish gene. Oxford: Oxford University Press.; Dawkins, R. (1982). The extended phenotype. Oxford: Oxford University Press.) That suggests that memes replicate and can be accessed at a given time by successive generations. Memes might facilitate, under proper conditions, the development of ecology of creative interactive minds across spatial, temporal, political, epistemic borders and even borders set by worldviews, while under repressive conditions they might hinder its development.

The fourth connection is focused on the increased connectivity among all humans that is captured by the concept of Homo Dictyous (the network human) as introduced by Christakis and Fowler (Christakis, N. A., & Fowler, J. M. (2011). Connected: The surprising power of our social networks and how they shape our lives – How your friends’ friends’ friends’ affect everything you feel, think and do. New York: Back Bay Books, Little Brown and Company). Probably the connectivity is higher (content, novelty, intensity, symmetry, frequency, number of links) among creating minds. Is connectivity associated with the scientific drive for unity and coherence while there is at work a tough competition among researchers, theories and experimental approaches?

Howard Gardner’s work aims explicitly toward the improvement of the environments. However, this is carried out not just within research teams but also in dialogue and cooperation with educators, educational institutions, and people with various needs. For instance, R. Selman and J. Kwok, referring to GoodWork that aims to all areas of possible excellence, are stating that this project: “inspires people to do GoodWork and how we can foster environments that encourage it” (p. 393) Volume two, Counting Hearts an Eye Balls: How to Help Adolescents Make Better Decisions Using Entertainment and the New Media (and Know that You Have Succeeded).

Questioning potential and the inspiring reversal of epistemic and social roles

As an imaginative and reliable questions-generator, Howard Gardner warns about the risks to become “too Howard-centric” (p. 200, his response to Jie-Qi Chen). Ellen Winner has observed this questioning gift and drive in the 1980s in England at a highly significant conference where “he asked a probing and original question after each presentation” (p. XII, italics added). In fact, Gardner refers to this feature of his cognitive style that is observable in his entire work. For instance, in Truth, beauty, and goodness reframed, Howard raised many of the right questions to which he refers with epistemic humility, “even if I did not come up with the right answer, it raised the right questions” (Volume One, p. 99, response to Eric Blumenson and Eva Nilsen). On could notice both at intrapersonal and interpersonal levels multiple and complex reversals (in the sense of Apter’s reversal theory: Apter, M. (1982). Reversal theory and its relevance to educational psychology, British Psychological Society, 61(1) 33-37; Smith K. C. P., & Apter, M. (1975). A theory of psychological reversals. Chipenham Wiltshire, United Kingdom: Picton.) during the process of creative inquiry. The more or less predictable reversals between solitary work and cooperative work, between isolated search for answers and joint search for answers in small or large and diverse teams, reversals between expression of self-confidence and nurturing the others confidence in their own research ways, and reversals between self-doubting and well-grounded skepticism in some ideas widely accepted mark Gardner’s becoming. Such reversals that overcome many asymmetries that might hinder the productive encounters associated with Howard’s practice to encourage “mutual rethinking” (Kornhaber, Volume two, p. 41). So, even if it can be surprising the syntagm “doubting” Howard Gardner used by Verducci (p. 564, Volume two), that sends to the Cartesian method, it fits so well in this multi-voiced exploration of Gardner’s works, life, and versatile styles. Verducci points out that Gardner is in tune with truth seekers who “acknowledge and negotiate our human epistemic limitations.” (“Doubting” Howard Gardner, Volume two, p. 562).

All (more accurately would be almost all) truth seekers are marked by an epistemic humbleness, the readiness to recognize one’s errors, to correct their own and others mistakes and to stand for truth. This comes into antagonistic relation with the epistemic arrogance visible mainly within totalitarian systems and ideologies.

Openness to others creative powers, to different perspectives, to competing (complementary) theories and well-grounded speculations.

The need to communicate truthfully, the urge for to engage in interactions that open widely the gates between the “inner dialogue” (Şora, M. (1949). Le dialogue interieur. Paris: Gallimard), and the dialogue with others, as Socrates practiced, are associated with deep respect for one’s own potential and for the potential of others. Csikszentmihalyi reveals his longing for “stimulating conversations” and discloses that talking with Howard “one can always learn a new perspective, a new connection from the interchange” (p. 285, Volume One). Some of these conversations have been at the core of wonderful projects such as Goodwork. Gardner’s ability to listen (for instance, see Krechevsky, p. 56, Volume two) to others with similar and different views, to learn from people who witnessed how children’s creativity can be “stolen by the horrible civil chaos” (Li, p. 106, Volume two), to invite a janitor to share his view about the ways he “picked up his job knowledge” (Kornhaber, p. 41) and his empathic orientation toward those who have to overcome structural obstacles, among others, are interpersonal skills nurtured by the joint powers of epistemic creativity and epistemic humility. As a matter of fact, you expressed full responsibility for the failure of a promising and important project, as it is the case of ATLAS (p. 221, Volume one). These complex and fertile interactions are revealed by some of your peers and colleagues co-engaged in innovative projects and by your responses in a dialogue that invites to future explorations.

For now I can mention just a few cases as the two-way critical comments, inspiring suggestions, exchanges of scientific roles, for instance as those with Teresa Amabile, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, William Damon, Antonio Damasio, Hanna Damasio, Anne Colby, David Henry Feldman, Wendy Fischman, David Perkins, Robert J. Sternberg and Edgar Zurif to mention only a few from a much longer list. In some cases, these have been multi-faced creative dialogical interactions carried orally and/or in writing. Let me make just three illustrations. One regards the inspiring critical feedback provided by David Feldman to your “early drafts of Frames of Mind” that also accurately predicted, “the book was likely to be seen as a major critique of the standard theory of intelligence” (Howard’s response, p. 395, Volume one). This is a highly significant feedback, provided on time, to a crucial work (Frames of Mind) that creatively advanced a new, integrative theoretical framework that changed an entire field. The old norm of reciprocity used in a generous and productive mode for the common good is exemplified by the inspiring suggestion made by Howard Gardner in support of David Feldman when “Howard supported my (Feldman) case by claiming that I may have started a new subdiscipline which he labeled ‘cultural genetic epistemology’ “(Re-questing quest for mind: An essay in honor of Howard Gardner, p. 389, Volume one). This form of insight that identifies the innovative character of a work in the making is vital for nurturing an ecology that enhances the creativity of interactive minds. The ability to grasp the value of an approach that is not yet a finite product, but one that is unfolding, even anticipating its future importance, is a vital force for advancing the frontiers of any inquiring field.

Such encounters between creative minds as the two volumes make them obvious to the lucky readers contain difficult epistemological battles that are carried out with fairness and a strong drive to understand and recognize the value of the ideas proposed by those who have different perspectives. For instance, Robert J. Sternberg who advanced new theoretical frameworks in the case of major themata such as intelligence, love, wisdom…, and as it is well-known pleads for transparency of peer-reviews is just one of them. You underscore the fact that Sternberg is a scientist who is “not afraid to be critical and not afraid to sign your name to a negative review” (p. 472, Volume two). Robert Sternberg provides an amazing account of your work that receives from you this response: “I can say that if I have been asked to write an autobiographical essay and have come out with your account, I would have been more than satisfied with that literary effort” (p.472). Sternberg’s essay points out a feature of innovative scientific approaches that might look to others as reciprocally incompatible, but, in fact, such encounters invite to explore their possible complementarity of different theories. Sternberg’s posits that despite his critical view “I realized that the two theories [MI and triarchic] are largely compatible. Howard theory specifies domains of intelligence; my own theory specifies processes (analytical, creative, practical) operating within those domains. One could imagine a 3 x 8 matrix, with the three abilities of the triarchic theory as rows and the eight intelligences of MI theory as columns (Howard Gardner’s contribution to psychology and education: Woefully incomplete retrospective that is nevertheless the best I can do, p. 463, Volume two).

The third example refers to an original contribution, called “speculation,” by author Seana Moran, to the type of intelligence identified by Gardner as “existential intelligence”. Despite the fact that existential intelligence is a relatively late addition by Gardner to his revolutionary MI theory, it has wide ramifications for advancing the understanding of the interaction between intelligences development and environment. Moran’s approach (What does “1/2” an intelligence mean?” Volume two) is openly encouraged by Howard Gardner who stated in his response to her contribution: “In candor (and this is not something I have said very often with respect to MI theory) you have thought more deeply about these issues than I have” (p. 199, Volume two). Moran advanced the bold idea of a “family tree of intelligences”, of an evolutionary process that leads to a new generation of intelligence(s). “The existential intelligence” belongs to the “fourth generation” of intelligences (pp. 181-182). Here is the order of the four generations of intelligences that emerged during co-evolutionary (bio-social-cultural-moral) processes according to Moran:

I: – Bodily-kinesthetic – Spatial – Musical

II: – Interpersonal – Naturalistic – Linguistics – Logical-mathematical

III: -Third generation – Interpersonal

IV – Existential

Moran’s approach invites to a systematic exploration of the possible relations between the assumed evolutionary sequence of intelligences and coevolutionary processes (Lumsden & Wilson, 1981) and the “cultural homeostasis” as conceived by Damasio and Damasio in their essay on moral brain. According to Damasio & Damasio: “Creativity and reason have extended the discoveries of nature and the reach of biological regulation to the human social space. In the process, they invented sociocultural homeostasis. The basic homeostasis of human body is automated and non-conscious, designed to ensure our survival thoughtlessly. Sociocultural homeostasis, on the other hand, is largely deliberate and conscious, and morality is the most important consequence of sociocultural homeostasis” (p. 295, italics added, Volume 1). I do not know if Seana Moran already knows this essay, but as far as I can grasp now, existential intelligence may be a game-changer for a given cultural homeostasis and this might explain why there is a resistance toward EI (existential intelligence, which might look alien or extra-terrestrial). Such an exploration is in tune with Moran’s question: “What would it look like when newly evolving intelligence meets culture? Would we embrace it immediately? Not likely” (p.186). This is at least obvious in the cases of exemplars such as Socrates, Thoreau, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mandela, Patočka who have been imprisoned, killed, or both. Societies (various societies in various eras) did not accept their solutions to painful societal issues. By the way, Thoreau did plead for a very long time for friendly relationships between knower and object, observer and observed, experimenter and subject (sometimes we call them “participants”, but manipulate them). It seems to me that Thoreau’s support for what today we call unobtrusive methods is in tune with his care for the moral match between means and goals not just in social actions but during the knowledge processes too.

Gardner’s creative synthesizer type, besides the fact that it is part of his self-concept, is observable not only in his articles, books and lectures but in his face-to-face interactions when he and his peers, colleagues, mentees met surprises and fragmentary answers where integrative ideas are much needed. Foldi refers explicitly to the “the ability to connect and incorporate disparate learned material” (Aging? Never mind, p.418, Volume One). In great intellectual environments, a powerful synthesis comes down from the abstract levels and becomes a teachable skill through modeling. To learn about and from individuals who are able to model and to be modeled by this skill within an ecology that is creativity-enhancing is a source of happiness.

Howard Gardner warned us not be “too Howard-centric”. Besides this wise warning we should take into account that Howard Gardner’s work, life, care for the daily needs of others (such as women colleagues who have been pregnant or just gave birth), and his practical approaches designed to improve educational processes and institutions reveal the existence of a “Polycentric-Howard,” in quest for truth in diverse areas of inquiry, who engages and is engaged by other creative minds. In the words of Alan Wolfe, this is phrased as: Howard Gardner is “the most pluralistic person I know” (p. 584, Volume two). Howard Gardner is an imaginative unifier, a seeker of coherence who has the ability of grasping perplexing cases, situations.

I do not know if nowadays there are enough students in psychology and even philosophy who are reading Maimonides. I say it because in his essay, Saxe advances a stimulating perspective. Here it is: “A direct comparison of Maimonides and Howard Gardner would be inappropriate, but in several interesting ways, Howard’s work reflects a Maimonidean approach to understanding and improving work. At a simple level, Maimonides was concerned with turning complex ideas into concepts that could be understood and used by ordinary individuals to enhance their lives” (p. 327, Volume 2). Is it not a deep form of democratic and participatory production and use of social knowledge? These features, which reveal that the creative efforts that have the highest value for a humane becoming are, as Saxe writes, “ethically driven” (p. 325). According to my limited knowledge of Maimonides’ work, I dare to add one more feature: the ability to observe significant disparities, to be perplexed by them and to strive to understand why they happen. Regarding perplexity, I have in mind The guide of the perplexed by Maimonides.

Gardner with humor and modesty reacted to the comparison between him and the Jewish thinker Moses Maimonides. This is his reaction from which is plenty to learn: “I am moved by the comparison. But, then, in the background I hear my father voice saying, ‘Den Unterschied mőchte ich Klavierspielen kőnnen.’ Very loosely translated what Dad might have interjected at this point is ‘Howard, — you and Maimonides! I’d like to be able to play the difference on the piano’ (p. 333)”

The two volumes have a tremendously rich epistemic substance, personal and interpersonal stories and a well-connected network of guiding values among many other treasures that can be discovered by each and every reader.

The value of reciprocally valued epistolary interactions and beyond them.

Dear Howard, when I say many other treasures I have in mind specific components that belong to the co-developmental stories. For instance, the place of letters in this dialogical working and living space is highly significant. Connie Wolf, who first received via telephone a negative answer to her application for a job justified by the fact that “you decided to hire another candidate who had her Ph.D.” , wrote to you an “unsolicited letter”, what she calls “THE letter” (Another letter to Howard -30 years after “THE” letter, p. 574, Volume two). This epistolary event informs the readers that your dialogical capacity goes across all communicational means (verbal, reviews, face-to-face, e-mail…) leading most of the times to fruitful solutions to various problems. Wolf confesses, “I am forever grateful that you were open to THE letter and recognized something in me that I never knew I have” (574). Your response recognizes this epistolary episode and invites the readers to dig deeper into your epistolary interactions. The openness to the received letters (e-mails) and their dialogical treatment that implies a balanced view on the dynamics of epistolary interactions that have to be treated within the wider context of the Harvard’s cultural tradition that preserves correspondence objects and invites to the systematic study of these reciprocally self-recorded dialogues.

The value of epistolary interactions for understanding the “scientific imagination” and the genesis of a new paradigm can lead to surprising results that, probably, contradict a previous widely accepted representation. Gerald Holton in his essay “Intuition in scientific research” and in his previous research, as the landmark work on the thematic character of scientific thought (Holton, G. (1973/1988). Thematic Origins of Scientific Thought: Kepler to Einstein. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press) provides strong evidence supporting the value of correspondence for clarifying critical moments in the genesis of a new theory. For instance, Einstein, in a letter to F. G. Davenport, contradicts the common view that the experiment of Michelson-Morley played an important role in the genesis of the special relativity theory. The systematic research of epistolary interactions offers the chance to re-construct what Holton identifies as the “cultural roots of science” (Holton, G. (1998). Einstein and the cultural roots of modern science. Daedalus, 127, 1, pp. 1-44). Exploring the cultural roots of science Holton illuminates essential sides of the epistemic need to search preserved epistolary interactions. There is evidence that the dynamic of “thematic, visual and metaphorical elements in the thought process of researchers” are most of the time at work “long before they reduce their results to traditional types of publication” (Holton, p. 537, Volume one, italics added). Holton refers to the “diverse correspondence” and suggests that “the letters exchanged during just one of Einstein’s immensely busy and creative periods (1914-18); they indicate a wide spectrum of interests among the correspondents” (Holton, 1998, pp.4-6, italics added). Mapping the trajectory of scientific ideas (as well as of other products: visual arts, music, political decisions, technological inventions) cannot be carried out only by studying the publications; their forms of canonic public delivery which do not offer access to many components of the creative process that are less visible or even completely excluded from these formal records despite the fact that such traces might have been expressed within the dialogical stream of correspondence.

Within Harvard cultural context there is a rich tradition of substantial, intense and persistent epistolary interaction; the epistolary dialogue is a well nurtured cultural habit. In your response to the essay of Sissela Bok (William James on ‘What makes a life significant?”) you state, “we inhabit the campus of Thoreau and Emerson and Hellen Keller” (p. 133, Volume one, italics added). Thoreau treated the received letters with the same respect as his Journal, giving to the received letters the same chances of survival as to his own Journal, which had some of its entries written on the back side of received letters. I have been partially surprised that you mention Thoreau prior to his mentor, Emerson who had the wonderful habit to invite his disciples to treat his ideas critically. Did you reverse even the alphabetical order (T, D) by chance or because Thoreau might have a special place within your becoming?

  1. Bok’s essay is triggered by one of the powerful and perennial questions asked by William James and by his answers that marked our field. The power and the habit of reflecting questioning are obvious in the huge correspondence of William James.
  2. Bok is fascinated by the dynamics of Hereclitean dialectics between social or moral blindness and illumination, between omission and self-awareness implied by the becoming of the consciousness stream in the case of William James, and her essay fascinates the reader. With my own reader bias, I disclose that I have been deeply impressed by S. Bok’s inspiring meditation on the Armenian genocide as well as on all genocides. Following with great care and interrogative alertness the ways in which James himself struggled with social blindness she shares with all the participants to the Festschrift and to any other reader her view about the way toward recovery reminding that James “suddenly became aware of such a blindness in himself” (p. 126, Volume one). This happened after James spent a happy week at Chautauqua during which James, according to his own report felt that “sobriety and industry, intelligence and goodness, orderliness and cheerfulness, pervade the air.” But soon, facing “the dark and wicked world again”, James discloses a terrible inner feeling: “something primordial and savage, even though it were as bad as an Armenian massacre, to set the balance straight again.”

I think that the above citation from James used by Bok could become a great exercise in sell-reflection. It reminds me of similar feelings and thoughts of some moral exemplars that never engaged in any violent acts and have been concerned with the wellbeing of all; despite scriptures from diverse cultures, some writers expressed almost identical thoughts (Kazantzakis might be considered just one of many). S. Bok inserts the above citation within a wider context and advances the search of its meaning: “Really? Was he longing for a massacre? There had in fact been horrendous massacres of Armenians in 1894-1896, just a few years before James gave his lectures, killing hundreds of thousands of people. These massacres were the precursors to the even vaster 1915 massacre of Armenians in April 1915-one about which the question of whether it should count as genocide is still so bitterly disputed” (p. 126). More than one hundred years of perennial denial of Armenian genocide the denial is necessarily confronted by a growing wave of perennial questioning of this macro-blindness that, hopefully, might bring closer the recognition of the 1915 genocide. There is an answer to this type of blindness investigated by James who considered that one cause of his blindness was nurtured, as he said so clearly, by “looking at life with the eyes of a remote spectator” (italics added).

The spectator remoteness from a tragic reality, described by James, and further explored by Bok, that can mark our lives while encountering shaking events, seems to be an old and good relative of the bystander effect (Latané & Darley). We like or we do not like it – in the case of the Armenian genocide, as of other genocides, the “remote spectator”, the bystander might be not just an individual, but a group, a community, and many times a collective formal bystander that is well informed about the mega-tragedy, about the victims and perpetrators. Over one hundred years of denial should invite a hard question: Why is it so hard to get out from the condition of collective bystander? Why even unfulfilled promises of genocide recognition are possible?

A series of James qualities such as the gift to observe and be moved by life events, to travel mentally between concrete events and abstract levels, to conceptualize and develop his observational and participatory skills, his inner dialogue and moral values might be important resources that helped him to overcome this non-visual blindness. Bok states: “Here James exemplifies a blindness on a monumental scale, not only to the inner lives of the individuals he had met in Chautauqua but also to victims of the massacre for which he had felt a momentary longing”. Bok’s analysis points out to the process through which James liberated himself from the captivity of the previous blindness: “James challenges his own perceptions…arguing with himself, and , in so doing testing his own views about what makes a life significant” (p. 126, italics added). Bok’s inquiry leads to counter-question the answer provided by James to the posed question and to be cautious in relation to some calls that are very attractively dressed up: “after all, persecutions, inquisitions and any number of brutal crimes are carried out in the name of some higher cause or some noble ideal” (p. 127). This could be considered a strong reason in support of James’ dialectical idea of converting the features needed in war in resources needed for constructive endeavors expressed as he suggests in his lecture on “The Moral Equivalent of War”. Awareness of one’s limits, errors, and blindness is a must for a humane becoming. In his response to the essay Howard Gardner says: “What unites the three of us (William James, Sissela Bok & Howard Gardner), I would dare to speculate, is that we recognize human frailties, all too clearly, and yet we actually believe our species can better itself and that should be a chief obligation during our time here” (p.132).

In the two volumes are many other instances that indicate your attraction, mastery, and respect for the epistolary interaction. For instance, Veronica Boix Mansilla (Taking the pulse: Howard, human potential and our changing times) shares with the readers her observation of your office: “in his office, where carefully framed old letters stand as reminders of the dialogical nature of his thinking” (p. 106, Volume one). Boix Mansilla mentions just two outstanding epistolary partners – Erik Erikson and Claude Lévi-Strauss, but it is reasonable to assume that there are many such epistolary treasures. Melissa Rivard adds to this your correspondence with S.J. Gould, Yo-Yo Ma or E. Wilson and expresses her “voyeuristic thrill” produced by the reading of these letters (p. 291, Volume, two). Elisabeth Soep gives to the reader the chance to see some of your highly instructive “minutes”, “notes” as they cover a wide range of topics from practical observation to sharing his and welcoming others new perspectives (Memorabilia: An education on education through notes in a box”, Volume two, pp.441-448). In more specific terms the content is focused on the hard issues of Project Zero, as that of assessment, for instance.

There are many short letters received with the occasion of the 70th birthday. One, which is a handwritten letter, belongs to Oliver Sacks (p. 299, Volume two). Sacks, referring to his long-term rich relationships with Gardner, states about his works that “made me see things in a different light – above all, your theory (but it is much more than a theory) of “multiple intelligences”. You have transformed so many lives, and so many educational practices” (p. 298, Volume two, italics added, if allowed to a holograph text). Oliver’s short and dense letter prompts a self-revealing answer from Gardner which, and I am as confident as one can be about future, will stimulate one day a deep research of the creative personalities who had to overcome some hard inner conditions. Here is Howard’s answer: “You have personal experiences with some of the conditions that you’ve written about. I don’t know that I have written about my own cognitive and perceptual anomalies, but I happen to be both color blind and prosopagnosic (unable to recognize or remember faces). Moreover, my daughter has the same flavor of prosopagnosia, and we believe that my late father had it as well. We’ve talked about this for years within the family, but it was during the week of August 30, 2010, that my daughter phoned me excitedly to say, “Did you see this week’s New Yorker? We’ve been found out!” And from then on, I have referred literally dozens of persons to your brilliant description of prosopagnosia. Now once skeptical friends can understand it, we (you, my daughter, I) may not mistake a spouse for a hat, we are simply unable to easily encode the features that allow most people to readily distinguish between Person A from Person B, C, and D”. (Gardner’s response to Oliver Sacks, p. 299, Volume two). We know that other luminaries of psychology such as William James, Alfred Adler, for instance, coped fantastically well with hard conditions. In this case, this personal condition offers the chance to dig deeper into Gardner’s model of human mind, of its modularity, a concept that reminds us Fodor’s work. This disclosure invites to a systematic inquiry within a wider context of such cases and in direct connection to the genesis of Gardner’s theory of “frames of mind”.

The just treatment of the sent and received letters, which is an essential condition for the accurate reconstruction and exploration of any correspondence flow, is remarkably achieved in the case of William James. At the same time we know that his huge correspondence received a much deserved outstanding treatment that is obvious in The Correspondence of William James (General Editor: John J. McDermott. Editors: Ignas K. Skrupskelis and Elizabeth N. Berkeley Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1992-2004, 12 volumes). I mention this tremendous resource because in the stream of James’s correspondence, he is relentlessly expressing his questioning drive, his urge to ask probing questions, which is one reliable sign of creating minds. I have an interest in the holistic approach of the epistolary space that emerged while I have not been allowed by bureaucrats to practice psychology, more exactly social psychology, in my country of origin. Epistolary interactions are self-recorded, dated, and sent thoughts, narratives, feelings and speech acts to a spatially, socially or temporally distant (unavailable) others. Sometimes the epistolary interactions and networks compensated and replaced unfriendly publications as it has been the case with the transcendentalists, including Thoreau and as happened in many other historical contexts. The correspondence objects (letters, cards, e-mails) that can be reciprocally stored by the epistolary partners provide many surprises regarding the genesis of creative ideas. I worked on a few cases (Descartes, Mill, Machiavelli, J. S. Mill, Dreiser and Mencken, Wittgenstein and Russell) while for political reasons being denied to practice my profession in Romania during mid-80’s. The systematic research of the correspondence of William James that has been so well symmetrically preserved is an open invitation to a comprehensive approach.

Your epistolary style (letters, e-mail, other means and recorded distant calls) that is intrinsically dialogical remained always open to the situation and needs of the other. Mindy L. Kornhaber reveals that you “maintained a continuous stream of emails” rooted in professional reasons but open to wider life events, even extremely dangerous for the person who has been helped by you (Howard Gardner superhero, Volume two, pp. 47-48). It seems to me, if I am trying to reach a more coherent–and of course quite incomplete picture on your epistolary (e-mail) patterns, it is evident that you treat with justice the received letters both from famous people as well as from people who are unknown, at least yet unknown. This treatment comes out naturally from your dialogical way across all types of human encounters. I imagine that, besides your huge correspondence developed over years of creative work, these two volumes might stimulate many epistolary (e-mail) exchanges among the direct contributors as well as among readers across the U.S. and the World who might have the privilege and the joy to learn from the Festschrift dedicated to you.

Citizen, character and good work

The issue of good citizen is visible in many relevant ways in “Mind, Work, and Life”. The essay “Truth and citizen” by David Perkins is focused on this theme. To be a good citizen represents, as Perkins argues, a local, national, and world goal. Perkins identifies a highly significant puzzle: “not so much how citizenly thinking operates for better or worse but what it operates on for better or worse: the data, the information, and the baseline understandings.” As a consequence he illuminates the citizen’s dilemma: “How can citizens make wise judgments toward a better society when relevant reasonably grounded baseline truths are so hard to come by?” (p. 246). This approach is helping us to advance in the study of Gardner’s approach of the old triad “truth, goodness, and beauty” with which must cope any good citizen (Gardner, H. (2011). Truth, beauty, and goodness reframed: Educating for the virtues in the 20-first century. New York: Basic Books).

Perkins’ essay warns us that the search of truth is not only an uphill climb but one in which “the hill gets steeper yet with the ROI (Return On Investment) problem” (p.259, Volume two). Havel argued that besides the problems posed by finding the truth, there are also the problems of when, to whom, and how it is communicated. The search for truth, regardless of many difficulties that must be solved, motivates so many creative minds; it is a source for experiencing flow (Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper and Row) the public expression of truth, standing up for truth within a hostile environment, and pleading for it in uncertain times, asks for a high moral development and other personality personalities. For instance, the development that increases the chances of achieving “Good Work” implies besides “competence” and “character” the potentials of “differentiation and integration” (Gardner, H., Csikszentmihalyi, M., &Damon, W. (2001). Good work: When excellence and ethics meet. New York: Basic Books).

The essay “Truth and citizen” contrasts the ways in which truth is approached in various areas: the issue of truth is approached with great civility in the most diverse areas of science, while in other social areas, such as of governance, the discourse on the issues of truth is marked many times by hostile behaviors, deceiving practices and other misbehaviors. Perkins considers that a responsible citizen must ask and answer four basic questions: (1) “Does the issue matter to the society at large?; (2) Does it matter to me, to my family, my neighbors, my peers?; (3) Will the investigative effort allow me to arrive to a much better situation?; (4) “What will be the influence of my position on social decisions?” (p. 251). These questions underscore the individual responsibility in close connection with the state and dynamics of the entire society and they have a wide range of theoretical, moral, and political implications. It seems to me that these become unavoidable questions within the nowadays-existential condition for each and every citizen across our world.

Searching for valid answers to these questions and solving the citizen’s dilemma are major tasks that according to the perspective developed by Perkins should be approached by the help of heuristics in spite of the fact that : “Heuristics come without guarantees, but they often help” (p. 253). Awareness of the citizen’s dilemma and the heuristic approach to major political as conceived in Perkins’s essay are necessary conditions to improve the relationship between citizens and truth. It seems to me that the selection of the heuristic approach is by far the best in the case of political conflicts, and painful societal problems than is the algorithmic approach.

In your response to Perkins you say “Rarely are we exactly on the same page, but we are looking for illumination rather than for conflict… In your own terms, Dave, you remain the “theoretical”, or “idea” visionary. As in the past, I fully suspect that political and practical visionaries will appear and help put your promising ideas to the test” (p.263).

Because there are many historical cases when responsible, creative, highly intelligent, and moral and individuals did become deeply engaged in the efforts to solve major societal pains (issues of independence, societal injustice, human rights for instance) systematic explorations of such cases, and especially of their imagined and applied solutions could help us to learn more about the dynamics of the interaction citizens-truth-societal problems. This might become a more urgent need while realizing that the acceptance of the fallibility of our models, ideas, theories brings us closer to truth. Accepting the fallibility of our views increases the chances to find and correct our errors and to correct them while a “post-truth” mentality seems to gain more social space. Gandhi’s autobiography through its content and title searches for truth being essentially focused on his own errors (M. Gandhi – Autobiography: The story of my experiments with truth). Now I have in mind two “creating minds”, both good citizens and truth-seekers: B. Franklin and H. D. Thoreau. There is a common denominator for the two cases: a deep concern for method. In Franklin’s case, the issue is that of developing a method that serves the self-construction and improvement of character. In Thoreau’s case, the issue is to imagine, test and use a method that can be used to oppose societal evils. I think that both cases are related to some of your major contributions.

Your innovative approach to the deep interaction of excellence, engagement and ethics is intimately combined with the way in which you assess the role (position too) of character within the educational process. You are on the same wavelength with Gandhi who explored his experiences with truth considering that character is by far more important than some specific cognitive skills. There is old and strong evidence that character, understood mainly as the virtues and strengths that become engraved in one’s own being, is a major personality sub-system that is a combination of the self and socially construction. Its nature and becoming are very different than other personality sub-systems such as temperament that are mostly given. I noticed that many creating minds—some clearly moral exemplars too—had a deep interest in the construction of their own character. James’ concept of the dynamics of habits is a wonderful source of inspiration for this field. There are landmark studies carried out on spiritual modeling (Bandura), on moral exemplars and commitment (Colby & Damon) or moral learning (Lind) to mention just a few areas (Bandura, A. (2003). “On the psychosocial impact and mechanisms of spiritual modeling”. The International Journal for the Psycho-logy of Religion, 13(3) 167-173; Colby, A., & Damon, W. (1992). Some do care. Contemporary lives of moral commitment. New York: The Free Press, McMillan; Lind, G. (2002). Ist Moral lehrbar? Ergebnisse der modernen moralpsychologischen Forschung. Berlin: Logos-Verlag). All these studies, and many others, strongly suggest that character must be at the core of the formal and informal educational processes if there is a real interest in the common good.

We know that the theme (using this concept as defined by Holton) of character has been explored prior to the birth of psychology as a science. One of these contributions aimed to improve the character self-construction is the method developed and self-applied by Benjamin Franklin. I adjusted it and used it with the participation of many series of students at different colleges since 2008 (Franklin’s method to learn about and to develop one’s own character: An exercise in self-knowledge and self-improvement of character). Theophrastus and after him many others identified dangerous features of character, such as authoritarianism. Franklin, a creative scientist and skillful and loyal diplomat who displayed a powerful pragmatic orientation, made a critical turn: he designed a method to train the good and strong character. According to my experience Franklin’s method is liked and used by the students. Some students even enjoy helping to introduce Franklin’s method to other people. On the other hand, Gandhi’s approach to character is intertwined with his view on training ahimsa (non-violence), i.e., it has a practical goal. It seems that even in the case of moral exemplars, there is the dark possibility of a negative reversal, at least as it can be grasped from outside. The distance between the behavior of A. S. S. Kyi during her brave resistance against military dictatorship and her behaviors versus the Rohingas’ desperate situation is puzzling.

From an educational perspective, I lived a perplexing experience, which is part of a greater “cultural shock” (Furnham’s concept). Coming in the U.S.A. from a former communist country, I enjoyed the richness and accessibility of amazing teaching-learning resources and the free access to personal computers. Preparing for part-time teaching jobs at different colleges and universities, I realized quickly the high quality and the variety of psychological textbooks for various courses (introductory psychology, life-span psychology, adult development, psychology of aging and social gerontology, motivation, social psychology). There are so many excellent textbooks, that it makes the choice of one textbook quite difficult. I experienced this outstanding intellectual richness in contrast with my experience in Romania, where many times there were no textbooks or just one per course during my college years. In the USA, I had the chance make choices from a wide range of excellentresourcesfortheteaching-learning process.

However, I noticed with perplexity, first in scanning a few psychological textbooks, that the concept of character was missing. During years, while I had to move to different teaching places and using various textbooks I realized that the missing concept is not an exception, but a rule for the following areas: introductory psychology, life-span psychology, adult development, and psychology of aging and social gerontology, social psychology. Observing this conceptual neglect I surveyed from 1992 to 2011 – 478 textbooks of psychology (introductory psychology, lifespan development, adult development, and psychology of aging and social gerontology, social psychology) by taking into account that many of them have over 12 editions, and that each new edition, which is counted as a different text- book, gives the chance of improvements. None of these textbooks introduces the concept of character. I have been and I am still asking students, forced by the same conceptual omission, to search for the concept of character in the subject index and to discuss what they think about the fact that this notion ismissing.

This conceptual gap continued 8 years or so even after the publication of crucial work Character Strengths and Virtues carried out by Peterson and Seligman (Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues. A handbook and classification. Washington, DC: Oxford University Press). Being profoundly impressed by their masterpiece I wrote to Peterson and Seligman, as I wrote to many authors of the textbooks, and mentioned this conceptual neglect. According to their assessment this error was assumed to remain uncorrected for a long time. To my dismay, Peterson and Seligman have been and are still right. Many anthropologists say that usually the insiders’ views are right in comparison with alien observers. Only since 2016, I have observed in just a few textbooks that “character” is indeed to be found in the subject index and that there is reference to the work of Peterson and Seligman. If we consider that for some future psychologists, who may go into very specialized fields, the highest chance to have an intellectual encounter with the concept of character is provided by introductory textbooks, this could be considered an important educational issue.

What might happen if the recognition of one’s own serious (even lethal) errors is very severely punished by the society? What might happen to the tendency and need to acknowledge publicly such errors? This acknowledgement might be considered a liminal test of the character (goodness and strength) – but such a test goes far beyond the ethical norms of any formal experiment. Myths, legends, old narratives and great literature created imaginary experiments for such liminal cases. One of them is the history of Oedipus: after a careful and relentless inquiry that aimed to find out the killer of his own father, he discovers, doubtlessly, that he is the killer and courageously and justly punishes oneself by pulling out with his own eyes, i.e. a major organ of knowledge, with his fingers. This is a self-punishment for his failure to see the truth. There are other truth-seekers in the fields of science, arts, morals and politics who recognized their errors and at the same time have been ready to suffer for truth-finding and truth-telling. These instances, however, are rather rare even in fairy tales and Confucius reflected on this question. He doubted deeply that a character as that of Oedipus, who was almost sure unknown to him, might exist in real life: “In vain I have looked for a single man capable of seeing his own faults and bringing the charge home against himself” (Book 5, 26, The Analects of Confucius. Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching. Translated with notes by Arthur Waley. New York: Barnes & Nobles.). Oedipus search for truth, his self-inflicted punishment for his own blindness despite that his vision was sharp, his cognitive recovery, later on wisdom and moral growth are still perplexing events.

It is interesting to take into account that Franklin has been skeptical toward the so-called “silver bullet” solutions and urged himself and others to identify errors. In this mode he is, like Thoreau, much more for a heuristic approach than for algorithmic solutions to complex issues. This is obvious in the way he describes the procedure of “Moral or prudential algebra”. It unfolds in the following way: “If I find a Reason pro equal to some two Reasons con, I strike out three. If I judge some two Reasons con equal to some three Reasons pro, I strike out five; and thus proceeding I find at length where the Balance lies.” Only after a day or two or more if after “further Consideration nothing new of Importance occurs on either side, I come to a determination accordingly”. Franklin warns that this Prudential Algebra is not identical to the “Precision of Algebraic Quantities” but it helps to judge better difficult cases (p. 878).    Self-control is a much-needed process for strong and good characters. Franklin’s method includes specific targets identified in his method, such as “silence”, “temperance”, “resolution”, “humility that have to be monitored by anybody who is attempting to develop one’s character. Each of these targets of character self-construction can develop and turn useful in hard social situations. For instance, “silence” turned in the Gandhian practice also into “silence strike” and helped to cope with hot conflicts, inner anger and external hostility. Franklin proved his efficient self-control while he was tested in a tough-minded but clear, civilized, and democratic mode in the House of Commons (“The EXAMINATION of Doctor Benjamin Franklin by the AUGUST ASSEMBLY, relating to the Repeal of the STAMP-ACT, &c”. It took place on February 13, 1766. Franklin appeared as the principal witness before the Committee of the Whole of the House of Commons, (Franklin, Vol. 13, 129-159 – Franklin, B. (1969). January 1 through December 31, 1766. New Haven: Yale University Press; Franklin, B. (2006). The completed autobiography by Benjamin Franklin. Compiled and edited by Mark Skousen. Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing Inc.; Franklin, B. (2003). A Benjamin Franklin reader. Edited annotated by Walter Isaacson. New York: Simon & Schuster; Franklin, B. (1987). Writings. Boston and London, 1722-1726; Philadelphia, 1726-1757; London, 1757-1775; Paris, 1776-1785; Philadelphia, 1785-1790; Poor Richard’s Almanack, 1733-1758; The autobiography. New York: The Library of America.

David Olson (Social responsibility, self-control, and doing good work) states in his essay: “Social control is…the basis of self-control” (p.226, Volume two). Based on his previous studies on intention (Olson 2007) and on the construct of “agency” (Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy. The exercise of control. New York: Freeman & Freeman) Olson reveals the cultural roots and social consequences of “deliberate intentions” that are publicly expressed: “Promising oneself, thereby forming a deliberate intention, is just what is involved in self-control whether in the form of delay of gratification, planning for the future, for adopting manners and morals for oneself rather than merely complying with those imposed by others” (p. 226). The choice one makes under the high pressure, as suggested W. Wundt, generated by conflicting interests, especially by deciding against one’s own interest, is a vital character test. Olson’s approach advances our understanding of the cultural roots and ramifications of self-control and mainly of “promising”. Olson’s vision reveals the power of promising, a speech act (Austin; Searle) that entails a form of joint responsibility toward truth.

The second case is that of Thoreau. He designed a self-experiment, which has a joint individual and societal value, being focused on the identification of basic human needs and their threshold that would allow moving toward self-emancipatory, self-transcendental needs. Thoreau was profoundly concerned by and compassionately engaged in the search of solutions to major societal pains, such as slavery. His crucial social invention, known as “civil disobedience”, is morally and heuristically driven.

I have to confess that since a long time I am bewildered by the fact that great and well informed scholars in the transcendental philosophical tradition, and especially in the works of Thoreau as well as scholars dedicated to the study of Marx’s works, did not observe an astonishing synchronicity: the two major action oriented texts Civil Disobedience (CD), which, initially, had a different title, on one side and the Manifesto of the Communist Party (MCP) on the other side were delivered (the first as a lecture on January 26 1848, the second as a brochure in the first weeks of February 1848) almost simultaneously on the historical stage. I think that this historic synchronicity significantly informs us with respect to the qualitatively different outcomes of heuristic and algorithmic approaches of societal major problems. The simultaneous delivery of these two action oriented texts on the public stage and a number of essential features of both of them (identical longevity—over 170 years, identification of major societal problems, the presentation of a method to solve them) might be considered as providing the conditions for a historical quasi-experimental situation.

If the two texts are considered as vignettes in this historical, quasi-experimental situation that introduced the independent variable (a violent ideology versus a non-violent one as inscribed in the two texts) then it might be useful to identify a possible dependent variable. This is offered by the behavior of the political leaders who accepted and applied the measures/methods of one of the two texts. There is strong evidence that the MCP is significantly associated with a long series of political leaders who used and abused violence (Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Mao, Kaganovich, Pauker, Dej, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Gomulka, Hoenecker, Ceauşescu, Jivdkov, Hoxha, Husak, Castro….). On the other side, those who have been inspired by CD (Tolstoy, Cato, Gandhi, Danish anti-Nazi movement, Martin Luther King, Mandela, Havel…) are political actors who used non-violent means. MCP contains an algorithmic solution that includes 10 measures, which have been used as political dictates that lead to a one party political system, bloody revolution, dictatorship, and abolition of private property. The CD uses a heuristic approach based on internalization of high moral principles and on individual responsibility; it recommends non-violent actions and separation from evil structures and processes.

Thoreau’s approach to deeply painful societal problems is supported by high moral principles asks explicitly for a responsible acceptance of all the consequences (including harsh punishments) of one’s disobedience to evil. The stakes are extremely high: “But even suppose blood should flow. Is there not a sort of bloodshed when the conscience is wounded? Through this wound a man’s real manhood and immortality flow out, and he bleeds to an everlasting death.” (CD, p. 466, italics added). “Everlasting death” is a moral condemnation that denies to the person any chance to survive after the physical death. This is a humane answer to the fear of death that is at the core of Terror Management Theory that has been provided by many other individuals. Socrates, Gandhi, Martin Luther King are well known. However people such as Patočka or the young Jan Palach who resorted to self-immolation as an answer to the 1968 Prague invasion by Soviet Union and most of the communist countries that signed the Warsaw Pact, half a century back who are not so well known. Havel called Palach’s gesture as a rejection of “moral suicide”. It seems to me that Thoreau’s way to oppose evil, as well as Palach’s way, can be considered as ways of preempting moral death. Thoreau, according to his own declaration faced a democratic system, while Palach faced a totalitarian system.

“Mind, Work, Life” has a rich and highly stimulating thematic configurations (using the notion of “theme” as defined and applied by Holton) that reflects the diversity and unity of the intellectual interests of the contributors. Some of the themes are obviously at the intersection of philosophy, psychology, education and political sciences. So the volumes contain stimulating connections between philosophical perspectives such as those of Socrates, Plato, Maimonides, Kant or existentialist philosophy and questions that are at the core of present scientific inquiry. Jerome Bruner refers explicitly to the connection between Gardner’s research interests and his view of the “human condition” (p. 168, Volume one), syntagm that reminds me the novel of André Malraux, La condition humaine, that was read also in Romania by many intellectuals. Bruner reveals that he and Gardner have “both been addicted to exploring links among the intellectual, the personal, and the ideological” (p. 168, italics added).

These are instances when scientists might be relatively blind (the inner blindness that is explored in S. Bok’s essay) to the some axiological and ideological components of their own research activity and outside it, as common citizens. The resilient exploration of the links among the three areas suggested by Bruner is a way to satisfy the need for coherence and unity. It helps to make explicit the philosophical views of scientists. The fact that psychologists, social psychologists do have an explicit interest in existentialism is no surprise as I noticed in some essays as those of Bruner and Moran, for instance. The research of the links among “the intellectual, the personal and the ideological” might help to better grasp puzzling choices made by various intellectuals. For instance, Sartre and Camus strongly rejected fascism and Nazi’s ideology. However it seems quite obvious that Sartre suffered from a form of ideological blindness that did not allow him to recognize the horrors of and to criticize the Soviet System and made him accept violent means. Camus rejected strongly communism, too, as a form of totalitarianism. Within the philosophical realm it seems to me that one of the paradigmatic figures who tried in modern era under very harsh conditions to live in tune with his philosophical views, as Socrates did, is Patočka. He is becoming relatively better known long time after his tragic death that followed a harsh interrogatory conducted by communist secret service (Chvatík. I. (1992-1993). “Solidarity of the shaken”. Telos 94, 163-155; Chvatík. I. (2009). The responsibility of the “shaken”, Jan Patočka and his “Care for the soul” in the “post-European” world. Paper presented at Bergamo in May 2009; Patočka, J. (1990). La surcivilization et son conflict. In Liberté et sacrifice. Ecrits politiques. Translated by E.Abrams and J. Millon. Grenoble; Patočka, J. (1975/1996). Heretical essays in the philosophy of history. Edited by J. Dodd, translated by Kohák. Chicago and La Salle: Open Court).

“Activist”, its meanings across cultural, political and ideological borders.

Many of the contributors, reflecting on the trajectories of your work, do point out that your theoretical constructs, observations, experiments and field studies have been followed by explicitly practical (application) stages as assessment and intervention. The distance between theory – assessment – intervention has been boldly navigated, as it is so clear in the field of education. This is at the same associated with complex participatory enterprises. I noticed that in many instances this path breaking approaches are associated in both volumes with the notion of activist (for instance p. 473, Volume two). There are many other instances when the notion “activist” is used as indicating great qualities of people who achieved excellent works with high moral standards and remained engaged socially for the common good in the Two Volumes and in other works (for instance, in the landmark project on GoodWork : Gardner, H., Csikszentmihalyi M., & Damon, W. (2001). Good work. When excellence and ethics meet. New York: Basic Books, p. 246). The use of the notion “activist” associated with wonderful achievements puzzled me, as well as many other people who have been unfortunate to meet within totalitarian societies, like those of the communist type, the “activists” at work. The narrow mindedness, illiteracy, class hatred and threatening behaviors of the activists bring back terrible memories.

I learned step by step since 1990, when I faced for the first time the frequent use of the notion of “activist” in the U.S.A, that its content, meaning, and practice are qualitatively different from the notion of “activist” imposed, used, and abused in former communist countries. For instance, before 1945 the word activist and the persons who played this role, have been associated with that of Soviet “political commissar” and induced strong negative emotions in most people. Orwell in his Political essays warned us about the erosion of the language (he refers to English). But an ideological erosion of language is threat for many other languages as tools of free thinking and expression. The widespread social representation among common people of an activist (above all an activist of the Communist Party, but called simply “activist”) was that of a brutal instrument of the repressive regime. In Romania the notion “activist” generated mainly negative emotions such as fear, disgust and harsh political jokes. Today in Romania the notion of activist has a bizarre connotation that is a source of political double-bind for people of different generations despite the fact that the young people under 30 did not share the old painful experiences.

Besides these historical and cross-cultural experiences, which invite us to adjust to the new meaning and the new context, it seems to me that the concept of activist invites a deeper epistemic and moral question. As many theoretical constructs and their empirical support suggest, each and every human, potentially, is an active system (theory of personal constructs, Kelly), and is able of “agency” (that can be expressed at individual and collective levels, Bandura), makes choices and has responsibility. Accordingly, the notion of “activist” and the social role of the “activist” imply a paternalist orientation toward the rest, the non-activists, those that must be activated. On the other hand, it is obvious that competence, creativity and courage to initiate actions, changes of societal importance are expressed in different degrees by diverse social actors. Is initiator a better notion than that of activist? I am not sure. But, due to the long and tragic history of the practices carried out by activists within totalitarian systems, it might be useful to consider such possible negative experiences in order to avoid even the chance of ideological contamination and involuntary support for the nowadays use and abuse of the notion and role of activist in the service of some terrible dictatorships and political goals that do still exist.

Theoretical models, assessment and intervention in the never ending cycles of abstract and concrete problem-solving processes.

What are the benefits? This question, which might come in many forms, indicates the interest in the practical consequences of educational research. The essayGreatness in concrete terms” by Jie-Qi Chen helps the better understanding of the major stages and their rich innovative sides that lead to the valuable intervention programs based on MI. Due to new empirical, experimental, field research and theoretical developments, the road from the puzzling evidence provided by concrete cases to the high levels of abstraction and theoretical construction has been advanced by what Chen calls “innovation in assessment”, as has been the case, with Project Spectrum (pp. 186-188) and the innovative approach to intervention based on MI theory. This is to say, a road from a great variety of puzzling, and yet disconnected facts (concrete cases) to an original and powerful theory (MI) that advances in a critical mode the explanatory resources; and from the theory toward a concreteness that is guided and enriched by new methods, conceptual tools and well informed and directed interventions. I have to confess that the concrete case of the first grader Tom (one of the many Chen worked with) who “loved to build things”, who was “fascinated with tools” (pp. 189-190) is highly significant for intervention. The birth, through the well-informed (creative and wise) intervention of Tom’s Tool Dictionary helps to better grasp, appreciate and put at good work, the potential of children from all walks of life and with various personal traits and conditions. On a wider scale it teaches us about the huge potential of the common people who face hard challenges. Chen’s essay invites to reflect on common features of great ideas developed at various levels of cognitive abilities by individuals who generated new and powerful ideas. I dare to think to Wittgenstein’s use of metaphors of chess and “tool box” while exploring language and what he called “language games”.

The never ending cycles of abstract and concrete problem-solving processes appears in various forms across the Festschrift. I will mention two cases. One is provided by the long term, rich and fruitful collaboration within the complex educational, political, social and even financial landscape of Reggio Emilia (Howard’s response to Carla Rinaldi, p. 288). Howard discloses that “of all the educational environments in which I’ve been immersed, the continuing learning, improving, reflecting, and documenting in Riggio stands out” (p. 288). A cross-cultural perspective on the responsibility and accountability of educational actors is developed by Thomas Hatch. Despite the fact that the focus of the essay is the Norwegian educational system (Responsibility and accountability in (a Norwegian) context, Volume one), the essay explores how responsibility and accountability develop in the educational systems of Finland, Singapore, the Netherlands with explicit comparison with the situation in the U.S.A. The essay reveals the vital importance of formal and informal networks, of flexible strategies that apply to educational history, social conditions and national interests (“nation-building”) in each context. Educational innovations emerge in specific contexts and are assumed and expected to enhance the development of the respective systems (pp. 500-503).

Resorting to his personal experience combined with field observations, and research findings and volunteer work, James Comer discusses the relationship between the African-American community and African culture (p. 211, Volume one). His essay reveals a series of turning points that marked the development of his interest in educating students who belong to “the poor minority” (p. 214).

The essays and the responses provide many other illuminating and inspiring ideas. I will restrain myself just to one more: your deeply participatory engagement that moves so naturally from the most abstract issues to practical issues, to issues of assessment and of intervention (I prefer the concept of co-participation). I learned with great joy, for instance, your participatory experience in Denmark when you heartily accepted the invitation to spend some nights in the homes of Danish workers: “When I was first invited to Denmark by the metal worker unions over 25 years ago, my hosts insisted that I spend some nights in the homes of the workers. For most of my colleagues, this would have been a strange request, but as soon as I stayed in a few homes, I got the point. Denmark operated by an entirely different set of domestic practices and values” (Howard’s response to Hans Henrik Knoop, p. 36, Volume two). This is an exemplary case of the vital importance of openness to and engagement in participatory knowledge and the ability and gift to be fully enriched by such an experience. Thank you!

Such experiences that imply joint actions of researchers from various countries, of groups of individuals who excel in research, education and other areas, of practitioners and people who face various challenges invite a speculation regarding the chances of co-development that might be increased by such participatory projects. Besides the cognitive and practical gains, it seems that such joint actions might facilitate motivational co-development, i.e., a transition in the case of all the involved actors toward more powerful structures of intrinsic motives (Amabile, Csikszentmihalyi, Deci, Ryan), toward higher motivational levels (Maslow). The idea starts from the existence of motivational fields with multiple actors (Mamali, C. (1981). Motivational balance and coevolution; Mamali, C., & G. Păun (1986). Classification and hierarchization in motivational fields: Vectors of co-evolution. In C. A. Mallmann & O. Nudler (Eds.) Human development in its social context. A collective exploration. London: Hodder and Stoughton in Association with the United Nations University.). Such fields include motivational vectors that are associated with a specific motivational balance among various actors. The motivational balance varies between two extremes. On one extreme, the actors can jointly enter into a state of motivational co-regression (for instance, moving down on the motivational hierarchy, but this time one must renounce to the visual representation of a ladder, triangle, or ‘one sided pyramid’ – images specific for Maslow’s model and imagine a pyramid with a few sides, each of it representing the motivational dominance of one actor). On the other extreme, the actors could jointly enter into a state of motivational co-development (moving together toward higher levels). The point is that within research groups, within education environments, between research and educational teams and within participatory action research, theoretically, the chances for all actors to enter into co-developmental motivational relationships should be relatively high. It is my guess that in many of the projects initiated by Gardner, as various contributors and Gardner’s responses tell us, the motivational balance moved clearly toward co-developmental states.

Core values, intuition, types of scientists and love

Once internalized, values, which have old cultural roots related to human needs, become an inner GPS that helps us to navigate under dark social skies, political confusions, unethical pressures from friends or enemies and hard deliberation times. The truth-seekers and scientists are strongly motivated to search for truth. Due to scientific tools and inter-subjective verification, scientists are among the best equipped truth-seekers. But, for sure, scientists are not the only truth-seekers. There is no doubt that the accurate observations, case studies, accurate reasoning processes, and mainly rigorous experiments are ways to find out the truth, to approximate it, to correct previous errors. All these ways might feed intuition and are used to verify intuition, which, as Holton argues in his essay, is a major component of scientific research, both by its possible outcomes and by the powerful motivational consequences that can be generated by it when the intuition proves to be correct., or as Hans Christian Oersted described it as “anticipatory consonance with nature” (cited in Holton, p. 538, Volume one).

According to Holton, intuition is just one, among a much wider tool box, “tool kit of scientists”. The function of this tool kit, i.e. “intuition”, which is observable much more by historians of science than by other researchers, interested in scientific creativity could be explored mainly by answering to how and what: “how the research project was planned in the first place… what imaginative leap may have been worth risking during the early stage of research” (Intuition in scientific research, p. 538). Holton, as he argued before in his research on scientific themata, takes paradigmatic cases of scientists who excelled in intuition and left records (notes, diaries, and letters) that could help to go beyond the polished, sanitized, canonized history of science based only on the formal publications. The cases approached by Holton are: Henri Poincaré, Albert Einstein, Werner Heisenberg, and Enrico Fermi. Yes, science, big science (Derek de Solla Price) becomes more and more an enterprise for teams, even very large teams. Nevertheless many of its most significant leaps, that later on are proved to be necessary, are still generated by efforts carried out in solitude. It seems to be true for an old science such as physics as well as for the computing science (Erol Gelenbe – “Computer system and network performance analysis”, pp. 31-32; Juris Hartmanis “Computational complexity”, pp. 53-54. Both published in Calude, C. (2016). The human face of computing. London: Imperial College Press).

Holton cites Einstein’s view about the function intuition: “There is no logical way to the discovery of the elementary laws. There is only the way of intuition supported by being sympathetically in touch with experience” (cited by Holton, p. 538, italics added). It might be reasonable to assume that intuition is a more important (up to unavoidable) way in those areas where the inquiring mind must “travel” huge distances between concrete and abstract, and the scientist is able and willing to go back and forth. Holton explores the genesis of the intuition within the context of cultural roots and personal history and style of the scientist.

If the giant leap of an intuition leads to an important, testable, and confirmed outcome, i.e., to a truth that has been beyond the existing “horizon of our knowledge” (Blaga’s concept) then the joy produced by the discovered truth (“anticipated consonance with nature”) becomes the greatest reward for a truth-seeker.

As seen from many other essays and responses the search for truth, its communication and possible use face an uphill climb most of the times. There are many inner, political, job-place, ideological, organizational forces that might hinder this process. This seems to be one of the major reasons why Good Work, in all fields, turned into a major research project with many possible applications, not just for the journalists and geneticists. Gardner, Csikszentmihalyi and Damon identified three essential questions that “could arise in the mind of any professional, are especially likely to do so during periods of crisis:

Core values: Why should my society entrust me with power and prestige?

Exemplary Beliefs and Practices: Which workers realize the calling best?

Sense of Moral Identity: How do I feel about myself when I look in the mirror?” (Good Work, p. 210, italics in original).

Across the two volumes it is obvious that the search, communication and practice of truth are part of a common denominator. Could there be errors? Could there be alternative answers to research, educational, and other approaches? The possibility of errors seems to be, beyond any doubt, an accepted postulate. The search for truth implies the identification and correction of errors. S. Bok considers that “trust in some degree of veracity functions as a foundation of relations among human beings” (1999, Lying. Moral choice in public and private life. New York: Vintage Books, p. 31, italics in original). If this is so, why might truth, its search, expression, and use become so hard to attain? Does it happen because it is so difficult to search for and find out the truth with love (with nonviolent means as Gandhi says, or in “friendly” relation with the object of search, as Thoreau tried)? Is it so because truth could run against what some individual and collective actors perceive as being against their vital interests? Perkins reminds us that two Soviet publications (Izvestia meaning news, and Pravda meaning truth) excelled in double speak (Orwell) captured by the saying (a joke) about the two front line communist publications: “There’s no truth in The News, and no news in The Truth”).

Dear Howard, I feel the need to share with you an experience that seems to me significant for the way truth functions are represented in various societies. I had the privilege, and for sure, the chance, to participate to a research on values and core political attitudes that has been conceived by Shalom Schwartz, Gian Vittorio Caprara and Michele Vecchione (Schwartz, S.H., Caprara, G. V.,Vecchione, M., Bain, P. Bianchi, G. , Caprara, M. G., Cieciuch , J., Kirmanoglu, H., Baslevent, C., Lőnnqvist, J. E., Mamali , C., Manzi , J.,Pavlopoulos, V., Posnova, T., Schoen, H., Silvester, J., Tabernero C., Torres , C., Verkasalo , M.,Vondra´kova´ , E., Welzel, C. & Zaleski, Z. (2013). Basic personal values underlie and give coherence to political values: A cross national study in 15 countries. In Polit Behav, DOI 10.1007/s11109-013-9255-z). I am deeply grateful to the initiators and the entire team for this deeply enriching experience. Now, the model of universal values has been developed by Schwartz and tested many years in many studies across many countries. As one of the participants to one of the research projects initiated by Schwartz, Caprara and Vecchione I have been puzzled by the fact that while truth is an essential value in science, at least, and for many moral exemplars, it does not appear explicitly in theoretical models of universal values. I wondered why truth is not one of the values represented and measured by the model of universal values developed by Shalom Schwartz; see Figure 1 (Schwartz, S. H. (1992). Universals in the content and structure of values: Theoretical advances and empirical tests in 20 countries. In M. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology (Vol.25, pp. 1-65). New York: Academic Press; Schwartz, S. H. (1994). Are there universal aspects in the content and structure of values? Journal of Social Issues, 50, 19-45.)

One of the answers to this puzzle has been provided in a personal communication from Shalom Schwartz who invites to consider the reality that in most areas of everyday life truth is not an active value. This highly important justification can be subject to empirical research and theoretical and moral debates. Despite this strong argument I think that truth remains a core value, regardless the number of people and life areas in which it is actually active, it is used. At the same time, the fact that the complex model of universal values developed and tested by Schwartz worked and is working so well in so many different cultures and led to highly significant findings invites questions regarding the causes of the decline of “truth” as a core value in many areas of reality. Did the Machiavellian mindset and principles spill over from the real politics to many other areas of human life than ever before? We noticed this erosion of truth in the field of arts as art forgery, in many sports, in economic activity, in cars production, in financial areas. Is the value of truth nowadays confined only to very strict areas, such as scientific research; and so it cannot anymore be considered as a universal value?

Your perspective on the place of virtues in education and of their cultivation is intimately related with the re-activation of the classical axiological triangle: truth-beauty-goodness (Gardner, H. (2011). Truth, beauty, and goodness reframed: Educating for the virtues in the twenty-first century. New York: Basic Books.). Yet, the obvious decline of the search and practice of truth in so many areas of life remains perplexing. The fact that the techniques of deception have been developed and their use increased in relations to many goals may add to this puzzle. But all these possible answers do not cover what looks as being a persistent and more powerful cultural trend that has a global hue. It seems that the decline of truth in so many areas of life has been associated with a growing cynicism that has become a form of reasoning identified since 80’s by Sloterdijk as “cynical reason” (Sloterdijk, P. (1987). Critique of cynical reason. Translation by M. Eldred, Forward by A. Huyssen. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.). The alienation from truth searching, telling and using has become justified by other criteria that might support the perceived self-interests cynically advanced. A strong force against truth is propaganda (I lived in a country were all the newspapers did look identical; the same paper repeating the same slogans). Sternberg suggests that smart people can be foolish, and make stupid decisions, a probability that increases tremendously under the influence of deceiving propaganda (Sternberg, R. (2002). Some people are not stupid, but they sure can be foolish: The imbalance theory of foolishness. In R. Sternberg (Ed.), Why people smart can be so stupid. New Haven: Yale University Press; Sternberg, R. (2018) Review: 1984 Redux How propaganda works by J. Stanley).

Mind, work, life” discloses, through its essays, responses, through so many studies, research projects and the dialogical spirit that brings them together the engagement of the participants in the quest for truth, its expression and use for the common good. The two volumes stand as a challenge for systematic exploration and future research that can help to advance our understanding of the genesis and development of the ecology of interactive creative minds that are committed to realization of happiness, improving human condition.                        

I relate to the groundbreaking findings presented in the study co-authored with Ellen (Winner, E., & Gardner, H. (1977). The comprehension of metaphor in brain-damaged patients. Brain, 100, 719-727) on right hemisphere damaged patients and to many other studies carried out by you in this field, I have a question focused on an essential cognitive ability (both for survival as well as for approaching abstract puzzles that look remote from basic needs) that might be pre-linguistic. This is the questioning potential. Of course questions, as speech acts, have a verbal form as it is visible in the case of the seven basic word questions (what, which, who, where, when, why and how) that do exist in almost all languages either these language belong or do not belong to the same linguistic family.

At the same time, the questioning potential seems to be much older from an evolutionary perspective: the startle reflex and mainly the orienting reflex might be considered as simplest forms of this potential. Now, due to the vital practical, theoretical and moral importance of questions I think that there must be specific brain structures (in and beyond the classical verbal areas Broca, Wernicke, and more precisely Brodmann 44, 45) that support questioning. I looked to this issue in a project called Oracle-Sphinx (Mamali, C. (2010). The Oracle-Sphinx model: The development of questioning and answering abilities. International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp.247-272.). Oracle is the symbol of the answering force, while the Sphinx is the symbol of the questioning force (both internalized during cultural evolution and ontogenetic development). But, I have never had the chance to get even close to one of these marvelous unobtrusive tools of brain imaging to test if there are and what might be the brain structures that support questioning. I wonder what do you think about such a possibility and if you encountered any reliable traces in the brain activity related to the questioning potential?

Mind, work, life” makes obvious the complex connections among complex areas that exist in the life of every scientist but are not submitted to such diverse inquiry forms from so many perspectives as the reader has the chance to learn about from the two volumes. Howard Gardner and many of the contributors bring to light components of the intellectual areas, of personality features, of complex encounters, of philosophical and axiological perspectives, of life events and historical and cultural contexts. Howard tells us in his introduction to the essays that the two volumes could be organized in many ways. One of the reasons is the variety and richness of these areas. Howard, as well as many of the authors who have been in a very long, some for more than half a century in a co-developmental relationship with him, disclose intimate aspects of the intellectual biography as well as from the personal life events, family history, and many other experiences. Gardner himself refers to the his background telling to the readers that he is the “offspring of German Jews who managed to make it to the United States just in time, arriving in New York on Kristallnacht” (the day of November 9, 1938, see Howard’s response to Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, p. 286, Volume one)). This historical episode and the family life are discussed by Saxe (p. 320, Volume two) who provides a window into the family environment: “He grew up in a home that exemplified what Jewish tradition calls gemilut hasadim (acts of loving kindness)” (Volume two p. 321).

In your introduction, which gives a synthetic view of the two volumes, besides referring to your scholarship becoming as reflected in the two volumes, you warmly refer to your four children – “each of whom made good natured-fun of their father”, and to your grandson. This is a direct reminder of the deep interplay among mind, work, and life. One could find out many other revealing events, features and relations: your older brother died very young, you rebelled with passion, as a student, against the standard ideas on IQ, your children have been born through two marriages and loved in both households, you enjoy playing piano, you are facing some harsh physical conditions (prosopagnosia being one of them), you jog….

Howard had a deep interest in the published conversations (Discussions in Child Development) among luminaries such as J. Bowlby, E. Erikson, B. Inhelder, and K. Lorenz, M. Mead, J. Piaget, J. T. Tanner). The scientific, family, historical, political (ideological too), relational, and personal sides of your becoming are all included in various degrees. In a way even this source enjoyed so much by you represents a different form of the ecology of interactive creative minds that develops within open societies and stimulates the genesis of many other similar niches. Such environments can emerge within cultures that nurture worldviews that are guided by high moral principles, are open to new ideas, stimulate the efforts to identify errors, correct them and respect human rights.

There are obvious historical cases, macro-social conditions, political systems and worldviews that hinder the emergence and functioning of ecologies of interactive creative minds. I will take one individual case from Romania: in 1928 a psychologist, Mihai Ralea, who had a left political orientation and later did join the communist governmental structures (he has been also a Romanian ambassador to the USA) sketched a theory called by him the theory of delay (“teoria amânării”). He pointed out that intentional long term postponement of actions that can gratify needs and ensure the attainment of long-terms goals is a specific feature of humans that distinguishes us from most animals. It is also true that he did not engage in any experimental, longitudinal or field research on delay (as it is the case of W. Mischel’s ground breaking theory and experiments) but beyond this his idea has not been supported by others, missed a dialogical environment. On a much wider scale, the research of the history of the failure to create an Internet in the former Soviet Union clearly suggests that the repressive political structures, totalitarian ideology and a worldview that is hostile to individual freedom, spontaneity and to the association of creative minds generate disastrous consequences.

In a study that is the result of a landmark, interdisciplinary field study, Benjamin Peters argues that within the Soviet context, the collaboration among those who designed the project collapsed. The informal connections were “accidentally” distorted prior to a decisive Politburo meeting where “comrade Glushkov” [an eminent scientist from Kiev, who designed the All-State Automatic System Project – OGAS] had to listen to a speech on a poultry farm: “The machine can perform three programs—turns on music when the hen lays eggs, turn lights on and off, and so on. This increased egg production” (p. 163). This sounds like a report from Animal Farm! The undoing of OGAS was a long process (1970‒1989) with devastating consequences for what could have become the post-Soviet Internet, but turned into the Internyet. Internyet is rather a misconception and not a misspelling (nyet means no). Internyet preserves plenty of malicious goals, abilities, and functions against the Internet. Peters’s diagnostic combines individual features and systemic traits: Creative minds had to face “counter-innovational institutional conditions” (p. 89, Benjamin Peters, B. (2016). How not to network a nation: The uneasy history of the soviet internet, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, italics added).

Reflecting on your self-categorization as a synthesizer, I thought of the research carried out by I. Mitroff on The subjective side of science: Apollo Moon scientists (published in 1974). Resorting explicitly to Jung’s model of personality he came out with the following four types: hard experimentalist, intuitive synthesizer, abstract theorizee and humanist scientist. He authored a paper that is part of a much wider research report that presents some finding of a research carried out in 70’s and 80’s in Romania, which could not be published there due to the well-known totalitarian censorship. What is the problem? If one would be an inquiring mind, and a creative mind within a country that has relatively small financial resources and on top of it is suffocated by a totalitarian system, what might be the type of scientist and of research style that could offer to the person the highest chances of success? My guess was that the “intuitive synthesizer” and the “abstract theorizer” might be these types. My guess was in tune with most of the intellectuals who kindly and generously participated in a series of interviews (over 100 carried out in Romania, each interview lasted between 2 and over 4 hours, in 70s’ and 80’s). After 1990, while in the U.S.A., I carried out a similar study.

Here is my question: your becoming as a synthesizer, as revealed from your own perspective, implies also a strategic choice: you assessed that this type (synthesizer) both fits you best and offers you the greatest chances—you even refer to a competitive edge within the wider context of cumulative research efforts to access to what you call the “lion’s share”. Obviously, your choice generated wonderful, original and unique scientific fruits with tremendous practical applications. However, your choice – and the high level of agency implied by it and its course – happened in an open, democratic society, with huge and generous resources, including grants, with a powerful tradition in innovation and discoveries, within an ecology of interactive creative minds due to the environment provided by Harvard and many other universities. Two questions are invited that I feel the need to ask you: a) in a terrible hypothetical situation in which you would have to work within a closed and repressive society would you make the same choice regarding your scientific (inquiring) type? b) What might have been in such a situation your inquiring trajectory?

In preparation for the Festschrift you, the synthesizer, faced a test, lovingly designed by Ellen Winner as a surprise (very close to an experimental one: on the morning of Sept. 28, 2013 “Ellen told me that a photographer was coming at our home at 10AM” (p. 604, Howard’s response to Edgar Zurif). This announcement irritated Howard; his “blood pressure went up,” especially when Ellen announced at 10 AM, “the photographers are here.” Howard went to meet them: “The door opened, there was a moment of no-recognition, and then I immediately deduced that the whole photographer story was a ruse. The couple was you, Edgar and your wife Françoise, who had flown from Paris to surprise me. It was the only time that day that I criedI was so happy to see you, so relieved that you were well, and completely forgiving of the photographer ruse” (Gardner’s response to Edgar Zurif, p. 604, Volume two, italics added). The heart of a scientist is a humane heart, regardless in which and in how many types of the multiple intelligences one might excel in and put at good use. This re-union of old friends reminds us that in daily lives we can be in certain degrees hard experimentalists (is not “ruse” many times an ingredient of the experimental method?) or intuitive synthesizers, or abstract theorizers… and even subjects to these expert inquirers. Regardless the roles in the inquiring process if the search for truth is associated with love everybody will win.

In the first edition of the landmark work of George Homans on social behavior and its elementary forms, he reminds us that the sciences that study humans are facing a different object of study than natural sciences such as physics. In the latter case, atoms do not talk back in plain words to the scientists about the research methods, their “feelings” and inner states, while humans react to the research process, avoid it, may contribute to it, and could complain about it and so on. These possibilities increase the need for a “friendly” relation between knowers (experimenters) and those that are researched (subjects, participants).

The work Mind, Work, and Life helps the reader to better grasp your landmark innovations to various psychological fields, education and societal changing efforts, the tremendous impact of your work on the dynamics of creative interactive minds, the value of the joint projects you participated, the personal and interpersonal substance of the journey and the successful actions to apply and enrich in a participatory mode the findings of the research for the common good. This unique enterprise is disclosed in a dialogical mode. In addition you made it freely accessible on Google, which is answering to the needs of so many researchers, inquiring minds, and curious people from all over the world. The cyberspace when wisely loaded with great nutrients for intelligent, creative and moral approaches is a new dimension of the ecology of interactive creative minds. I recommend it to my students who are enchanted by this opportunity of learning from great sources and not only to them. Reading and reflecting on “Mind, Work, and Life” can help one to transcend with great profit professional, cultural, social and even worldviews borders. HAPPY BIRTHDAY and THANK YOU

With gratitude,

Catalin Mamali

August 2018; September 24, 2018

 

Figure 1. Shalom Schwartz’s model of universal values.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Blog

Why So Many Students Spurn $50/hour ($100K/year)

October 10, 2018 - 11:38am

by Howard Gardner

In our large national study of higher education, we sought the participation of 1000 students (100 at each campus).  We proposed to interview students for about an hour, asking them a range of questions about their college experience. Standard practice in the field of interviewing is to pay students $20-25 an hour; if this were their yearly rate of compensation, it would add up to $40,000-$50,000 a year—a good salary for a college graduate these days. Because we had the funds and wanted to encourage wide participation from all demographies, we decided to pay students $50 for their participation; in addition, we promised to keep their responses anonymous. We thought that payment at an annual salary of $100,000 would be enticing compensation. Those who agreed to participate received payment via their choice of an Amazon gift card or a Donor’s Choose gift card (students in New York City could also choose a Metro gift card).

We were wrong! At half of our campuses, we had difficulty recruiting students to participate. We tried a variety of methods—emailing, posting fliers, advertising in on-line school newspapers, asking professors to mention the study in their classes, and tabling (with cookies and chocolate) at a few prime locations. On a few campuses, I actually held up $50 bills as students approached our direction! That ploy did not seem to work.

We pondered the unexpected resistance or lack of interest. We conjectured that perhaps students would feel guilty about receiving such a large honorarium, simply for responding to some questions, or that students do not believe that they would actually receive this compensation. We thought that if we emphasized the Donors Choose option—where they could instead designate a local classroom or school to donate the money—this option might make a difference. This philanthropic alternative did not do the trick either—in fact, only 7 students (6 freshmen and 1 senior—out of approximately 1000 students!) ever accepted this option. Surprisingly, one participant actually marked off the Donor’s Choose option, and then wrote in “Starbucks.” When we asked what he meant, the student indicated that he thought that he was the “donor” and that he could choose the source of his gift card!

As researchers, we naturally speculated about why it was so difficult to recruit participants. A number of hypotheses emerged:

  • Students are very busy and don’t have time or motivation to participate, even when they receive a hefty payment;
  • Students don’t look at their email, treating it as spam, and also ignore booths and other temporary structures on campus (but of course, if we were giving away free meals, that hypothesis might not obtain);
  • Students are asked all the time to participate in studies and so have developed resistance to such invitations;
  • Students are suspicious of research, and they don’t understand its purposes or its use;
  • Students don’t believe that they will actually receive the promised payment;
  • Students are ambivalent about connections to a prestigious school (Harvard), and perhaps if we had represented ourselves as coming from a local school, we would have had more success;

And so on.

Interested in students’ reasoning, we then decided to ask students, at the conclusion of the interview, why they had decided to participate. Most of them said that they wanted to have the money or needed to have the money—thus reinforcing our original motivation for offering $50 a shot. A small proportion said that they liked research, wanted to use the opportunity to reflect about their college experience or express gratitude to their college, had a beef that they wanted to air, and/or were interested in learning about Harvard.

Donning our research hats again, we thought about whether it might be possible—at least in principle—to come up with a more satisfying explanation for this unexpected state of affairs. If we had infinite time and/or resources, we could survey students under various conditions:

  • Vary compensation from $10/hour to $100/hour;
  • Compare methods of soliciting participation, from e-mail contacts, to written letters, to advertising in the school newspaper, to having personalized notes from their adviser; or
  • Present ourselves as representing different research groups (the college itself, a local college, a national surveying group, etc.); of course, since some of these descriptors would be deceptive, we would need to get approval of Harvard’s human subjects committee.

Let’s say that we simply had to give our best guess about the explanation. I think I would draw on my experience on urban campuses. On those campuses, we gave the students an option of a Metro card, worth $50. This turned out to be the most effective means of eliciting participation. And when we asked students why they craved the card, this was the most popular response: “If you gave me cash, I would just blow it off on beer or on food or on an item of clothing, which I didn’t need. But I must have the Metro card to get to and from school and work, and with this form of payment, I know that’s how my ‘payment’ will be used.”

Perhaps choice is the enemy of prudence—a Metro card is, in the end, a Metro card.

© 2018 Wendy Fischman and Howard Gardner

Categories: Blog

Video: Gardner Interviewed in Chile

October 9, 2018 - 9:25am

In August 2018, Howard Gardner traveled to South America to visit both Chile and Brazil and speak regarding his work on The Good Project and the book Changing Minds.

During his trip, Gardner had the opportunity to be interviewed by journalist Humberto Sichel for the CNN Chile program “Futuro 360.” A video of this interview, which is conducted in Spanish, is now available. The conversation focuses primarily on the theory of multiple intelligences and specialized education.

Click here to watch. The portion in which Gardner is featured begins at the 8:30 minute mark.

Categories: Blog

What’s in a Name? The Puzzle of the Liberal Arts

September 24, 2018 - 9:42am

by Sophie Blumert

At the end of every interview in our national study of higher education, we ask the same question: “What does the phrase ‘liberal arts’ mean to you?” We find that many answers left much to be desired—students across diverse campuses have only the vaguest ideas about what the liberal arts are, or cannot define the term all at all. More striking, sometimes students who are in non-liberal arts tracks, such as undergraduate business or engineering programs, display a better understanding of the term than those in self-described programs in the liberal arts.

There is well over a century’s worth of literature about the nature and parameters of the liberal arts. In our study, we don’t search for a particular definition. Rather, in judging students’ understanding of the term, we look for ideas such as these as positive indicators of understanding:

  • Working within and across scholarly disciplines;
  • Spanning the arts, humanities, social sciences, natural/physical sciences;
  • Engendering communication skills in various media;
  • Inculcating critical, discriminatory, and analytical abilities;
  • Acknowledging the importance of different perspectives;
  • Tackling big questions, with an eye toward continuing to pursue them; and
  • Reflecting on ways to contribute to society as a citizen.

In contrast these indicators point to an insufficient understanding or a lack of understanding altogether:

  • Politically liberal (on the left);
  • Forms of art;
  • Lots of choices with little overarching structure (one can have a highly structured program in the liberal arts, or considerable choices in vocationally oriented programs);
  • English or other humanities courses;
  • Anything unrelated to science;
  • Courses with little utility; and
  • Stereotypes about the kinds of schools and people who attend them.

In coding students for their understanding of the concept of liberal arts, we began on occasion to notice a disconnect between two factors: what people associate with the concept of liberal arts, or their definition of the term, on the one hand; and what they actually hope to get out of college, on the other.

In categorizing the definitions that students offer, as well as determining whether or not they value the role of liberal arts in higher education, we found that students can be categorized in four broad groups. Within these groups, there is a wide range, or spectrum, of definitions and values that participants articulate.

Ability to Define LA Values LA Result Yes (+) Yes (+) +/+ No (-) No (-) -/- Yes (+) No (-) +/- No (-) Yes (+) -/+

In what follows we present examples of each of these profiles, with a focus on those that feature a disconnection between definition and valuation.

Double Positive vs. Double Negative

These two types of students represent the extreme ends of the spectrum—those who are able to give the most complete definitions of liberal arts with a strong endorsement; and those who understand the term minimally and show little or no interest in it being a part of their education.

+/+ “Liberal arts institutions, or a liberal arts education, in my opinion, is one that seeks to sort of give students an interdisciplinary perspective. It seeks to draw connections between different areas of study and coursework. It wants to expose its students [to] different sorts of modes of learning but also topics of study… [A] liberal arts education really champion[s] being able to think critically and just sort of have a really open-minded and inquisitive approach to things. And one that values drawing connections between disciplines, and peoples, and environments.”

In the case of such students, who are scored as positive on both fronts, they often have chosen a school that can provide them with a liberal arts education. They do not need convincing—they are clear advocates.

On the opposite end of the spectrum are students who do not understand the liberal arts; this may well be why they do not value that form of education.

-/- “I don’t know. That’s kind of a blanket term at this point. It’s just for anything that isn’t math or science. It doesn’t really mean much… I’ve never really even considered it… But philosophy is that, and English is something different. I never cared, I’m sorry.”

Aside from not knowing the definition of liberal arts and admitting that he does not want to think much about it, this student assumes an indifferent tone—he seems apathetic toward any education that might stretch him academically or personally.

“I get the idea, but that’s not my thing.”

The above pairings are easily illustrated. More complex are those students who exist in between—they present a mixed picture.

The first example demonstrates an understanding of the term liberal arts (+), without an endorsement of its value (-).

+/- “…there’s more of a focus on arts and the humanities and maybe developing a perspective, on various topics. And understanding maybe how history affects [us]… [it’s a] more cultural context of what we’re doing… as opposed to an engineering school which is about… understanding the hard rules of the world as opposed to understanding sort of the human values…”

This student generally understands the liberal arts. But throughout the hour long interview, the student shows little enthusiasm for its distinctive features and values. Usually, such students are interested in a singular track to follow during college; they only want the practical skills that will help in their chosen field or profession and do not see the point of studying other disciplines. This same student describes her thought process behind choosing a major: “…as far as choices of things I could go to college for, I don’t think I had too many… [I could] do engineering, [I] could probably go into some like hard math… [I] could go into some sciences, [I] could become a doctor…. I don’t think that humanities was ever really an option…” This focus and narrowness is also reflected her attitudes towards general education requirements. At one point she suggests that, “…required classes [should] go away… I had to take bio and I really didn’t want to take bio and I don’t think I got anything out of the class.”

“I want a broad, diverse, and comprehensive education–is there a word for that?”

Conversely, a large proportion of students show a lack of understanding of the term liberal arts (-); but at the same time, in practice they endorse this form of education (+)—actively taking in and soaking up its features and opportunities.

Consider, in detail, one particular student. When asked to define the liberal arts, this student’s description is narrow and confusing, indicating a lack of understanding:

-/+ …It just kind of means English, literature…. I don’t think much of the word, except when I associate liberal arts I associate it with an English teacher or an English professor or literature.”

However, throughout the interview, this student articulates ways in which she appreciates different tenets of a liberal arts education. One way is through academic exploration: “I would recommend everyone to go to college because the education that you receive is so important that you’re not going to get anywhere else…. right now I’m taking Philosophy, and I feel like it has opened my mind into so many subjects.” Being exposed to a new area of academia also impacted her experience with classroom discussions and the importance of hearing different voices: “…when you open up the lecture to questions and you allow people to bring in their opinions or bring in their perspective on the lecture, I feel like that’s very important… that’s why I like philosophy because in philosophy, we actually have an opinion to say about each and every topic that arises in class.”

Additionally, this student explains how artistic, geographic, and historical perspectives yield a deeper understanding of her cultural identity: “…right now I’m taking tap dance… and not just tap dance itself, but African dance and how African dance became tap dance, and how they used the rhythm and their voices to actually make these beats, which were in tap dancing. So I feel like that was really important because as you begin to know yourself or know your history you begin to really develop as a person more as you know your history, and I feel like that’s very important to know where you’re coming from.”

Lastly, she articulates the value of being introduced to alternative perspectives and appreciating cultural differences. “…college is like traveling because you get to meet everyone who is around different places, who have different experiences, different backgrounds, and you get this information and you get to better yourself [with] knowledge. And next time you go, next time you speak, you don’t sound so ignorant towards a topic.”

Despite this student’s lackluster definition, the concepts and qualities of a liberal arts education are clearly embedded in her ideas—she just doesn’t have a label for them. 

Shifting the Spectrum

In an ideal world, we would hope to see more students that have two pluses (a clear definition and an endorsement), but most students seem to be uninformed or “in limbo.” Is this something we should just accept? Or is there a way to move the needle?

If we do want more students who fall in the +/+ range, and a school leader asked us for advice on how to achieve this, we have a few ideas.

  • Focus first on providing positive experiences in courses, and zeroing in on practices that exemplify the liberal arts at its best—explain what you are doing and why it’s important to make students aware of the kinds of benefits that can emerge short and long-term.
  • Next, devote a good amount of effort into distinguishing this type of education from others, and be clear about what it is not: focusing on a single discipline, vocations, little to no discussion or debate, etc.
  • Finally, actually use the term liberal arts and connect its definition to students’ goals for college. This association, done consistently, will hopefully convince students that they are getting a quality education that is directed towards lifelong learning and success beyond the first job.

A clear definition, in our minds, is less important than having the values, but if you already have one ‘+’ in either direction, we are in a good position to add another.

Sophie Blumert is a graduate of the University of Michigan and the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has worked as a researcher on this study of higher education for two years.

© 2018 Wendy Fischman and Howard Gardner

Categories: Blog

Beyond “Pure” Mental Models of College: Parallel Versus Intertwined

September 10, 2018 - 9:59am

by Jeffrey Robinson

How do students view the purpose of college? What do they value—the piece of paper they receive at the end, the courses that they take, the social and extracurricular opportunities, or the overall experience? In our large national study of higher education, we have interviewed more than 1,000 students who come from 10 disparate schools across the United States. Through careful examination of these in-depth interviews, we have identified four distinct mindsets that can succinctly characterize the college experience of a student. As part of our detailed analyses of each transcript, we identify the predominant “mental model” of higher education for each student (for more information, please click here).

For the most part, students approach college with one of the four mental models that we have identified: inertial (after high school, one goes to college); transactional (one goes to college and does only what is required to get a degree and then secure a job); exploratory (one goes to college to learn about unfamiliar fields of study and try out new activities, academic and/or social), and transformational (one goes to college to think about and question one’s own values and beliefs, with the expectation, and presumably the hope, that one may change in fundamental ways). To be sure, these descriptions are what sociologists term “ideal types”: students don’t necessarily use these exact words or phrases, nor does every student fit neatly into one of these categories. However, the identification of the prevalent (or primary) mental model is usually quite clear. 

As researchers, we have become intrigued by “exceptions” and the possible reasons for these cases. And so, when we come across a student (or a group of students) who seem to possess or embody more than one primary mental model, we take special note. An example: a student may indicate the precise goal of pursuing a particular career, but at the same time, may also see college as a unique opportunity to develop independence and reflect on his/her own ingrained values. One can characterize such a student as having both a transactional and a transformational mental model of college.

In our review of individual student mental models, we have identified two mixed types—parallel and intertwined. In the case of parallel, the mental models exist simultaneously but rather independently, leading these students to compartmentalize their goals, courses, and activities throughout the college experience. For others that we term intertwined, the mental models interact; this combination can either enrich the student experience or cause conflicts—for example about priorities or the structuring of time.

Consider the cases of Mary and Jack, students at different schools. Both exhibit indications of transactional and transformational mental models. Mary’s mental models (parallel) are carried out on quite separate tracks, while Jack’s mental models (intertwined) seem to merge. In Jack’s case, transformation only becomes possible because of his transactional mindset securing of a higher education degree. 

Mary: Parallel Mental Models

Mary is a first year student at a small, selective school, located in a suburban area. Like the majority of her peers, she lives on campus and participates in extracurricular activities with a close-knit group of friends. Mary claims to have chosen her school because it will enable her to “get some mastery in some particular field so [she] can have an employable plan”—she refers repeatedly to her search for a major that will “work out in the long term.” She explains the importance of how her school “is really good with helping you build connections with alumni who are involved in the same things that you want to find a job in… [the school] really helps in terms of job placement, just getting a job in general.” She is also quite clear that her choice to come to this particular school was made with her resume in mind; as she says, “In terms of career decisions, it’d be nice to have [name of college] on the resume.” Throughout the interview, Mary responds to many of our open-ended questions, such as “What are your goals for college?” with a “transactional” view—perceiving the college experience as a means of achieving particular academic and professional goals.

However, when answering questions about campus life and extracurricular opportunities, Mary seems to veer in a different direction. She acknowledges that, “in terms of growth as a person… it’s very, very difficult to replicate the experience of college in any other medium.” Even in her first year, she talks about how college has “definitely challenged the way I think,” citing conversations with friends that occur outside the classroom—“They’re great for just helping us really identify what our beliefs are.” In general, Mary describes college as an opportunity that “gives me a different lens on a lot of issues that I previously thought I had a concrete understanding of.” This mindset leads Mary to approach social experiences with an openness to introspection and transformation, a stark contrast to her narrow view of academic goals. With these parallel mental models, Mary approaches the academic and social realms with two different mindsets.

Mary represents those “parallel students” who demonstrate more than one approach to the overall college experience—those who want to begin to specialize and prepare for a career, while at the same time taking advantage of the transformational opportunities college has to offer. Mary describes college as “the atmosphere that you won’t find anywhere else… an incubator for ideas and transformations.” She manages to maintain both mental models for college by keeping her idealistic and practical views separate. While she romanticizes the idea that college opens her up to new people and ideas, forcing her to reflect on her own values, she also approaches the experience with a practical mindset—it must “prepare [her] for a good career.”

Jack: Intertwined Mental Models 

Much less common among our sample are students like Jack, who have models that begin to merge and intertwine—each seemingly unable to exist without the other.

Jack is about to graduate from a medium-sized, less selective, public institution. While some campus housing exists, the vast majority of students, like Jack, commute. Jack readily discusses the challenges he faces coming from a “low income neighborhood” and describes his goals for college as “getting out of poverty… [and] being an example to [the] younger ones in my family.” When not in class, Jack spends most of his time carrying out multiple part-time jobs and taking care of his family. Despite these demanding responsibilities, he seems driven and self-motivated to complete his degree because he knows it will change his life.  As he puts it, “to be educated… it’s not just schooling, it’s… gaining knowledge.” Later in the interview he articulates the value of the college experience: “Education will be the only thing that will help me, you know, enrich my life and get out of the socioeconomic class that I’m in.”

Like Mary, Jack values the social interactions that take place at college, even on a campus where the overwhelming majority of students commute. Whereas Jack describes himself as coming to college shy and introverted, with the transactional aim of completing his credits as quickly as possible, he now makes efforts to establish relationships with his peers as well as faculty members. Through these relationships, he signals that college can and should be transformative: “I’m forming myself as a person…I think I finally get where my ideas are and who I want to be, and what I want to be.” To be sure, Jack has limited time for extracurricular involvement and social activities (even for casual hallway conversations) on campus, but he still discusses how his eyes have been opened. He explains, “That’s what was [ingrained] in me since elementary [school], it was to go to college, to get a career, to get an education, and I honestly have enjoyed my time at [college], my mind has expanded more than anything I could have dreamed of … I think the goal is to prepare you [for a career], to give you a well-rounded education, and to make you a progressive member of society. But, it will transform you, you will learn things that, like I said, didn’t even think were possible.”

Clearly, in some cases, it is hard to tease out the “transactional” stance from the “transformational” mental model for college. In Jack’s case, the transformational mindset he exhibits may not have manifested itself without his initial transactional approach to college. His perseverance and dedication towards obtaining a degree allow him to view higher education as a way to change his life for himself and perhaps others. Furthermore, his transformational views now impact his transactional mindset of college. He still sees college as essential for job preparation, but also appreciates how his college experience gives him a well-rounded background—something that prepares him for a variety of jobs (both now and later in life).

What lessons might we draw from these two students, and their different ways of conceptualizing the college experience? One lesson is methodological: while it is useful to identify “ideal types,” in reality students can also model a blend of categories. The second lesson is substantive: we all harbor different, contrasting sentiments, but it is up to us whether we let them exist in splendid isolation or make efforts to integrate them productively with one another.

Jeffrey Robinson, a graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park, has worked as a researcher on the study of higher education for four years.

© 2018 Wendy Fischman and Howard Gardner

Categories: Blog

The Method in Our Madness: Data Collection and Analysis for Our Study of Higher Education, Part III

August 27, 2018 - 12:13pm

by Wendy Fischman and Howard Gardner

When hearing about our ambitious national study of higher education (click here for more information), colleagues often ask us how we went about carrying out the study and how we will analyze the various kinds of data and draw conclusions. At first blush, the decision to carry out approximately 2000 semi-structured hour-long interviews across ten deliberately disparate campuses, to record and transcribe them, and then to analyze the resulting “data” seems overwhelming—and not just to others! Moreover, when asked for the “hypotheses” being tested, we always reply that we did not have specific hypotheses—at most, we knew what general issues we wanted to probe (e.g. academic, campus life, and general perspectives on the means and goals of higher education). Additionally, we wanted to discover approaches and programs that seemed promising and to probe them sufficiently so that we could write about them convincingly and—with luck—evocatively.

An Earlier Model

We did not undertake this study entirely free of expectations. Our colleague Richard Light, now a senior adviser to the project, spent decades studying higher education in the United States; he provided much valuable background information, ideas about promising avenues to investigate, and some intriguing questions to include in our interview. Both of us (Wendy and Howard) had devoted over a decade to an empirical study of “good work” across the professions. In that research, planned and carried out with psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and William Damon and their colleagues, we had interviewed well over 1200 workers drawn from nine distinct professions. The methods of interviewing—and the lack of guiding hypotheses—were quite similar. Because we were frequently asked about our methodological approach, we prepared a free-standing paper on the “empirical basis” of good work. In addition, reports on our findings yielded ten books and close to 100 articles; moreover this project led to several other lines of research—see TheGoodProject.org. Our prior work on “good work” served as a reasonable model as we undertook an equally ambitious study of higher education.

In this blog and the two previous in this series, we seek to convey the “method” to our undertaking.

Part III. Key Additional Analyses in our Study

As in any comprehensive study, there are innumerable kinds of analyses that we could do. Indeed, in the aforementioned study of good work (briefly described here), we produced dozens of research papers on specific questions. We published a book of over 300 pages on responses to a single question in our interview questionnaire: “In your own work, to whom or what do you feel responsible?”

In a rough-and-ready way, for our current study of higher education, we distinguish among the following kinds of analyses:

a.) Low-hanging fruit. These are questions that we can simply score numerically, such as the two rank order questions about the purposes of college and problems on campus. Also relatively easy to quantify are questions that require a definition, including “What does the term liberal arts mean to you?” and “If you could describe the students on this campus with a single adjective, which descriptor leaps to mind?” (Preview: “diverse” and “quirky” happen to be two of the most prevalent responses on some campuses.)

b.) Questions requiring more analysis. We ask respondents, “If you could give one book to a graduating senior, what book would it be?” It’s easy to score whether participants respond at all. But a classification of the kinds of books mentioned, and the reasons for the selection, takes time, as does a classification of what happens on the occasions—very frequent—when students can’t think of a book. (Preview: Dr Seuss’s books for children, Malcolm Gladwell’s books for general readers, and Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People are mentioned often.) Also, the reasons invoked when participants reject the question can be sophisticated or banal (e.g. “I don’t know because I never read” vs. “It all depends on the kind of student, her interests, the breadth of her prior reading, my relationship with her, etc.”).

c.) Use of “Big Data.” The advent of methods for analyzing large amounts of text expeditiously is transforming the analysis of qualitative data. We ourselves did not have experience with “big data.” But we were fortunate to secure the services of an expert research methodologist, John Hansen, who has done these kinds of analyses and indeed has experience working with unstructured data, such as text. With his help (and that of Reid Higginson, doctoral student at HGSE), we have been able to look at the frequency of particular words and phrases across participants (and campuses and constituencies), as well as where these words are used. For example, we can look to see the frequency of “stress” and if this word is used before or only after we ourselves introduce the concept (as part of the rank order question about problems on campus).

So far, initial passes through the language used by student participants has uncovered a fascinating phenomenon. Whether a first year student or a graduating student, whether at highly selective or less selective schools, the frequency of individual words and phrases across students at the various schools are strikingly similar. There are no major outliers; for example, the word “stress” does not appear more frequently with students at one particular school. This surprising result was also a relief; it suggests that differences in coding of responses are not just based on the actual words the students use, but rather on the context, thinking, and messages behind their words.

We suspect, however, that when larger segments of text are used (e.g. patterns of words, not single words), we may find that certain words or combinations of words distinguish between more or less sophisticated responses—for example, students who exhibit higher LASCAP vs. lower LASCAP (see the previous blog post for an explanation of this concept). Should this be the case, it might mean that in the future, interview questionnaires—and perhaps even interview recordings—could be scored automatically. In addition, more sophisticated analyses could turn up more subtle patterns in word usage—we have only scratched the surface of the endless number of analyses that one can imagine, given the amount of data collected.

d.) Emotional analysis. It is now possible to monitor recorded interviews and to measure emotions—for example, degree of stress in general, or stress with respect to certain topics. Given the importance of “mental health” and “belonging” issues, these would be well worth investigating by means of emotional indicators in the recordings. But, like dozens of other issues that we can think of, such analyses will need to be carried out by other investigators, or by the current investigators at another time.

A Survey!

Few investigators in the future are likely to undertake a study of this magnitude: 2000 interviews (as well as associated studies of related topics) on 10 disparate campuses over a six-year period. Thanks to the support of The Spencer Foundation, we have developed a survey which can be taken online, and which correlates reasonably well with the findings in our hand-administered and hand-scored measures. (Of course, not every topic can be probed in a survey—one of many reasons that we have carried out face-to-face interviews!) Once our own results have been published, we will make this survey available to interested, competent parties.

One might ask why we did not simply develop the survey initially—and save a lot of time and trouble for two thousand human beings and many dedicated researchers. In truth, we could never have come up with an effective survey unless we had done a considerable amount of the exploratory work entailed in our own study. Nor would we have been able to anticipate the kinds of mental models that emerged. In addition, we take it as an article of faith that one can learn far more by speaking directly to a human being, in his or her own surroundings, than by examining the results of a multiple choice, machine scored instruments. (As just one example, skilled interviewers can confront individuals with contradictions in their responses—even as the interview participants themselves may note contradictions, a sign of LASCAP.)

However, as a result of our study and the analysis of data in which we are now deeply involved, it should be possible to come up with more focused hypotheses. And these, in turn, can and should be investigated by appropriate measures—which will certainly include surveys.

Conclusion: A Few Words about Our Own Motivation

As is probably evident, we would never have undertaken this endeavor were we not very concerned about the current state of higher education in the United States, and particularly that strand that is not committedly vocational. Moreover, our concerns have only multiplied in recent years, in view of societal trends and disturbing results in polling about public attitudes toward higher education, not even to mention ignorance or antipathy toward “liberal arts.” We hope that our findings and recommendations will be read, listened to, discussed, and debated. If we are fortunate, these conversations will lead to improvements, and perhaps reorientations, in how higher education is carried out in the United States and perhaps elsewhere.

By agreement, we will share our findings on a confidential basis with the schools that generously permitted us to work with their constituencies. In publications, we will not discuss school-specific findings. We believe, however, that the questions, concepts, and methods of data analysis that we have developed should be useful to the entire sector; and we would be pleased to assist in this process.

Over the coming months, we will continue our series of blogs in which we present preliminary findings and recommendations emanating from our study. Stay tuned!

We thank our colleague Dick Light, as well as John Hansen and Reid Higginson from our research team, for their helpful comments on earlier drafts of the three blogs in this series.

© 2018 Wendy Fischman and Howard Gardner

Categories: Blog

The Method in Our Madness: Data Collection and Analysis for Our Study of Higher Education, Part II

August 20, 2018 - 11:32am

by Wendy Fischman and Howard Gardner

When hearing about our ambitious national study of higher education (click here for more information), colleagues often ask us how we went about carrying out the study and how we will analyze the various kinds of data and draw conclusions. At first blush, the decision to carry out approximately 2000 semi-structured hour-long interviews across ten deliberately disparate campuses, to record and transcribe them, and then to analyze the resulting “data” seems overwhelming—and not just to others! Moreover, when asked for the “hypotheses” being tested, we always reply that we did not have specific hypotheses—at most, we knew what general issues we wanted to probe (e.g. academic, campus life, and general perspectives on the means and goals of higher education). Additionally, we wanted to discover approaches and programs that seemed promising and to probe them sufficiently so that we could write about them convincingly and—with luck—evocatively.

An Earlier Model

We did not undertake this study entirely free of expectations. Our colleague Richard Light, now a senior adviser to the project, spent decades studying higher education in the United States; he provided much valuable background information, ideas about promising avenues to investigate, and some intriguing questions to include in our interview. Both of us (Wendy and Howard) had devoted over a decade to an empirical study of “good work” across the professions. In that research, planned and carried out with psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and William Damon and their colleagues, we had interviewed well over 1200 workers drawn from nine distinct professions. The methods of interviewing—and the lack of guiding hypotheses—were quite similar. Because we were frequently asked about our methodological approach, we prepared a free-standing paper on the “empirical basis” of good work. In addition, reports on our findings yielded ten books and close to 100 articles; moreover this project led to several other lines of research—see TheGoodProject.org. Our prior work on “good work” served as a reasonable model as we undertook an equally ambitious study of higher education.

In this blog and the two others in this series, we seek to convey the “method” to our undertaking.

Part II. Major Concepts in our National Study of Higher Education

Initial Surprises and Emerging Concepts

When thoughtful researchers begin to carry out interviews, and speak with one another about what they have seen and heard, their own thinking inevitably evolves. At the time our study began, we were at most dimly aware of the importance of mental health issues across American campuses; and yet, as that impression solidified, we necessarily added interviews with leaders and counselors who are directly concerned with student well-being. And more recently, as we encountered evidence of the importance of a feeling of “belonging” on campus, we also explored that topic in more depth, specifically in our coding. 

From another angle, we were surprised at the lack of mention of artistic opportunities on campus (by students who do not major in an art form), and the lack of detailed information with respect to ethical and moral dilemmas that arise. And so we did additional probing on those topics to learn more about participants’ experiences and perspectives. To our disappointment, most participants had little or nothing to say about these topics.

The original title of our study was “Liberal Arts and Sciences in the 21st Century”—and certainly we were motivated to find out the current status and ultimate fate of a form of non-vocational education that had been valorized in the United States (and in some other nations) in the last decades of the 20th century. Many individuals seem to have little or no knowledge about the meaning of “liberal arts”; and many others have quite serious misconceptions—e.g. that the word “liberal” signals a political rather than a scholarly orientation. Though we will write more about these misunderstandings in forthcoming publications, we do not intend to emphasize the specific term, as not to polarize our potential readers.

But concern about non-vocational higher education certainly informs our thinking. And indeed, once we had carried out a sufficient number of interviews (a few hundred), we began to develop concepts that would allow us to assess the quality and sophistication of thinking of our participants as well as their orientations to higher education.

Two Key Concepts

Assume that you speak to an individual for an hour, touching on a variety of topics, and giving that person the opportunity to express herself freely, to make connections across questions and issues, and to question or interrogate the questions herself—an analogy would be an uninterrupted wide-ranging conversation with a stranger on a train or a plane. More often than not, after such a conversation, you learn a lot about that person, not only in terms of what she says, but also how she thinks. We believe that over the course of an hour, you can also make a reasonable determination of whether that person has somehow acquired the equivalence of non-vocational education in the liberal arts and sciences.

  1. LAS Capital

Accordingly, we developed the concept of “LAS capital” (pun intended)—which we call LASCAP—a rough measure of the extent to which a participant displays the kind of thinking that one would expect of a graduate of non-vocational higher education (and not, except in rare cases, of a high school student).

And here is where our methods begin to reveal themselves. To assess an individual’s LASCAP, we use two separate measures, also administered separately. First, a coder “blind scores” (e.g. the coder does not know any identifying information about the participant) a participant’s responses to seven specific questions in the interview. The questions range widely, from how a participant rank orders the four main purposes of college to her selection of a book to give to a hypothetical graduating student.

Second, the same coder scores a participant’s LASCAP based on the entire interview, a cumulative measure. Taken together, the scoring of each of the seven questions and the whole interview ranges from 0 to 3 (0 for little or no capital; 3 for a high amount of capital). We code LASCAP in this way to ensure that we consider the specific questions that we believe elicit the most LASCAP as well as monitoring what emerges over the course of an hour (in case a participant does not have much to say about some specific questions).

For both measures, we ensured that scoring was consistent across coders (through pilot testing the measures and discussing them in team meetings). Similar to the other holistic concepts in the coding scheme, if there are any scoring disagreements (among a coder and shadow coder), these disagreements are discussed and resolved. In our coding, the two measures (overall measure, mean of seven questions) correlate quite well.

Additional points about LASCAP:

a.) It is difficult to prove that someone lacks LAS capital; scoring is based on the degree of its presence.

b.) Needless to say, first year college students differ greatly in the amount of capital that they display. Of special interest, within and across campuses, is the difference in LASCAP between beginning and graduating students. Ideally, one would want longitudinal data, showing the difference between mean LASCAP for first year students and mean LASCAP for these same individuals several years later. But given that caveat, the cross-sectional data that we have assembled can be quite revealing; when we publish our findings, we will report whether the mean scores of graduating students are higher than those of the first year students, or if there are no differences between first year students and graduating students. Based on initial data, we expect to find evidence of “growth” between first year students and graduating students (even though these are two different groups of students) as a function of the college experience; we also expect the degree of change may differ across campuses.

2. Mental models

Few questions in our study are more important than how individuals think about the purpose of college and what they hope to get out of it. Again, this question can be approached in two ways.

One way is quite simple and straightforward. Toward the end of the interview, we ask subjects to rank order various purposes of college that have been proposed by individuals (as briefly mentioned above). All subjects are given the following four choices in this order:

  • To get a job
  • To gain diverse perspectives on people, knowledge, and the world
  • To learn to live independently
  • To study a particular content area in depth

Most participants answer this question quite readily. Then, to sweeten the pie, we ask participants for the rationale of their ordering. And then we ask them how they think that other constituencies would rank order the options. Thus, for example, if we are speaking to a student, we ask how faculty, administrators, trustees, parents, and alums would answer the question. Needless to say, there may be a lot of “projection” onto other constituencies of purposes which the participants may be reluctant themselves to rank as most important. For example, a first year student might say that faculty would rank studying a content area in depth is most important, but her parents might rank getting a job as most important.

Our other approach, more complex, is analogous to the “holistic” measure of LASCAP. On the basis of pilot and early interviews, we posited the existence of four different “mental models” of college (described here with prototypical responses):

1. Inertial: “First one goes to high school; then the next step is to go to college. I am not exactly sure what college is about or why I am here.”

2. Transactional: “I am here to get a degree, period. I’ll do whatever is required, and be sure not to do anything that will jeopardize that chance. I will do what is required, in terms of academics, social life, and extra-curricular activities, to ensure that I will get in to graduate school or get a job after college.”

3, Exploratory: “College offers me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take new courses, make new friends, participate in unfamiliar activities, and travel and spend time in new destinations. I intend to make the most of this opportunity—better to venture and fail than to stick to the tried and the true.”

4. Transformational:Before coming here, I was one kind of person, from a certain locale, demography, and set of expectations. In college, I shall strive to become a new person—fashion and refashion my identity, interact differently with individuals, and, as a result of my studies, gain new and different ways of thinking about people and content knowledge, using my mind, and my imagination in unanticipated ways. I’ll visit for sure but ‘I won’t go home again.’”

Researchers code each participant as one particular mental model based on a “holistic” reading of the transcript. Though coders do not score specific questions (as they do for LASCAP), there are particular questions which elicit the most useful information—for example, participants’ goals for college, views on what all students should learn from college, and, as mentioned above, how they rank the main purposes of college. As with LASCAP, we are interested in the ways in which these mental models may differ between first year students and graduating students within and across campuses.

In the conclusion of this three-part blog, we describe other key analyses that we are undertaking.

© 2018 Wendy Fischman and Howard Gardner

Categories: Blog

The Method in our Madness: Data Collection and Analysis for Our Study of Higher Education, Part I

August 13, 2018 - 8:15am

by Wendy Fischman and Howard Gardner

When hearing about our ambitious national study of higher education (click here for more information), colleagues often ask us how we went about carrying out the study and how we will analyze the various kinds of data and draw conclusions. At first blush, the decision to carry out approximately 2000 semi-structured hour-long interviews across ten deliberately disparate campuses, to record and transcribe them, and then to analyze the resulting “data” seems overwhelming—and not just to others! Moreover, when asked for the “hypotheses” being tested, we always reply that we did not have specific hypotheses—at most, we knew what general issues we wanted to probe (e.g. academic, campus life, and general perspectives on the means and goals of higher education). Additionally, we wanted to discover approaches and programs that seemed promising and to probe them sufficiently so that we could write about them convincingly and—with luck—evocatively.

An Earlier Model

We did not undertake this study entirely free of expectations. Our colleague Richard Light, now a senior adviser to the project, spent decades studying higher education in the United States; he provided much valuable background information, ideas about promising avenues to investigate, and some intriguing questions to include in our interview. Both of us (Wendy and Howard) had devoted over a decade to an empirical study of “good work” across the professions. In that research, planned and carried out with psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and William Damon and their colleagues, we had interviewed well over 1200 workers drawn from nine distinct professions. The methods of interviewing—and the lack of guiding hypotheses—were quite similar. Because we were frequently asked about our methodological approach, we prepared a free-standing paper on the “empirical basis” of good work. In addition, reports on our findings yielded ten books and close to 100 articles; moreover this project led to several other lines of research—see TheGoodProject.org. Our prior work on “good work” served as a reasonable model as we undertook an equally ambitious study of higher education.

In this and the succeeding two blogs, we seek to convey the “method” to our undertaking.

Part I. The Nuts and Bolts of our Research

Interview Questionnaire

As in the earlier study, we developed an interview questionnaire, which essentially takes an hour to administer (we could have easily spent 3 hours if we or the participants had the time!). Most of the interview consists of open-ended questions, except for two rank order questions in which we ask participants to prioritize specific items. (These “forced choice” questions were created because of clear patterns of preferred responses that emerged in pilot work.) The interview questionnaire covers wide-ranging topics in four main sections focused on: 1) goals for the student college experience; 2) academic curriculum; 3) campus life; and 4) broad questions about the value of higher education.

Once we had an interview questionnaire firmly established, we adhered quite closely to it for the remainder of the study (and we trained researchers to be consistent interviewers). And when we tweaked the protocol slightly as the study evolved, we did so in a way that did not invalidate the data gleaned from the earlier questionnaires—for example, adding new questions at the end of the interview. The interview questionnaire is quite similar across constituencies (which are outlined below). For ease of communication, in this trio of blogs, we focus almost entirely on methods and responses with the student population.

Selection of Sites and Participants

Before beginning the study in earnest, we carried out pilot work at two campuses (which eventually became “full sites”). We selected these two initial campuses because they were geographically close to us and because they differed from each other—specifically, a public state university in a rural area, and a private university in the Boston area. At these campuses, we had the luxury of interviewing nearly every participant in person. Eventually, as we selected campuses farther away from our home base, we interviewed some participants in person and others, including students, via Skype (or another platform).

From the beginning, we set out to recruit 2000 participants across seven major constituencies—incoming students, graduating students, faculty, administrators, parents, young alums, and trustees. We aimed for half of the interviews to be with students (approximately 1000) and the rest to be with the other constituencies (approximately 1000). (We interviewed an eighth constituency—job recruiters—as convenient.)

After the initial pilot sites had been selected, we chose the other eight campuses, one at a time. We sought to include campuses that represented different categories (e.g. private/public, large/small, urban/rural, residential/commuter), and those with distinctive cultures (e.g. a special focus on religion, athletics, community service, etc.). At the same time, each of the campuses offers a liberal arts form of education (at the larger universities, we interviewed individuals associated with the schools that offer the traditional liberal arts and sciences curricula). We often refer to the campus selection process as a “chess game” in which once one campus had been chosen, we carefully considered what we would still need and want before our next “move.” Obviously no ten campuses can capture the great variety of the several thousand institutions of higher learning in the United States; but we believe that our ten campuses represent an impressive range.

From the initial pilot schools, we learned a great deal about various strategies for recruiting participants for the study. With respect to all schools, we carefully and strategically selected faculty and administrators in order to ensure that we spoke with individuals who were knowledgeable about the school (e.g. those who have been in positions for more than a few years) and those who represented various academic and administrative departments throughout the school. We scoured the schools’ websites and Google for background information on each of these individuals. For most of the other constituency groups (students, parents, young alums), we used more of an opportunistic approach for recruiting, including fliers, emails, tabling, and advertisements on social media. Overall, we recruited a “convenience sample,” while checking to make sure that we recruited students who reflected the general demography of each school (e.g. gender, students involved with student government, religious organizations, athletics, Greek life, etc.). When we were undersubscribed with a given constituency, we made extra efforts, usually successful, to recruit subjects from that constituency. In general, as a group, trustees were difficult to recruit and difficult to schedule and re-schedule, but with the help of each school president and secretary of the board, we secured robust groups across the campuses. The ease or difficulty of recruiting subjects on a given campus turns out to be quite revealing (perhaps a topic for a different blog!).

Coding

In a nutshell, our coding scheme is divided into two major sections. The first section requires a researcher (or “coder”) to read an entire interview transcript and respond to a variety of questions about “holistic” concepts we have developed—concepts that can’t be inferred unless one has reviewed the entire interview. For example, with respect to each student participant, we ask coders to consider the primary “driver” the individual has for college (e.g. what exactly seems to motivate that student in college) and the value of “liberal arts and sciences” to each participant.

The second section requires coders to think about a participant’s response to specific questions throughout the interview and to categorize the participant’s responses. For example, we ask coders to categorize a participant’s response when asked to recommend a book for a graduating student (e.g. title, genre, how the participant knew about this book, and why he/she recommended it).

To ensure “reliability” across coders (i.e. to make sure that independent coders interpret the data in the same way), we review each transcript twice (by two different coders). The first coder reads the transcript and responds to the holistic section of the coding scheme; the second coder “shadows” the coding of the first coder (e.g. makes sure he/she agrees with the coding by reading the entire transcript independently and then reviewing the coding of the first coder). The second coder notes any “disagreements” about the coding and discusses such disagreements with the first coder, hoping to reach a decision that satisfies both coders. If the disagreement is still unresolved after a discussion between coders, these coders ask a third coder to participate in the discussion and resolve the decision. In addition, after reviewing the holistic section of the coding scheme, the second coder also responds to the second half of the coding scheme, mainly categorizing a participant’s specific responses to particular interview questions. Because this coding requires straightforward categorization, the coding of this section is not systematically reviewed by another coder. However, if at a later point (i.e. in analyzing the categorizations for patterns and themes), researchers come across a categorization that does not make sense, researchers can correct the mistake. We use Cohen’s Kappa to calculate reliability, consistently achieving over .80 reliability (a value above 0.80 is typically considered “excellent”).

We invest a lot of resources into our coding because it is the crux of our study. For an hour-long interview, we estimate that it takes about 3 hours to code and shadow (1.5 hours to code and 1.5 hours to shadow). To create an environment in which researchers could focus without distractions, we mandated “coding blitzes”: according to the norms of a blitz, researchers can work anywhere they wanted for days at a time, but have the responsibility of reaching certain coding goals. During these coding blitzes, we come together as a team once per week to assess progress, check in with each other, and talk about challenges—to make sure we agree with how to code a particular concept or a dilemma about a particular participant. We record these meetings in case a researcher can’t attend. To say that we take the coding seriously is an understatement—in fact, we often have to stop ourselves from “over processing” some of the tiny details and remember that we also need to focus on the big picture of what we are finding and what it might mean.

These topics are covered in the next two blogs.

© 2018 Wendy Fischman and Howard Gardner

Categories: Blog

On Securing Support for Research: Should One Hit The Pause Button?

August 9, 2018 - 7:59am

Those of us who conduct research in psychology, education, and related fields are dependent on external support to cover our expenses. For half a century, my colleagues and I at Harvard Project Zero have been fortunate to receive funding from various sources. In most cases, the funding process has been smooth and unproblematic; but in at least three cases, we have decided not to accept further funding.

Here I describe our overall history with fund raising; share three discombobulating experiences; and suggest some general guidelines.

First, the good news. From 1970-1980, almost all of our funding came from the federal government—The National Institutes of Health, The National Science Foundation, and a now defunct educational funder, The National Institute of Education. Then Ronald Reagan became president and made known his conviction that “social science is socialism.” Confronted with that dismissive attitude, we showed little hesitation in shifting our requests to large national foundations—The Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation, The MacArthur Foundation, Carnegie Corporation, and The Spencer Foundation (which focuses on educational research)—just to name a few. These foundations followed widely accepted peer review methods with respect to requests for funding; they did not attempt to micro-manage or redirect the research; and we never worried that any of the funding would be considered suspect. Whatever the value and attitudes of the original philanthropist (e.g. Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller), the foundations by that time conduced business in a professional manner.

The bad news about funding from private foundations is that most program officers (the individual who control the purse strings) get bored with funding the same old institutions and causes—no matter how worthy. (And of course, we thought all of our causes were supremely worthy!) Accordingly, these philanthropoids (as the dispensers of funds are sometimes called) want to move on to support new and more exciting (and perhaps more needy) projects; it proved difficult to obtain continuation funding indefinitely.

Starting 25 years ago, we were saved by three factors:

1) Funding from a long-time anonymous funder, whose “cover” was eventually blown by The New York Times—the Atlantic Philanthropies, bankrolled completely by Charles Feeney. (Despite the fact that we received several million dollars from AP, none of us ever met Mr. Feeney.)

2) Smaller foundations, family foundations, and wealthy individuals. As these funders were less likely to follow standard peer review processes, a lot of this funding depended on good personal relations with the funders or with their designated program officers.

3) Our own honoraria and gifts that we were able to direct toward our research.

Also, somewhat to our surprise, and to our delight, we began once again to receive funding from some large national foundations. The previous project officers had resigned or retired and, in the absence of flawless institutional memory, our requests for funding were treated as “new” opportunities.

I am very pleased to say that, in my memory, no funder ever pressed us to come up with certain results, rather than others. Also, before accepting money from the anonymous foundation, we confirmed its trustworthiness with knowledgeable leaders at Harvard.

Yet, on three occasions alluded to above, we made the difficult decision not to receive any further funding from a source:

1) A funder insisted that we be prepared to travel long distances, without little or no prior warning. And these demands proved exhausting.

2) A funder was carrying out work of which we did not approve and yet wanted to have our imprimatur on that work.

3) A funder was convicted of a crime. In this case, I thought about this dilemma as I would with respect to a friend who was convicted of a crime. I might maintain a personal relationship, but I would not pretend that the crime has not happened. And so, while I personally retained a relationship with the funder, I let the funder know that under no circumstances would or could I accept any further funding. And this decision was accepted without protest.

I consider myself very fortunate not to have encountered more difficulties of this sort. At the same time, I have to add that at various times, I’ve made a decision not to pursue a funding opportunity; and I have advised colleagues and friends to refrain as well. It’s much easier not to become involved with a dubious source of funding than it is to establish ties that one subsequently has to break. The dubious source of funding can be from a corporation (e.g. a gun manufacturer, a cigarette company) whose products make me uncomfortable; or, for instance, from a source that has no apparent interest in the research per se but just wants to have a connection to the university.

In the current funding climate, where government funding is insufficient and the once dominant foundations are being dwarfed by individuals who are as wealthy or wealthier than Henry Ford or John D. Rockefeller, the temptations are great to ignore these warning signs and simply accept funds. This is especially so if one’s own salary or the salaries of close associates are at stake. That’s why I hope that more disinterested (neutral, objective) parties—for example, the government or foundations or individuals who are genuinely interested in the research but disinterested in the specific results—will re-emerge. And I hope that these entities will follow peer-review procedures in considering proposals and will give the researchers latitude in how they proceed. In return, the researchers must strive to carry out work of high quality; inform the sponsors of significant changes in procedures; and, of course, make the findings available promptly and publicly, while also crediting the sources for their support.

To phrase it in the spirit of this blog: Research is most likely to work well if all parties act in a professional manner.

Categories: Blog

Should We Require All Students to Take Philosophy?

August 3, 2018 - 6:45am

In July 2018, I published an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education titled “Why We Should Require All Students to Take 2 Philosophy Courses,” in which I contended that all college students should be required to take two courses in philosophy—one during their freshman year, the second during their last year of college. This requirement would yield two dividends:

1) Familiarity with vital issues about which outstanding thinkers have grappled over the centuries; and

2) Practice at the kinds of discussions and arguments that are associated with the field and practice of philosophy.

This essay provoked a fair amount of discussion and controversy, both on the Chronicle‘s website and in private communications from colleagues and friends. In what follows, I address some of the points that were raised.

Requirements: Pros and Cons

First, is it really a good idea to impose requirements? Perhaps that very action yields resistance.

All institutions have requirements—ranging from compulsory writing courses to fees for student activities. At issue is whether these requirements make sense, are central to the mission of the school, and can be adequately defended.  The requirements should be clear at the outset. If students have a principled objection to taking a course in philosophy, then they should not attend a school with that requirement.

A related point: too many college students immediately recreate their peer group from high school, or, worse, feel alienated or suffer from anxiety and depression. One way to counter these trends is to create activities and requirements that involve and affect all students. Of course, the more that these activities and requirements infuse the rest of the college experience—rather than being obligatory “one offs”—the more likely that students will feel that they are akin to their classmates and, thus, that they belong to a community of young scholars.

Why Philosophy?

Why should philosophy be singled out as required, and not statistics or citizenship or global issues?

I defend the prioritization of philosophy in two ways. First, of all the scholarly topics, philosophy is the one most central to the agenda of higher education. It poses the most basic questions, specifies how these questions have been addressed, and provides the rationale for the range of disciplines, from mathematics to political science to current events. See the writings of Plato and Aristotle, or, for that matter, those of Confucius or of the contributors to the Talmud.

Second, philosophical thinking requires, and takes advantages of, cognitive capacities that generally emerge during later adolescence. I have in mind the capacities to master systems of thoughts; compare systems of thought; and  combine, contrast, or critique various disciplinary ways of thinking. 

In contrast, the core and organizing concepts of most other disciplines—ranging from biology to history to psychology—can be understood at earlier points in cognitive development.

Curricular Equivalents

What about common core, or general education requirements?

As several correspondents pointed out, major institutions of higher education, like Columbia College or The University of Chicago, have required courses or sequences of courses that cover “great books,” often those from the Western canon. I should have pointed that out in my original essay, and I am happy to endorse a rigorous set of readings and discussions of important basic texts. What’s important is that the faculty embrace these readings and discuss them in terms of their basic arguments, how they are stated, in which ways they may be flawed, and how the conversation about these topics has evolved over time and across cultures. In other words, the readings (and other media presentations, as appropriate) should trigger the kinds of talk and argument that we associate with serious philosophical discussions.

The risk, which I have seen at Harvard College, is that over time these “gen ed” or “core courses” regress into standard entry courses into the respective disciplines—at which point, the philosophical edge wanes or is lost.

A Gatekeeper to Knowledge

Does philosophy still occupy the role of “gatekeeper” to knowledge that it has traditionally occupied?

Like many other fields, philosophy goes through its own peregrinations—and it can veer from logical analysis of strings of symbols, on the one hand, to post-modern musings on the other. I have no desire to legislate the materials on which graduate students work or the basis on which tenure is granted or denied. But I would rather have my gateway philosophy courses taught by scholars in other disciplines who have knowledge of texts and of how to introduce students to them, than to have minted philosophers who treat incoming students as if they were peer reviewers for an esoteric journal.

Jobs and “Practical Knowledge”

In our large national study of higher education, for which data collection has just been completed, we often run into the line of argument that philosophy is impractical and does not relate to the “real world.” And I certainly understand the reasons for it, especially at a time when job security is uncertain and when many young people worry that they will not do as well as their parents—an especially acute symptom in the United States.

Certainly this concern should be acknowledged, not tossed aside. And perhaps it’s reasonable for colleges to take on some of this responsibility for life after college. But it’s neither what colleges have been designed to do, nor what they are good at—unless, we revolutionize training, selection of faculty, and course offerings.

And so I have two responses:

1) Practical: Pose the question, “And what happens if the job for which you have been prepared disappears?” Very few students—or parents—have even considered this possibility.

2) Philosophical (pun intended): Higher education is arguably the last time in your life where you have the luxury of pondering the big questions of life. What are we here for? What is the good life? What would you be willing to die for? What do you hope for the generations after you die? One can pose those questions alone, or just discuss with friends, or one can touch on them when tossing a Frisbee across the yard, but it’s much better to join into a guided conversation that has taken place over the centuries—and philosophy is the best way that humans have devised for such an entry. And, as a bonus, if you learn to think and converse well about such critical issues, you will be able to use that intellectual capital in any job to which you aspire, and perhaps advance more readily to a higher position.

Categories: Blog

The Good Life: Integration of Academics and Civic Engagement

July 23, 2018 - 10:32am

by Wendy Fischman

A first semester college student at the University of La Verne, a private institution located 35 miles east of Los Angeles, recently described to me her experiences in an interdisciplinary learning community at the school called “Markets and the Good Life.” As part of this program, the student, whom I’ll call Sasha, takes economics and philosophy courses. In addition, she volunteers at Prototypes, a local transitional facility that supports women struggling with drug addictions, domestic violence, mental illness, and other circumstances.

Sasha’s experience working with the women at Prototypes has had a profound impact on her own views, as she explained:

“[Initially] I didn’t know anything about these women besides the labels they were given—abuse victims, ex-addicts, criminals. After hearing these women voice their stories and opinions, I had a better understanding of [them] and realized their labels meant nothing. We were all just [people] bringing something to the table… What I can take from the experience is to not judge or be afraid of people with the labels I previously mentioned. They are no different from me—they have a story, a valid opinion, a sense of humor. [The experience] inspired me to want to maybe volunteer with programs such as Prototypes.”

In our study of higher education, we have interviewed more than 2000 individuals across ten disparate college campuses. Of the 1000 students to whom we have spoken, few talk about the role of civic engagement in their college experience. In fact, many students (as well as many adults) refer to the college campus as a “bubble.” As we have come to understand this characterization, our informants are often referring to campuses’ remoteness from the wider society; even though many colleges and universities are located near or within under-resourced and under-educated communities, these communities might as well be hundreds of miles away.

In invoking the “bubble” metaphor, students (as well as adults) express desire for structures and programs on campus that will help them to become part of the “real world.” In the terminology we’ve come use, there is lack of alignment between the desire to connect to “real world” issues and the apparent opportunities to do so.

“The La Verne Experience,” a fairly new, required program at the University of La Verne, seeks to bridge this misalignment. Throughout their undergraduate years, students participate in a school-wide initiative, designed to encourage them—through course work, service work, and reflection—to become responsible citizens. The overall program facilitates active participation in the local community by thoughtfully integrating academics with on and off campus citizenship experiences.

Consider the learning community of “Markets and the Good Life”—one example of thirty different learning communities from which first year students select. I outline the structure below.

Starting orientation week, the 35 students in this cohort (called “FLEX 7”) make their first visit to Prototypes. Like all first year students, they spend one full day of orientation participating in service. From the beginning, all students come to understand that community engagement is an important tenet of the college experience. Continuing throughout the semester, these students (and their professors) visit Prototypes three times to learn more about the center and connect with the women residents (and the women’s children, who live with them). The nature of the interactions among students and the women at Prototypes are mainly non-academic: students help the women clean and organize common spaces at the center while socializing with the women and their children, as well as join in a shared reflection session about “the good life,” in which every participant brings an artifact. For example, a male student in the reflection session talked about the importance of having a voice in life and brought his ukulele to illustrate that “people are given a voice through music, even people who don’t usually have a voice.” These personal connections culminate at the end of the semester in a holiday party, which is entirely hosted, planned, and funded by the students.

As for the academic component of this learning community, students are jointly enrolled in two introductory courses from different disciplines—Economic Analysis and Introduction to Philosophy—as well as a required First-Year Writing section. Through these specific courses, professors who lead FLEX 7 aim for students to begin to see societal problems in a nuanced and interrelated way.

To fully understand the program and its potential impact, my colleague Noemi Schor and I spent a few days on campus in November 2016, observing classes and talking with the professors and students.

On the first day, we visited two different writing sections for FLEX 7 (the student cohort is divided in half), each focused on development of different writing skills. One section focused on developing thesis statements for an upcoming analytical paper on The Kite Runner. The story of the best-selling novel, most of which is set in modern-day Afghanistan, was less important to Professor Angelici than helping students construct a thesis that clearly and succinctly articulated an opinion about the book. She gave students detailed and honest feedback as they “workshopped” drafts of their statements on the white board, telling students to “not use more than two words to describe something you can characterize in one word.” After the students left, she explained that most of these first year students had never before received detailed feedback on their writing.

In the second writing section (the other half of students in cohort), the class featured student presentations for proposals they each developed, focused on solutions to a community problem that, with limited funding, would have impact on community members. Professor Irwin structured the assignment so that each presentation followed the same sequence: statement of the problem, suggested solution, possible challenges to the solution, counter to the solution, and a bibliography at the end. One such example was a carefully crafted a proposal to overcome the drought in nearby Chino Hills. The student suggested that barrels could be purchased for residents and used to collect rainwater. He claimed that barrels cost $60 to $120 each, which is much less in a given year than the cost of bottled water people are forced to buy in the areas outside of Chino Hills for laundry, cleaning, and other daily tasks. In general, Professor Irwin and Professor Angelici help students develop skills as powerful advocates and informed participants.

On the second day, we attended two back-to-back classes with the student cohort, starting with Professor Marshall’s early morning economics class, followed by philosophy with Professor Rose. In addition to giving time for students to talk about the fundraising efforts and organization for the Prototypes holiday party, Professor Marshall gave the “grand finale” lecture of microeconomics, which he started with a rhetorical question: “How does everything we learned relate to the good life?” He then asked a more pointed question: “How does scarcity make you an economic being? What does it force us to do?” Marshall “cold called” on individuals to encourage participation, and eventually used these comments to frame a new dilemma about how scarcity “forces us to make choices in life, including everyday choices.” He concluded the class by asking students to think about how as citizens, we can create opportunities for those around us to benefit through their own life journeys.

In philosophy, Professor Rose indirectly followed up on some of the questions in a straight lecture about two early philosophers, Al-Ghazali and René Descartes. In general, he focused on themes of “connectedness,” invoking the comparison of Martin Luther King, Jr., as a prophetic figure. Toward the end of class, he raised the concept of “moral courage” and asked students to consider how King might respond to today’s immigration protestors. (Importantly, the class took place in November 2016, after an intense presidential election in the United States in which immigration was at the center of much controversy.) He concluded by asking students to consider how Socrates might respond to this dilemma.

These morning classes are an example of how Professor Rose and Professor Marshall work closely to encourage students to think about their own responsibilities, especially in terms of responsibility to a community. They want students to consider the question, “Am I responsible to help my neighbor, or am I just responsible for my own life?”

Clearly, the FLEX program offers University of La Verne students many attractive benefits and opportunities to become active members of neighboring communities—”popping the campus bubble,” so to speak, by integrating academic learning with volunteerism in students’ daily lives. This has been a goal of other kinds of programs as well, such as Campus Compact, which has been in existence for more than thirty years.

However, through learning communities such as FLEX 7, students at the University of La Verne also develop and maintain an identification as members of the institution and participants in a special cohort. This bonding is all the more significant at this particular college, where many are first-generation college students, new to the process of navigating what it means to be involved in higher education. One student tells us “FLEX 7 is such a friendly environment… it makes you feel like you belong at this school.” Professor Marshall asserts, “[Students] come in as individuals, but they leave as a family,” a poignant benefit for students, since most of them do not reside on campus.

Importantly, in addition, the pairings of courses, such as economics and philosophy, offers genuine interdisciplinary teaching and learning—another misalignment to which many informants have alluded in our study. The structure of back-to-back courses on the same day, the close collaboration among professors, and the application of content to the “real world” sends a direct message to students that theory and practice are inextricably linked.

“The La Verne Experience,” the umbrella program, was originally developed by University of La Verne President Devorah Lieberman. Lieberman built on her previous experiences working with campus-wide community engagement programs at both Wagner College in New York City and Portland State University in Oregon.

President Lieberman believes the La Verne Experience is a “natural fit” with the original Brethren values of the school, including diversity, inclusivity, ethical reasoning, lifelong learning, and community engagement.

Categories: Blog

Mensa Research Journal Features Multiple Intelligences

July 13, 2018 - 1:26pm

Howard Gardner’s work on multiple intelligences is the cover story for the Spring 2018 issue of the Mensa Research Journal, Mensa’s triannual journal publication.

Last year, Gardner was honored with the 2017 Mensa Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of his contributions to the understanding of human intelligence. Mensa is the world’s largest society for individuals with high IQ scores.

As Gardner has noted, the theory of multiple intelligences, which he first outlined in his 1983 book Frames of Mind, is a critique of the notion that there exists one single intelligence that can be captured in a measure like IQ.

Mensa’s special issue includes eight articles related to MI theory, including a previously unpublished address that Gardner delivered upon receiving an honorary degree from José Cela University and the Prince of Asturias Prize for Social Science in Madrid in 2011.

Click here to learn more. 

Categories: Blog

Gardner Meets Dr. Ruth in Harvard Ed. Magazine

July 5, 2018 - 8:07am

Harvard Ed. Magazine, the official magazine publication of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, recently released its Summer 2018 issue.

In an A-Z recap of the 2017-2018 school year, Howard Gardner is featured in an image with Dr. Ruth Westheimer, the sex therapist and media personality, who visited HGSE in October 2017.

Dr. Ruth also participated in a podcast interview for the school during her visit, available by clicking here

You can access Harvard Ed. Magazine on Issuu here, where Gardner and Dr. Ruth are on pages 16-17. 

Categories: Blog

Building a Bridge: Writing in Science and Mathematics Classes at Kenyon College

June 26, 2018 - 12:29pm

An Introductory Message from Howard Gardner

For the last year, I’ve been writing blogs regularly. Their foci have varied: books that I value, autobiographical notes, stimulating museum exhibitions, academic programs and approaches that I admire, and thoughts about higher education—past, present, and future. I’ve focused on educational experiences that are transformative—sometimes for me, often for others.

Occasionally, I’ll continue to blog in this personal and sometimes idiosyncratic way. But as some readers know, for the past six years, my colleagues and I have been involved in a major, perhaps unprecedented study of higher education in the United States today (please click here). We’ve carried out approximately 2000 interviews on a variety of campuses across the country. Using a semi-structured interview format, we’ve spoken for about an hour each to incoming students, graduating students, faculty, senior administrators, trustees, alumni/ae, parents, and job recruiters.

We are now deeply involved in analyzing this unique treasure trove of information about how various constituencies conceive of higher education that is not purely vocational. During the period ahead, we will report on trends, preliminary findings, and, ultimately, conclusions and recommendations. We proceed in this manner both to share our current thinking about our study and in the hope of eliciting critical and constructive feedback from readers. In the comments section on this blog, or in e-notes to the authors, please share your thoughts and questions with us!

A Word about Alignment

One of the key animating concepts in our study has been the notion of alignment. Inasmuch as we have been speaking to eight different constituencies across ten deliberately diverse campuses, it’s been important for us to ascertain to what extent these groups think similarly (in which case we call them “aligned”), or have quite disparate views of a topic or an approach (in which case we describe them as “misaligned”). In instances where misalignment is evident, we search for programs, courses, approaches, and ideas which strive toward alignment.

As an example, I’ll mention a previous blog, which we wrote in memory of Amherst College professor Jeffrey Ferguson (please click here). In that bog, Kirsten McHugh and I described a misalignment between students and faculty with respect to expectations of college readiness. At a selective college like Amherst, there are faculty who assume that students have certain skills and interests, and simply want to go on from there (e.g. students who went to Andover or Scarsdale High). On the other hand, there are students who, however highly motivated they may be, lack these foundational skills (the so-called “doubly disadvantaged,” in Anthony Jack’s evocative phrase). They are unable to take advantage of what the well-motivated faculty seek to convey. The solution: “Explicit Courses” that provide students with foundational skills like critical reading and analysis.

For the first tranche of blogs in the coming weeks, we report on cases of misalignment on various campuses and the ingenious solutions that have been developed. This initial blog focuses on an innovative, grassroots effort to integrate writing into science and mathematics courses at Kenyon College.

-Howard Gardner

Building a Bridge: Writing in Science and Mathematics classes at Kenyon College

Wendy Fischman

Today’s college students face enormous pressure to pick an area of study early and then specialize. In fact, even high school students applying to college are often encouraged to “find a passion” that they will be able to pursue in college. With increased pressure from parents—and, indeed, from wider society—on the “return on investment” (ROI) of college tuition, students are becoming drawn to undergraduate schools or programs focused on business, science and engineering, and media studies—those courses of study that seemingly lead directly to careers. Choosing to study a field in the arts or humanities is increasingly seen as a risky decision, as many parents and students ask, “What can you do with a degree in poetry or philosophy or art history?”

Faculty, administrators, and trustees also express a range of views. While some believe that students need to focus on technical and computing skills, others contend that focusing on STEM and other specialized disciplines (like media studies or social work) will shortchange a student’s education. Without humanities courses, students may graduate with a lack of oral and written communication skills, as well as the inability to examine issues from multiple perspectives, including ones drawn from various disciplines. Nearly sixty years ago, C.P. Snow, an English physicist and novelist, diagnosed this problem. He lamented the polarization of two groups of scholars—scientists and humanists. According to Snow’s lecture and later publication “Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution,” neither group could converse about both Shakespeare and thermodynamics.

Kenyon College, a small, residential liberal arts college founded in Gambier, Ohio, in 1824, is “home” to approximately 1640 students and nearly 200 faculty members. To the wider world, Kenyon has been known over the decades for its literary output and scholarship, as exemplified by its notable publication The Kenyon Review.

As one response to the aforementioned “misalignment” between scientific and humanistic approaches, professors at Kenyon College have sought to bring about better alignment—to bridge the divide between Snow’s two cultures. These instructors underscore the importance of being able to communicate coherently in their respective fields. When provided adequate attention, appropriate experiences, and skilled instruction, students of the sciences and mathematics should be able to gain both computational and compositional expertise.

Kenyon professors have created courses that integrate the development of oral and written communication skills while students are also mastering key scientific and mathematical concepts. For example, in Professor Carol Schumacher’s “Narrative Proofs in Calculus 1,” students supplement conventional calculation-based proofs with oral and narrative reports. Instead of merely discussing the content of the individual proof itself, the class talks about broader writing issues: how to make the writing crystal clear for the reader, a process that may include inserting exclamation points, underlining words and phrases, and breaking up the text in smaller pieces. Schumacher says, “I like to talk to students about not just correct writing, but writing that helps the reader focus on the things that the writer is focused on, or that the writer thinks the reader should be focused on… This is not a mathematical requirement, but it is a requirement of good communication.” She goes on to explain that the goal is for “perfect precision and clarity in such a way that any two people who speak the language… will interpret the same sentence in exactly the same way…”

With a different approach, Professor Judy Holdener teaches students that math is not just using computation and mathematical symbols to solve problems; one can also use language to convey and vivify dilemmas. Consider the optimization problem of the “dog on beach”: a dog has to fetch a ball tossed near a lake as he travels from Point A (on the beach, where the ball was thrown) to Point B (in the water, where the ball landed). Students are asked to write justifications of the optimal path for a dog to pursue (when to run on land versus when to swim)—thereby exercising their understanding of the relevant calculus notions. In a different project, students consider the notions of “present value” and “geometric sums” with respect to a real-life case (as reported in The Boston Globe): a 94-year-old woman wins a lottery advertised as a $5.6 million prize, and students have to compare the relative financial merits of getting a payment in one lump sum as compared to receiving the lottery winnings over a 20 year period. They then learn what actually happened when this case was adjudicated in court.

In Animal Physiology taught by Professor Chris Gillen, students learn how to read and write about biology through critiquing and dissecting scientific papers. The overarching goal of the course is to develop students’ ability to overcome roadblocks to understanding “rhetorically complicated scientific papers.” Students are asked to write two pieces about a topic of their own choice: an article which should be written for an intelligent member of the general public (news), and an essay of critical analysis written for other scientists (views). One student who chose to write about mitochondria organelles explains that after reviewing primary research articles, she first wrote a review of it in a “more approachable way” (which she tested by sending it on her mother); the second article focused on explaining the biochemical process of producing energy, for her scientific peers. Students reflect on Gillen’s useful advice for writing: start with a biological concept rather than with the phrase “the data suggest”; make writing engaging through action-oriented voice; and, “if a sentence doesn’t contribute to moving the message across, delete it.”

Though this Kenyon College initiative can best be described as a “grassroots effort” by individual faculty members (rather than a top-down directive on the part of administrators), it still requires a great deal of faculty time—meeting regularly with students, providing feedback on writing, and designing courses that move into “uncharted territory.” Interestingly, in an acknowledgement of faculty’s limited time, some students (who have already taken one of the courses described above) on their own initiative have started to provide writing and communication support for their peers. They accomplish this support through the Writing Center and a specialized Math Science Study Center, which has emerged as a peer-editing community for written and oral work. These student tutors work closely with professors to provide appropriate support to fellow students.

In addition to improving technical writing, these Kenyon courses have several other benefits. Students report becoming more confident public speakers and writers, skills that help them in both non-STEM courses and in experiences outside of the classroom, such as internships. One student discusses how learning to write more clearly has helped her to become employable: “My writing skills helped me as an intern at J.P. Morgan last summer doing data analysis. The fact that I could explain metrics and also have a big picture understanding was appreciated. I wasn’t just doing problem sets, I was able to write and present about the data. That helped me so much then, and I know it will help towards my job.” Schumacher echoes this student’s sentiment: “Most [students] are not going to go on to become professional mathematicians. They may go on, however, to do mathematically-related things, or not… If you’re [going to] run for Congress, you’re [going to] have to be able to talk to other people… And so maybe they aren’t going to be proving theorems, but I’m teaching them to think clearly, I’m teaching them to think about how to communicate the clarity of that thought… and I think that that’s a really transferable skill.”

Perhaps, inspired by this example, faculty at other schools can devise comparable ways to bridge the gap between the two cultures.

I am deeply grateful to Noemi Schor for collaborating on the research of this initiative, which included trips to Kenyon College and many conversations with faculty, administrators, and students. I also appreciate the support of Howard Gardner and Kirsten McHugh. This research was generously funded by The Teagle Foundation.

© 2018 Wendy Fischman and Howard Gardner

Categories: Blog

High School Writing: The Return of the Repressed

June 12, 2018 - 9:11am

In my most recent blog, I reflected on my decidedly incomplete memories of my early life. In particular, I had believed that my intellectual life had in essence begun when, in the fall of 1961 at the age of 18, I had become a freshman at Harvard College. But in going through recently discovered old papers, I found that, as editor of my high school newspaper, I had already written about many topics that were to engage me decades later. These included the reforms of secondary school recommended in a 1959 book by James Bryant Conant, The American High School Today; three decades later, I became active in high school reform in the United States. And these themes extended to the value of liberal arts; five decades later, I am leading a major study of the liberal arts and sciences at the college level.

So much for repression—not psychodynamic but scholarly.

I had also believed that, until college, my writing had been quite uncritical—simply reviewing readings and encyclopedia articles and feeding back, in grammatical form, what I had gleaned from these readings. I had appreciated the value of a high school “senior seminar on American history and literature”; but mostly because of the wide reading and discussion, and not for the quality or penetration of my weekly writing assignments.

But in the same treasure trove where I located 60 old newspapers, I also found four papers that I had written for the senior seminar. And in re-reading those papers from literally 60 years ago, I found definite, unmistakable traces and anticipations of my later thinking and writing.

To begin with, the papers are all reasonably well-written (in re-reading, I restrained myself from editing, or, more properly, sub-editing individual sentences). The papers each put forth an argument and defend it reasonably. Of course, I can’t tell in retrospect how much of the argument came from classroom discussions or from assigned readings, but they certainly are restated in my own words—sentences, paragraphs, pages. Noting that on each paper, I signed the school honor pledge, the papers seem to deserve the positive comments that they received. I think that my three years of editing on the school newspaper probably contributed to these well-presented papers, though I certainly would credit my teachers—Jack Betterly and Frank Light—as well.

Two of the papers come from the humanistic-artistic facet of the senior seminar. One of them is on Emerson’s essays—as I posit in the first paragraph, “Emerson emphasized that man could understand himself only by applying the lessons of Nature and facts to his own life.” The second paper compares the sea journey of Ishmael (in Moby Dick) to Huck Finn’s journey down the Great River (the Mississippi). In re-reading these ancient papers, I was struck by the focus on symbolism. As I say in the Emerson paper, “In discussing Emerson’s doctrine, I will consider two symbolic correspondences of the universe—that of Nature study by analogy and (of) fact consideration by spiritual interpretation. Symbolic correspondences are the relationship of forces as understood by a person intuitively.” Similarly, in the Melville-Twain paper, I argue that “the two unifying forces, the River and the quest of the whale, had symbolic meanings… both the River and the Whale were god-like powers, seemingly possessing their own minds and wills; they also represented an unerring truth, rather than a concept of right or good.”

Now it is scarcely surprising that a high school student should write about symbolism in major literary works—and I am confident that the notion of “symbol” was part of the curriculum of the senior seminar.

But what comes as a shock to me is that the most important book I read as a college freshman was philosopher Susanne Langer’s Philosophy in a New Key; and the most important philosophical experience of my life was working with philosopher Nelson Goodman, who developed a theory of symbolism (in Languages of Art and other writings). Both of these authors—who knew of one another’s works—used the term “symbol” in a broader way than did I as a high school senior; and in particular, both developed taxonomies of symbols that helped to explain key differences between artistic and scientific forms of knowledge.

But I now realize that the young Howie was in no way a blank slate; he had already become interested in and written extensively about symbolism. And then I—the somewhat older Howard—proceeded to study the development and breakdown of symbol use for several decades. And for extra credit, he was already contrasting truth and goodness, the topic of a 2011 book.

I did not continue formal literary or humanistic studies, though I have been immersed in the arts since early childhood. The other two papers that I discovered recently are far closer to my later scholarly work.

In a very well argued paper—though it is probably not very original in content—I describe “Abraham Lincoln—Commander in Chief.” Here’s the first paragraph:

“In most non-military aspects of his presidency, such as his relation to the Cabinet, Congress, foreign powers, and varying public and political opinion, it was necessary for Abraham Lincoln to act as a restraining force. Yet as Commander-in-Chief of the Union force, Lincoln undertook to define his role, and, when considering Lincoln as a military leader, the usual concept of ‘The Great Moderator’ is inadequate. It is the purpose of this paper to analyze what Lincoln considered his role to be and to evaluate whether such an interpretation of the position helped (win) the Civil War.”

The paper then proceeds, quite deftly, to develop Lincoln’s initial and emerging conception of his military role and the ways in which it changed, complexified and deepened in the ensuing four years. Of course, the material treated is well known and did not require extensive research—not possible, in any case, for a weekly assignment in one of several courses! But I am impressed by the apt intermingling of expected and less expected examples, such as “the narrow averting of international war after the Trent incident,” “(Lincoln) soon demonstrated Clausewitz’s dictum, that the qualification of war direction is not acquaintance with military affairs but rather a superior mind.” And the weighing of evidence seems judicious: “The eventual victory of the North is the best proof that Lincoln’s strategy (strategic leadership from him, finding competent and trustworthy officers) was correct. However, when he attempted to carry out both his own and subordinate duties, the North lagged. Such a task was too great for any man.”

The final paper is by far the most surprising. If you had asked me if I’d ever read Hans Reichenbach’s The Rise of the Scientific Philosophy, I would have given you a blank stare. Yet not only did I read this intimidating volume; I even reviewed it in a paper. Relying on Howie (because Howard has not read or, more properly, re-read the book), “Reichenbach’s purpose is to show that the study of philosophy has proceeded from that of a speculative pursuit to that of a scientific one. He first analyzes most of the prominent philosophies of years past, and shows how, because they have tended to deal in generalizations and look for absolute truths, these philosophies have failed. Then as a scientific philosopher, he discusses several problems which philosophers have always dealt with, such as time, Nature, and Ethics. The excellent chapters on logic and probability (Reichenbach’s specialities) are also included in this section. Finally, Reichenbach concludes with a brief essay, comparing the old and new philosophies.”

So far, so good. Without consulting the original publication, I can infer the book’s ambition.

But what impressed me in this review by Howie is that it is quite critical. First of all, Howie points out that a philosopher would be able to critique certain arguments, but that laymen, unaware of certain prejudices in Reichenbach’s treatment, would accept his arguments uncritically. As examples, Howie points out that each prior philosophy is ridiculed because of some incongruities and some biases. But “by dealing with complex structures as if they were weather reports, he (Reichenbach) avoids indicating the strengths of the different philosophies.” Then, critiquing the final chapter, the so-called “closing argument,” Howie takes issue with the claim that the the scientific philosopher can understand life better than others. As he puts it: “In proving this, however, (Reichenbach) relies heavily on mathematical logic, which cannot explain all of philosophy. The author’s other errors include the following: Reichenbach arbitrarily divides all previous knowledge into either poetry or pseudo-explanation; he fails to point out the differences among the scientific philosophers, on the nature of causality, inductive reasoning, and ethics; he fails to state his own biases, after carefully analyzing those of previous philosophers; he shows a lack of historical perspective in stating that the present is superior in judging life.”

In the final paragraph, Howie puts forth what Howard would likely write today: “Reichenbach seems to feel that the scientific philosophy is the ultimate answer to the puzzles of life. What he fails to realize is, however, that every philosopher, in every age, has thought that he was dealing with life’s problems scientifically. Perhaps a realization of this fact would have enabled Reichenbach to write a more objective and less prejudiced book. For as he himself states in his chapter about atoms: ‘Data of scientific interpretation can be described in various languages…and there is no question of one’s being the true language.’”

I can’t help but be a bit proud of 17 year old Howie. Even if, as I suspect, Howie read some critical reviews of the Reichenbach book, he certainly speaks with his own voice, one that I still recognize today. Even when it comes to scholarly exposition and interpretation, the child is in significant ways father to the man.

Categories: Blog

Pages