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Howard Gardner
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Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education / Harvard Graduate School of Education
Updated: 1 hour 52 min ago

How Institutions Survive and Sometimes Thrive: A Challenge to Ralph Waldo Emerson

August 12, 2019 - 11:13am

by Howard Gardner

American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson famously declared, “Every institution is the shadow of one man.” Though this phrase may have sounded apt in the middle of the 19th century, it is clearly anachronistic today. One obvious point: women should be mentioned as well as men, or a neutral term like “person” should be invoked. But I suggest a different edit: Successful institutions do survive—and sometimes thrive—after their founder(s) have departed from the scene.

In recent months, I’ve had the occasion to ponder the course of two successful institutions within a university—the setting that I know best. Within that setting, institutions that lack an endowment need to secure support in order to survive—and in most cases, that means that the institutions are worth preserving. How that can be done—and what may prevent it from being done—is my topic.

Case #1 is Harvard Project Zero—the organization that I know as well as anyone. “PZ,” as it is widely called, was launched in 1967 by a philosophy professor, Nelson Goodman. Goodman was a lover of the arts, and he wanted to cherish and promote them as much as possible. In his view, that aspiration required effective education in the arts. (As he once quipped, shadowing President John F. Kennedy, “Ask not what the arts can do for you, ask what you can do for the arts.”) Goodman knew that there is considerable powerful educational lore in and across the arts; but he also believed that there was little successful, communicable knowledge. And so, as a man who liked to play with words, he said, “We are Project Zero.”

After a few years, Goodman retired from the leadership of Project Zero, and he gave two young recent doctoral graduates—David Perkins and me—the opportunity to lead the Project. And so we did, for 28 years. After the turn of the millennium, we turned over the leadership to Steve Seidel (2000-2008), a long-time researcher at Project Zero; and Steve was succeeded by Shari Tishman (2008-2014), another long-time researcher. Since 2014, Project Zero has been ably led by yet a third long-time time researcher, Daniel Wilson. Promotion from within has clearly been the operative principle at PZ.

Case #2 is The Media Lab at MIT. The brain-child of Nicholas Negroponte, a professor of architecture and a pioneer of visionary man-machine interface design, the Lab was established in 1985 with the support of Jerome Wiesner, a powerful and charismatic former president of MIT. Negroponte ran The Media Lab until 2000. He was followed by Walter Bender (2000-2006) and Frank Moss (2006-2011), both for reasonably short terms; and the Media Lab has been headed since 2011 by Joi Ito, a polymathic entrepreneur investor who had no previous connection to the Lab and did not have an undergraduate or graduate degree. (He has since completed a PhD through Keio University, Tokyo.)

Both of these institutions have indeed survived, going through several leaders since the turn of the century. And they remain active, even thriving, despite multiple changes in the ambient cultures. What are some of the reasons?


Key at the university is the potential for raising initiating and directing projects. At PZ, housed at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, over a dozen persons are Principal Investigators: these individuals have the right to seek funds from any legitimate donor—and funders can be the government, foundations, or private individuals with the means to support research. There are an equal number of project managers. Typically having worked at PZ for many years, managers can direct projects on a day to day basis but cannot themselves be “PIs” on a project.

The Media Lab (TML) was established and maintains a relation with a graduate academic program called Media Arts and Sciences. A much larger organization, TML hosts tenured faculty, ladder faculty, post-docs, and loosely affiliated Director’s fellows. Work centers around the interests of particular faculty members; these members have their own labs, in which researchers and their students and assistants work on specific projects. On occasion, labs collaborate and sometimes researchers move from one lab to another. But there is quite a lot of independence and autonomy—in an operational sense, it’s “every lab on its own bottom.”

Funding Models

The funding for these two institutions is quite different. TML offers sponsorship to corporations and other entities. In return for a yearly membership fee, sponsors (or “members,” as they’re called) have the opportunity to visit TML, learn what is happening, and make use of that knowledge for legitimate purposes without having the option of directing research programs. Beyond their share of the sponsors’ fees, investigators themselves may seek additional funds. And the University takes a certain percentage as overhead.

In the absence of an endowment, all who work at PZ are supported by grants or gifts. In some cases, PZ members also teach; but they are more likely to teach single courses, and be compensated for that teaching, than to have an official part-time or full-time position. It is possible to supplement one’s salary by taking on “gigs” elsewhere; but it’s expected—it’s the norm—that any significantly sized endeavor will be done through PZ, with the requisite benefits and overhead.

Purpose or Mission

This is perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the comparison. From their names (Project Zero and The Media Lab), it is not at all possible—indeed it’s impossible!—to figure out what the workers are doing in their respective institutions. At PZ, all individuals are working on issues which are at least loosely coupled with education, but education can span from pre-school to life-long learning, within a school but also at a museum or corporation, or just about any other entity that seeks PZ’s services. And at TML, all individuals are seeking to develop projects or products or lines of thought that will be useful for individuals and society. But these can draw on any discipline, or interdisciplinary combination, or as leader Ito likes to say, on “anti-discipline.” And indeed, so long as the goal is something useful, it’s hard to delineate any kind of activity that would be clearly off-limits for TML. (If you are skeptical about this statement, just look at the range of initiatives detailed on TML’s website and note the intriguing tie between the arts and sciences, also characteristic of PZ, or look at this segment from the television program 60 Minutes.)

Still, one can discern trends. Much work at TML is now in biology, neuroscience, climate change, or artificial intelligence/deep learning—subjects that were not at the fore when it began. At PZ, the creation of online courses, the holding of institutes in Cambridge and around the world, and a focus on leadership training were not at all envisioned by the founding members.


Initially, nearly all of PZ’s work was conducted in the United States. Now well over half of it is conducted in other countries, across five continents. At TML, investigators have long been carrying out work in many societies; younger members speak about how they are focused inward, on their life in the Lab; while their mentors, like PZ’s principal investigators, are focused on speaking to and traversing the outside world. This sentiment could be echoed at PZ.

Institutional Culture

People come to PZ and TML as young persons; and if things work out—as they often do—they stay there for their entire working lives. And not just if they have tenure; at Project Zero, several project managers have remained in the organization for decades. People fall in love, get married, and have children while on the project—it happened to me!

Because of this continuity, the two enterprises have all sorts of unspoken norms and rules. Long-timers might not even have ever spoken about them overtly; but when these “understandings” are violated, it becomes clear very soon. And then the old-timers have a choice: either educate the violators, when possible, or ease them out of the organization, if deemed necessary.

Examples of norms (taken chiefly from PZ):

  • Individuals are expected to monitor their own time, put in their hours, and completing assignments promptly, but no one is overseeing them.
  • Individuals are expected to be polite to one another, to respond promptly to messages, and to explain why they may not be able to do something in a timely fashion and suggest alternative arrangements.
  • When mistakes are made, the person who makes the mistake takes responsibility. Supervisors and the rest of the team are not punitive, but the expectation is that old mistakes will not be repeated.
  • When work is shared, so is credit. Members of the organization do not take undue credit for work begun or inspired by others.
  • When a member of the organization gives a talk, or a distinguished visitor visits, others are expected to attend and participate—and that especially includes leaders of the organization. We call this “symbolic conduct.”

Examples of violations of norms:

  • Individuals repeatedly come in late, cannot account for their time, or pressure others to do more than their fair share.
  • Members do not respond quickly to messages or, even worse, “kiss up and kick down.”
  • The group leader takes undue credit for work done by others.
  • Members do not participate regularly in announced events and seem to find excuses to miss them or ignore them altogether.


It is exhilarating (if hectic) when things are going well. But the risk is that each research group will go its own way, not connecting to others, not being aware of trends, and overlapping too much with others without being aware of it. It’s the special province of leaders to ensure adequate cross talk; but anyone involved with the organization for a significant part of time should play his or her part.

If a group has an ethos and a style of working, it is understandable that its members will look for newcomers who are consistent with these features. But there is the concomitant risk that the organization ends up reproducing itself with the same kinds of persons. This is neither good for the organization (which benefits from diverse perspectives) nor for potential members who are not considered because they seem not to possess the characteristics that happen to be valued by the current team.


Institutions do not survive unless there are individuals who care deeply about the organization and are willing to make efforts to keep it thriving. This is easier to do when the organization is small and the mission is clear and shared by all. As the organization gets larger, and the purposes become more diffuse, it is more difficult to feel responsible for the organization.

Recently, TML has grown very large, and some of its “trustees” (meant informally, not technically) are made uncomfortable by its size and wonder whether there should be a limit. (I remember hearing a talk by clothing designer Eileen Fisher—she said that when her company had 800 employees, she felt comfortable and in control; but when it reached 1200, she no longer felt that way.)

In a meeting of TML faculty which I had the privilege of facilitating, we began by asking the younger members of the group about the positive and negative aspects of working at TML. This exercise harbored the risk of younger members either feeling on the spot or believing that they had to accentuate the positive. Fortunately, the first person who spoke up—and also fortunately, it was a woman—talked about a problem about the lab and what she had done to solve the problem. Once the gate has been opened for frank discussion, other younger members followed suit.

The discussion could have ended there but, as the facilitator, I felt that if we did not talk more generally about the health and continuity of TML, it would be a missed opportunity.

Fortunately, we had a break scheduled—and during that break I reflected on what might be useful to the group. To avoid second-guessing, I deliberately did not share my plans with others.

When the group reconvened, I asked each member to answer the question, “To whom or what do you feel responsible?” In our major study of Good Work undertaken over two decades ago at PZ, we had found that this was the single most powerful question that we had posed to professionals—and, indeed, we published an entire book on the topic.

Members of TML were quite reflective. They spoke about responsibility to the planet, to the future, to their students, to their disciplines or problem spaces, and to themselves. (Interestingly, only one person spoke about responsibility to the past, to predecessors, or to mentors—perhaps that might be expected in a lab that is so future-oriented.)

Then I asked each person to respond to the question, “Who is responsible for The Media Lab?” Again, there were a wide set of responses—ranging from the designated leaders, to everyone who has ever passed through the Lab, even if they have not been back in Cambridge in decades.

As a final thought, I asked individuals to reflect on the relationship (or lack of relationship) between their answers to the two responsibility questions. In other words, how did they relate their own senses of responsibility to the responsibility for the overall welfare of TML? I suggested that if these senses are well aligned, that is a good omen. And so, for example, if a member of the Lab talked about being personally responsible to his students, and that the members of the Lab were collectively responsible for its welfare, those responses would be considered in alignment.

Concluding Note

With respect to institutions at colleges and universities, Emerson was more right than wrong. Indeed, within a higher education setting, most institutions either close down or are diminished when the founding member—usually intellectually and/or personally charismatic—leaves the scene. And sometimes, that departure is appropriate—indeed, those who lead colleges and universities may be relieved in cases where the once vibrant institution has outlived its usefulness. There are also scandals which may lead to the dissolution of the institution; at universities, these scandals are typically financial, sexual, or ethical in nature.

But some institutions are special, and it is worthwhile to keep them well-functioning, even when the original leadership and members are no longer on the scene. Such survival—and occasional rebirth—is worth considering and worth understanding. I have suggested here some possible factors: the attraction of capable successors to the founding leaders; willingness to pursue new directions without sacrificing core values and robust norms; alertness to shifting funding landscapes; honoring norms as well as regulations; and nurturing talent and providing a comfortable base of operation.

Doubtless, the phenomenon of institutional continuity is well worth probing. I hope that this modest case study of two long-lasting institutions stimulates further consideration.

Categories: Blog

Interview: The Hidden Intelligences

August 9, 2019 - 12:10pm

Howard Gardner was recently interviewed by Dario Ruggiero, founder of the Italian organization Long Term Economy. The interview presents Gardner’s current views about multiple intelligences and its application in education and society.

Below is the interview in full.

Interview with Howard Gardner 

(Hobbs Research Professor of Cognition and Education Harvard Graduate School of Education)


May 2000. I went out for a pizza with my friends. Mike who had the highest IQ was not able to have a word with any girl in the group. Josh who had the worst IQ was a genius in relating with girls and the other friends of the group. Why that? Why the most intelligent person was defeated by Josh in relating with the girls and the group. The answer is simple: Josh has higher interpersonal intelligence!

Having a big IQ simply means that you have good Logical and Linguistic intelligences. But there are 6 other kinds of Intelligence the IQ does not take into account and that can be determinant in your success in life and can be determinant in solving some complex challenges like the ones humans are to face in the next decades. Howard Gardner (Hobbs Research Professor of Cognition and Education Harvard Graduate School of Education) developed the Multiple Intelligences (MI) theory in the late 1970s and early 1980s, with the publication of the book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. He says “Each person has a unique spectrum of intellectual strengths and weaknesses.” We all (parents, teachers, professors, politicians, head of companies etc…) should understand this principle. We should understand that it is a very, very big failure for the system if it is not able to get the best from each person and make him happy (by doing what he can do best).

So, what are Multiple Intelligences? How does it affect the educational approach? How can it help humankind face the current and future challenges? Can it help society develop Long Term Thinking? Should educators and parents understand the MI model before trying to educate a child? Howard Gardner answered to these and other questions.

This interview was made by Dario Ruggiero and published in July 2019 on www.lteconomy.org.


Thanks go to Long Term Economy Board (Priscilla Asamoah Baffour, Geetha Packal, Stephen Saunders, Tazeen Siddiqui) and Fatjona Filipi and Grazia Giordano (Long Term Economy collaborators) for their help in making the questionnaire.


  • …Rather than human beings having a single intelligence, which can be adequately assessed by an instrument like an IQ test, human beings are better thought of as having a set of capacities.

  • The intelligences are like a mental chemistry set – you can create a poison or a an antibiotic with chemical elements.

  • … And not surprisingly, “MI approaches” to education are more likely to be found in smaller and more flexible educational environments.

  • Nearly every day, I hear from educators all over the world, who have found these ideas compelling, and who sometimes combine them with an interest in ‘the good project’.

  • For the first time in human history, we have developed machines and approaches (like deep learning and other forms of ‘artificial intelligence’) which equal or surpass human capacities.

  • So the intelligences in themselves are amoral. They need to be yoked to a purpose and that purpose can be positive or destructive. And that’s why my colleagues and I have been studying Good Work – work that is technically excellent, personally engaged, and carried out in an ethical manner.

1. When I first came across the concept of Multiple Intelligences (MI) I was shocked by the fact that it is still not used massively in school and that IQ remains the only assessment method. Can you kindly better explain the concept of MI and how can it benefit our society?

Gardner: The idea of multiple intelligences is a psychological theory. I contend that rather than human beings having a single intelligence, which can be adequately assessed by an instrument like an IQ test, human beings are better thought of as having a set of capacities, which I call the multiple intelligences. A person may be strong with linguistic intelligence, but not with spatial intelligence, or vice versa. And there are several other intelligences, ranging from musical to interpersonal. (See my writings or my website www.multipleintelligencesoasis.org.) Each person has a unique spectrum of intellectual strengths and weaknesses.

Any psychological theory can be used beneficially or destructively. The intelligences are like a mental chemistry set – you can create a poison or a an antibiotic with chemical elements. I believe that intelligences need to be yoked with ‘good work’ or ‘good citizenship,’ as I mention below with reference to Question 5.

As for IQ tests I don’t think you are correct. At least in the United States, IQ tests are not used routinely anymore. And there are many tests for more specific kinds of abilities. Yet, as the creator of MI theory, I prefer not to use short answer tests but rather to observe individuals in various kinds of environments and to observe which kinds of things they like to do, and which things they can do well.

2. You say that there are 2 main educational implications: Individuation (also termed personalization) and Pluralization (ideas, concepts, theories, skills should be taught in several different ways). How can the current standardised, competitive-based and non-inclusive current model of education move towards this approach?

Gardner: As you imply, it’s easier to individuate when you have a more progressive, more flexible educational system, than when you have a ‘one size fits all’ approach. And not surprisingly, “MI approaches” to education are more likely to be found in smaller and more flexible educational environments.

But any teacher and any school can decide to pay more attention to individual differences; and certainly any schools can approach complex concepts and procedures in a variety of ways. That’s a choice to be made by teachers and by the heads of school. And when they choose to embrace individuation and pluralization, and the students learn more or better, then there’s no need to revert to more old-fashioned approaches.

One other important thing: In the age of the internet and the web, it is possible to individuate and to personalize as much as one wants to. No need for ‘one size fits all’ any more. But of course, that means that you can’t just do social media (like Facebook). You have to explore the web and approach important concepts and processes in ways that are comfortable to you, the learner – take courses, converse with others, and the like.

3. You developed MI theory in the late 1970s and early 1980s, with the publication of the book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Since then has the educational system moved towards your model?

Gardner: You are right that these ideas are several decades old, and I have nuanced some of my views since then. It would not be correct to say that ‘the educational system’ has moved towards my or anyone else models. There are hundreds of countries and millions of schools!

I can say that whether or not parents and teachers have heard of me, or know the phrase ‘multiple intelligences,’ these ideas have had considerable influence in education around the world. In 2009 my colleagues and I published a 400-page book ‘Multiple intelligences around the world.’ Forty-two scholars in 15 countries on five continents described ways in which they used “MI ideas” in schools, museums, workplace, and other educational contexts. And nearly every day, I hear from educators all over the world, who have found these ideas compelling, and who sometimes combine them with an interest in The Good Project (see Question 5).

4. Perhaps the 20th century was a period where intelligences making up the IQ, specifically linguistic, logical-mathematical, and sometimes spatial intelligence, were more important in that kind of society (where efficiency request was high, economic growth was the only main goal and no uncertainty was present). Do you think that the 21st century, with all its upcoming uncertainties, will boost the need for a multiple intelligences approach?

Gardner: That’s a good and complex question. For the first time in human history, we have developed machines and approaches (like deep learning and other forms of ‘artificial intelligence‘) which equal or surpass human capacities. In some cases, we will not need to draw on certain human intelligences because the relevant tasks are solved much better and easier than human beings can do. Also, for the first time in human history, we are understanding the nervous system well enough that we can begin to operate directly on the brain, diagnose strengths and weaknesses, and perhaps also link the human brain directly to mechanical entities or vice versa. And to top it all off, we may be able to operate directly on the human genome, thus changing the nature of our species at a speed that has no connection to the speed with which evolution has worked for thousands of years.

So I have little doubt that 100 hundred years from now, if there are psychologists or cognitive scientists (or new creatures!) interested in human cognition, they will draw the map of human intelligences in quite a different way. I’ll bet that it is closer to an “MI” perspective than to the traditional IQ perspective.  But I won’t be around to know the answer!

5. Finally, we are a community of Long Term Thinkers. The project wants to move from a short term into a long term vision in making decisions (take into account long term effects) in order to make humankind really sustainable. The fact is that being Money (short-term asset) the main goal in the current society is in contrast with long term sustainability. In which way do you think a Multiple Intelligences Model can help developing Long Term Thinking and a more sustainable and thriving society? Is in your opinion for example MI more suitable to face the current Ecological Crisis?

As a result of twenty five years of research on Good Work, I think about this question differently. Any human intelligence can be used benignly or destructively. Both the poet Goethe and the propagandist Josef Goebbels had plenty of linguistic intelligence; one used it to write great literature, the other to foment hatred. Both Nelson Mandela and Slobodan Milosevic had plenty of interpersonal intelligence: the first used his intelligence to heal a wounded country, the other to generate ethnic cleansing.

So the intelligences in themselves are amoral. They need to be yoked to a purpose and that purpose can be positive or destructive. And that’s why my colleagues and I have been studying Good Work: work that is technically excellent, personally engaged, and carried out in an ethical manner. And that’s why we have been studying Good Citizenship: an approach to one’s role in various sectors that is informed, involving, and takes into account the needs of the broader society (rather than just one’s own selfish desires).

So when someone says that they are using the idea of “MI”, I ask “To what end?” And I am delighted if an individual or a group is devoted toward longer term thinking, and toward dealing with crises like the ecological crisis, and my colleagues and I offer to work with them if that proves feasible. If readers are interested, they should look at the website for thegoodproject.org and write to hgasst@gse.harvard.edu.

Categories: Blog

Children and Multiple Intelligences: An Interview with “Les Plumes”

July 22, 2019 - 10:49am

Howard Gardner was recently interviewed about multiple intelligences by French publication Magazine Les Plumes.

Below are Gardner’s answers to six questions about the nature of intelligence, with special attention paid to implications for children and parents, including what to look for to know in which areas your child may display a particular strength.

The interview will appear in the July 2019 edition of the magazine.

1) How do you define intelligence? Is it innate (genetic) or acquired (socio-cultural environment)? How is it different from a talent?

Gardner: An intelligence is the ability to make products or solve problems that are valued in one’s cultural setting. I believe that human beings have a small number of relatively independent intelligences, which I call the multiple intelligences. Standard tests of intelligence typically probe linguistic and logical intelligences, but do not probe the other intelligences that I have identified: musical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalist.

Each of these intelligences has a genetic component, but each can and is enhanced by opportunities to practice the exercise of that intelligence.

You can call all of these capacities “talents” or all of them “intelligences.” I object to picking one or two of them out, calling them “intelligences,” and down-grading or marginalizing the others by calling them (mere) “talents.”

2) Does a person have only one dominant intelligence? Can a person’s intelligence profile be changed during life (childhood or adulthood)? (Is it possible to improve or diversify one’s intelligence?)

Gardner: Absent gross injury, we each have the full component of intelligences, though we differ in which one(s) are strong, or not strong, at a particular time. Our profiles can and are changed continually throughout life. Practice or exercise increases an intelligence; disuse or misuse decreases the intelligence. If one wants to enhance an intelligence, it is best to live in a society where there are good teachers and teaching methods, many opportunities to practice, and various kinds of prosthetics, which can certainly include all kinds of technological aids.

3) More and more children are tested for IQ when intellectual precocity is suspected. However you are opposed to these tests. Why?

Gardner: I am not opposed to tests per se. Tests need to be used sparingly and to be interpreted intelligently. If an individual is really intelligent in an area—be it language, music, or the understanding of other persons—there is no need to test them.

IQ tests are best suited to determine who will be successful in a certain kind of educational environment—that is why and how they were created in Paris by Alfred Binet over a century ago. But as the nature of schooling changes, and as the skills needed for success in society also evolve, these tests need to change—or they will become increasingly anachronistic.

4) What would you recommend to parents who want to discover the intellectual profile of their child?

Gardner: I recommend taking the child to a children’s museum, or some other kind of rich environment (like a new city, or a farm, or the seashore). Observe what interests the child, how he or she interacts with materials, what they return to and what they ignore, and especially which materials they interact with, over time, in an increasingly sophisticated way. 

Of course, this is easier to do if you have seen and observed lots of children. And so it’s good to have someone who teaches children of that age; such an individual can help you to distinguished between behavior that is to be expected from a child of that age and experience and behavior that is extraordinary for a child of that age and experience. But it is also important to deserve change over time: two youngsters can look equally intelligence at Time 1; but at Time 2 or Time 3, there can be quite a difference—one child shoots ahead because he or she is more intelligent in that sphere. Yo-Yo Ma could not play the cello at age 3; but he certainly learned more quickly than most other three-year-olds!

5) It is increasingly common to be willing to adapt the way of teaching according to the learning profile (auditory, visual or kinesthetic) of the child. Do you think it is relevant? What is the difference between the learning profile and the intelligence profile when it comes to teaching?

Gardner: It certainly makes sense to have more than one way of teaching any topic or skill. But I do not agree that the teaching should be done by varying the sensory modality; rather it should be done in terms of the intelligences that the child has exhibited. There is no secret formula for determine the best way(s) to teach a child; one has to experiment with various “entry points.” And often the child can tell you how he or she learns best, which approaches work, and which ones don’t work. Of course, motivation can help a great deal, and the effective parent or teacher attends to what experiences excite and energize the learner and which ones alienate them.

6) How can a better understanding of multiple intelligences and a better knowledge of each child’s intelligence profile facilitate learning? When one wants to facilitate learning, do you believe that teaching should only take into account the child’s intelligence profile or that teaching should call upon all different intelligences even if they are not the child’s profile?

Gardner: That’s a good question. Optimally, a child should be able to learn in a number of ways, drawing on the several intelligences. And if a child is learning well, we should celebrate that fact and just encourage the child to continue.

The challenge arises when the child is not learning well. That’s the time to experiment with different “entry points” and different ways of continuing the lesson—until one hits upon the ways that are effective. And as mentioned, the child can often help by indicating what works and why. Almost all children want to learn. It‘s up to those in their environment to help the child figure out what works for him or her and to remain in regular dialogue with the child—until such time as the child can take charge of his or her own learning. At this point, the most important educational goal has been reached—the child is now a lifelong learner!

Categories: Blog

Towards a Book

July 15, 2019 - 10:39am

As readers of this blog are aware, we have for seven years been carrying out an ambitious national study of higher education. For the last year and a half, we have been busy—analyzing data, writing dozens of blogs, giving occasional talks. We believe that we could write hundreds of blogs, scores of articles, several books—but life is short, and we want to get the most important messages out, efficiently and effectively.

Toward that end, we have had good conversations with our wonderful team of researchers and also with friends and advisers. A recent conversation with colleague Andrew (Andy) Delbanco crystallized our conundrum—What to do and how to do it?

Drawing on decades of writing fine books and powerful articles, Andy said, “You can’t really progress unless you answer two questions: What is the story/narrative that you want to tell? And to whom do you want to tell it—who is the audience?”

Paradoxically, we have been doing this for some time—without quite realizing it. But when in the past we had in effect followed Andy’s advice, we had done so for specific audiences with clear parameters. To use the most vivid example, in January 2019, Howard gave a set of three lectures at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, his home institution. Of course, he knew the audience: friends, colleagues, and students. Howard could presuppose some interest in the topic, or at least in his perspective on it. He also knew he had approximately three hours spread over a week, plus another hour or so for questions and answers. (Wendy was present throughout and answered some of the most challenging questions.)

The lecture series—however it came off to others—broke down into three sessions: 1) What we did and how we did it: 2) What we found; and 3) What it means. This approach has worked well enough that, despite various nuances, both of us have used it in subsequent presentations to various audiences.

However, over the last year, two facets have changed. First of all, we found that once one reports a social science finding, audiences can almost invariably explain the result—indeed, explain it away. So instead, of beginning with results, we instead begin with questions, and, as appropriate, ask the audience to anticipate what we found. For example, we ask: What’s the biggest issue on campuses? What books do individuals value? What do various constituents think about the purpose of college? Seeking to answer these questions, audiences learn how far from the mark they typically are; this state of affairs increases their attention and, with luck, their respect for what we have accomplished.

Second (and this is why we have avoided high-stakes presentations, or interviews with the media), our initial impressions have not always been borne out by more careful analysis of the data. Accordingly, we have now changed—or at least nuanced—some of the previous headlines from the study.

So returning to the two questions posed by Andy Delbanco, here are our current answers:

The story: There are many problems with, and complaints about, higher education in the United States. There are also admirable aspects. More than seven years ago, we decided to act in the manner of physicians—looking for the various ailments among the various constituencies. Specifically, the constituencies that we interviewed across a wide range of public and private campuses included incoming students, graduating students, faculty, senior administrators, parents, alumni/ae and job recruiters—a total of over 2000 interviews! We sought to determine the pressures and symptoms across these constituencies as clearly and reliably as possible. We then identified and studied evidence-based therapies for those ailments—with the goal of helping higher education become a healthier and more valuable (and more valued) sector of our society.

The audience: We begin with the goal of addressing individuals most involved in higher education. This includes the range of constituencies whom we interviewed—from students and faculty to administrators and job recruiters—as well as any other individuals or groups that have a stake in higher education (which would include legislators at the local, state, and national levels). If we are fortunate, and the narrative that we create is powerful and effective, we also aspire to reach the broader reading public—often called the “intelligent lay reader”—as well as those who read or listen to popular accounts of books that aspire to “change the conversation.”

Of course, on their own, these words sound either grandiose (who do Wendy and Howard think they are?) or self-evident (every research-based book has a narrative structure—ranging from subtle to sledge hammer). The proof will be in our execution—which we hope will be drafted in the next year and published shortly thereafter.

© 2019 Wendy Fischman and Howard Gardner

Categories: Blog

Lifelong Learning and Learned Societies

June 24, 2019 - 9:28am

by Howard Gardner

Even if you are involved in education, you may know very little about academic learned societies. Perhaps you have heard about the Royal Society (London), or the National Academy of Sciences (Washington). And you may even have heard of the American Academy of Arts and Science in Cambridge (to which I am fortunate to belong), though I doubt that you have heard of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia (to which I also am fortunate to belong).

If I were going to caricature these learned societies—often called academies—I’d say that they are composed of accomplished scholars who have been elected to an honorary group and who now congratulate themselves for this honor. The mean age in such societies is very high (60-70 or more) and, in Western societies, the membership is overwhelmingly white, male, and coming from a few elite institutions. (Alas, I fit the profile all too well.) I am reminded of what physicist Richard Feynmann allegedly quipped: “I don’t want to belong to an organization whose main purpose is to keep other people out”; or what comedian Groucho Marx supposedly said: “I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.”

But there are other important features about the aforementioned societies. The National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society study complex scientific issues; compose reports carefully; and, as appropriate, make recommendations that represent the consensus of the team that prepared these materials. The American Philosophical Society awards about 200 fellowships a year to worthy scholars, most of them young; and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences commissions studies on a wide range of topics, issues reports that are comprehensive and clear, and also published Daedalus, a wide-ranging quarterly. Learned societies bring together scholars from a wide range of disciplines and specialties; these gatherings enrich the intellectual lives of members and, in the best scenarios, draw on this breadth in their subsequent scholarly work and in their communications with students and with the broader public.

For the most part, these learned societies remain below the radar screen and are pleased to do so. They’d prefer to be private and prestigious, rather than public and controversial. The mix of self-congratulation, periodic meetings, and public good seems about right.

But not since the Enlightenment, two centuries ago, has the pursuit of knowledge, of truth, of objective and disinterested study been as much under attack, across both developed and developing nations. We discern these disturbing trends in the vocal critiques of colleges and universities, the challenges to scientific consensus on topics like climate change, the administering of vaccines, and even Darwinian evolution. As one interested in education across all levels, and convinced of the importance of scholarship within and across the disciplines, I find this situation most disturbing—indeed alarming.

For these reasons, I welcomed the chance to attend a meeting with leaders of over 20 learned societies from around the world—ranging from Australia and India to Estonia and Peru. While I don’t occupy a leadership role in any such organization, I am an enthusiastic member of the American Philosophical Society, which hosted the gathering, and so I was allowed to attend as a mostly silent observer.

In due course, a skilled rapporteur will provide a summary of the two days of discussions. Conversation encompassed a wide range of topics, including criteria for membership (expulsion was not discussed), sources of funding, communication of reports to the general public, the role of technology, and prospects for collaboration. No need for me to anticipate this report. But I did have one major takeaway as well as one self-assigned task.

The Takeaway

Whether the learned academics are large or small, old or new, there is a big difference between those that focus on explicitly on science (or science and technology or STEM) and those that seek to cover a broader scholarly terrain. Science is as close to a universal language as exists in the world. Accordingly, the scientific academies cover similar range of topics, have similar criteria for membership, and are concerned with many of the same issues. As a result, scientific academies can communicate readily with one another—they are members of the same species, so to speak.

But once a learned academy extends beyond science and technology, or concerns itself with the arts, the humanities, or even the “softer” social sciences, then the differences across academies becomes much more noticeable, if not occasionally unfordable. If not only scientific excellence, then what are the criteria for membership, awards, topics for discussion, debate, reporting—indeed, even mode of presentation (a slide show vs. a paper read aloud). What’s NOT on the radar screen? If the arts are featured, does this include performers or painters, or only those who study or critique the arts? And if the scholarly front covers the humanities, what to do when, unlike the sciences, no consensual method exists—where, for example, a post-modern approach is one branch’s ideal and another branch’s anathema; or where the study of language or literature is conducted entirely different in different communities around the world?

We may assume that whatever their differences, scientific academies can make common cause. No analogous assumption obtains to different or broader learned academies.

The Task

If these learned academies from around the world are going to attempt more collaboration, rather than simply occasional meetings, it’s important to identify the features on which they may differ.  Some divergences may be consequential, others less so. It might be useful to have a taxonomy of the key features of several dozen learned societies that exist today. Here’s a sacrificial opening.

The criteria on which one might classify the societies:

  • Are they organized around a single discipline, several disciplines, or do they cover the academic waterfront?
  • Are they restricted in membership and if so, on what criteria? Are members only from one nation or one region, or can they come from around the globe? Are meetings open or closed? Private or publicized?
  • Are there associated organizations or collections of younger individuals and, if so, how do they relate to the “parent” organization?
  • For both full members, and young affiliates, are there special efforts to diversify the population—by gender, ethnic, racial, or other criteria?
  • Are these academies restricted to scholarship (as carried out in universities or research centers), or do they include performers, members of diverse professions, individuals who are accomplished in different sectors or careers? What about individuals prominent in business or politics?
  • Are the academies certified by the government, supported by the government, or completely independent of the government? If connected to the government, in what ways, if any, does this connection restrict what they can do, whether it is made public, and, if so, in what forms?
  • Do they have an affiliation with a university or with some kind of professional organization? What are the benefits or drawbacks of such an affiliation?
  • With what other entities (including other learned societies) do they have an ongoing relation? What’s the nature of that relationship?
  • Do they have some kind of charter, and if so, who issued the charter, can it be altered, and, if so, in which ways?
  • Do members have any responsibilities (ranging from yearly fees to attendance at meetings) or can membership be entirely honorific?
  • On what grounds, if any, can an individual be expelled from the organization? Is there a “senior” status and, if so, what are the rights and obligations of “senior” members?

Final Comments

In and of itself, such a taxonomy is just an exercise, useful perhaps to someone like me (an inveterate taxonomist and synthesizer) but not to many others. But if the societies are to work together, then it’s important to understand the opportunities and the constraints, and such a taxonomy could be a useful first step—indicating possible incommensurabilities and how one might circumvent them.

Why is this essay relevant to a blog on “lifelong learning?” We tend to think of learning as restricted to formal educational institutions (K-12, college, professional school) or to courses offered online or to residents of a nearby community. But if learning is truly to be lifelong, the knowledge and contributions of illustrious scholars becomes important. It’s wrong—especially in these fraught times—for such scholars simply to congratulate one another and to congregate with one another. They should be “giving away” what they know and have learned and help others to join in this enterprise. Some of these activities can and should be carried out in universities and other research centers. But the learned societies have a breadth and sweep—and even a longevity—that transcends that of most institutions of higher education.

Importantly, if, as I fear, scholarship is under threat around the world, it is no longer appropriate for these organizations to stay below the firing line. They need to be public, and they ought to work together. At the meeting that I attended in Philadelphia, those in attendance sat underneath the portrait of Benjamin Franklin, who founded the American Philosophical Society in 1743. As Franklin memorably uttered after signing the Declaration of Independence, “We must, indeed, hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”

I thank Robert Hauser for his insights about learned societies.

Categories: Blog

Ethics at Work: The Importance of Academic Honesty in Our Schools, Part III

June 18, 2019 - 8:25am

by Wendy Fischman

In the previous two blogs (Part I and Part II), I reflected on the recent admissions cheating scandal in light of our earlier research of young workers and our large, national study of higher education. In this blog, I describe some takeaways based on our study—ways we might begin to address these issues on the college campus.

In brief, in our national study of higher education, we find a troubling misalignment: on one hand, rarely, do individuals—including students and faculty—acknowledge that academic dishonesty is one of the most important problems on campus; and yet, on the other hand, the majority of students and faculty admit that cheating occurs in many forms, both in and out of the classroom. In the second blog, I outline four reasons for this disconnect:

  • Perception that academic dishonesty occurs more (or less) as a result of professors’ attentiveness to the issue;
  • Perception that academic dishonesty occurs more (or less) as a result of institutional policies;
  • Misconceptions among students about what constitutes “academic dishonesty”; and
  • Perception that academic dishonesty occurs more among certain students.

Here I offer some suggestions for how educational settings might address this troubling situation.

1. Take responsibility: honesty should be an expectation.

Many students and faculty described both the inattentiveness of some faculty members and some of the institutional policies (whether they were too flexible or too strict) as contributing factors to the prevalence of academic dishonesty. 

When students live in an environment where cutting corners is the norm, or even admired, then of course kids will use dishonest means. Young people pick up milieu norms, whether at home (perhaps from parents) or at school (from peers and/or mixed messages from faculty). If students get away with dishonest work in college (or even high school), and feel justified to do so, they may never be forced to change the pattern.

Turning a “blind eye,” not explicitly discussing and/or teaching the boundaries of academic dishonesty in class, or just relying on “Turn it In,” clearly does not change the outcome—students describe innovative ways to get around these obstacles. 

Instead, incorporating understandings and expectations of honest work into the curriculum and infusing it in campus culture, will help to create a community based on honesty.

Some schools, for example, have created an “honor code”—core values whereby everyone in a community is expected to live. At two campuses participating in our study, students and faculty refer to their respective honor code as the reason why they do not regularly observe or hear about academic dishonesty. Indeed, honor codes help to make expectations, responsibilities, and consequences for ethical behavior crystal clear. In many cases, honor codes also give students helpful context for their existence and information about the implications for the school community if the codes are not followed—if you can’t “play by the rules,” you are not welcome.

As described in a previous blog, it is imperative that schools help students to onboard to a school culture that is positive as well as punitive for ethical misconduct. This onboarding process will help introduce students to important values (such as honesty, integrity, ethics) that should be intertwined into the curriculum, rather than be treated as a free-standing “extra.”

2. Facilitating conversations about academic dishonesty as a dilemma that need to be recognized, wrestled with, and resolved in an affirmative manner.

Many students and faculty admit that students do not fully understand the boundaries of “academic dishonesty”—including rules and standards for citation and appropriation as well as collaboration.

Several years ago, upon completion of data analyses for The Good Project, we developed an approach to help young students become aware of and prepared for ethical dilemmas—situations in which they feel torn among responsibilities. In this research, we found that young people did not frame these decisions as ethical dilemmas because they did not see them as such—much like the students in the higher education study who do not see copying someone else’s homework as an “ethical dilemma.” Young people often rationalized their decisions based on goals and desires, rather than on ethical considerations. Focusing on high school students, we developed The Good Work Toolkit, comprised of authentic narratives (based on our interviews), as well as reflective questions. These materials have also been used in college settings.

In particular, the Toolkit models an approach involving 4 important “D’s,” which, when aligned, increase the likelihood for positive change:

  • Dilemmas: Longtime experience in developmental psychology, dating back to the time of Jean Piaget, and cultivated with respect to ethical dilemmas posed by Lawrence Kohlberg, confirms that posing real-life dilemmas to young people is an excellent way to engage their thinking and their feelings.
  • Deliberation: Among themselves, or with competent guidance or modeling from elders, young people should learn how to discuss the dilemmas, possible options, pros and cons, probably consequences.
  • Decisions: Ultimately, faced with a dilemma, one has to decide what to do, what action to take, and then carry out that action. Of course, with hypothetical dilemmas, the stakes are lower.  With respect to real life dilemmas, the consequences can be great and immediate.
  • Debriefing after a period: Whether one is dealing with a hypothetical dilemma, or with a genuine dilemma which was confronted and then a resolution was reached, it is valuable to revisit the dilemma and decision after a period, and reflect on what might have been done differently, and with what consequence. Among other benefits, this debriefing process helps one to prepare for the next time that a similar dilemma arises.

3. Know your community of students.

The majority of students and faculty report that academic dishonesty seems to occur as a result of the personal motivations, challenges, and attitudes of particular students. The perceived reasons why a student might use dishonest means run the gamut—from being uber-motivated to achieve academic success to being lazy about academic work—as well as dealing with distractions such as paid work outside of school, athletic commitments, maintaining a social life, etc. These students may well represent the wide range of students on all campuses.

It is important for professors and support staff to get to know their students—their goals, their struggles, and their approaches to work. In our terms, we strongly urge the on-campus adults to think about how students’ mental models of the purpose(s) of college may guide students’ decisions and behavior, including contemplating or partaking in academic dishonesty. For example, is it possible that “transactional” students (who go to college primarily to get a degree so that they can advance to a job or graduate school) view academic dishonesty differently than those who are “exploratory” (who go to college to learn new things and meet different people)?

A Hypothesis: In our initial analysis, we find that “transactional” students are significantly more likely to rank academic dishonesty as the most important, or second most important issue on campus, as compared to “exploratory” students. We wonder: Are those students who are “transactional” more aware of academic dishonesty because they are more focused on the outcomes of academic success, and less interested in the process, or journey, of the learning experience per se?

To be sure, there are many approaches individuals can use in addition to (or instead of) these suggestions. And much important work is already being done to emphasize honesty and integrity in our schools. For example, our colleagues at Making Caring Common of the Harvard Graduate School of Education have created a major initiative called Turning the Tide, which brings together college admissions officers to encourage high school students to focus on meaningful and ethical work. Their reports give clear recommendations about how to create “concern for others” and a “common good” through the admission process.

If students—in high school or college—get away with cheating and cutting corners—they may never be forced to change. They will then help to spawn a society without ethical norms, one where cheating scandals may well proliferate—one in which I would not like to live.

© 2019 Wendy Fischman and Howard Gardner

Categories: Blog

Ethics at Work: The Importance of Academic Honesty in our Schools, Part II

May 31, 2019 - 10:46am

by Wendy Fischman

In the previous blog, I discussed the recent admissions scandal in higher education. I drew on our research conducted in the late 1990s: we described how easily young people justified cutting corners in order to get ahead and/or satisfy pressures to be “successful.” In this blog, I relate this work to our current study of higher education.

Higher Education for the 21st Century

In our large, national study of higher education, in which we conducted approximately 2000 semi-structured interviews of students and on-campus and off-campus adults across 10 disparate campuses, considerations of ethics rarely arise on their own.

But because as researchers we have long been concerned with ethical behavior, we specifically asked participants about the kinds of ethical dilemmas students face on campus, and the ways in which college prepares students to handle these ethical dilemmas. Many participants seem to agree that colleges aren’t always effective in preparing students to handle ethical dilemmas; and when asked directly, participants seem to have trouble coming up with a person or group on campus to whom they might turn in such cases. In fact, some student participants respond that the mental health center is helpful when something “goes wrong” on campus.

Based on our earlier findings about how so many young people justify unethical work in order to get ahead, we were especially interested in perceptions of academic dishonesty on college campuses. Therefore, in addition to the aforementioned open-ended questions on ethics, we also asked participants to rank order the relative importance of “academic dishonesty” as a problem on campus, as compared to four explicitly cited problems: safety, mental health, alcohol and drugs, friendships and romantic relationships.

Across the entire study on ten campuses, one finding is consistent among students and on-campus adults (faculty and administrators): those individuals who consider academic dishonesty as the most important problem are outliers. Academic dishonesty is almost always ranked as the least important problem on campus.

This “non-finding” is important.

From a variety of studies, we know that cheating is pervasive; indeed, a majority number of our on-campus participants acknowledge that academic dishonesty occurs on campus. At the same time, participants rarely indicate that academic dishonesty is a major issue of concern (both when compared to the other problems and when directly asked to explain views about it). Though incidents of cheating reach the news headlines, our participants seldom elaborate on issues of academic dishonesty on their own. However, when specifically prompted, the majority of students and faculty describe various ways in which academic dishonesty occurs online and offline, in class and out of class.

The apparent lack of concern for academic dishonesty is distressing. College is about learning and mastering content—the major purpose should be academic, and everything else, though important, should be secondary. A perpetuating cheating culture ultimately lowers the standards and expectations for college, and makes it harder for students to achieve the primary educational goals. Furthermore, if dishonest work becomes the norm for students in educational settings, we can’t expect that when students transition to the “real world,” their behaviors or attitudes will miraculously change. Though most people would agree that we want to graduate students who know the difference between honest and dishonest work—and who care to spend the time carrying out work of integrity—there is a major disconnect between the acknowledgement of widespread dishonesty and the relatively low importance of this issue to our participants.

Why is this the case? Our data show four possibilities:

1) Perception that academic dishonesty occurs more (or less) as a result of professors’ attentiveness (or inattentiveness) to the issue

Both students and faculty make a direct link between academic dishonesty and the extent to which professors’ seem to care about it—on the one hand, those who demand “strict” adherence to the rules, and on the other hand, those who turn a “blind eye” to academic wrongdoings.

Many students describe ways in which faculty play an important role in curtailing academic dishonesty—especially explicit reminders in class about the standards for academic conduct and potential consequences for misconduct. One student explains, “…A lot of our professors keep on reminding us constantly about plagiarism and cheating and how important it is not to do it.” Another student reiterates that these faculty reminders signal significance of the issue to students: “The teachers, they…stress…about plagiarism. And what can happen if you plagiarize. So I don’t really see that a lot at [this school].”

At the same time however, students also explain that faculty members’ apparent lack of concern for academic dishonesty may actually contribute to cheating and plagiarism: “I would say that a lot of professors pretend they don’t see you when you are cheating…or they promote [it]…They kind of know you’re cheating, they just don’t point it out.”

Interestingly, some faculty seem to agree with the students. Though few faculty members, if any, admit that academic dishonesty occurs in their own classes (similar to the students who report others cheating, but not themselves), they believe that on the whole, faculty members’ attention or lack of attention contributes to the likelihood of academic dishonesty among students. One faculty member asserts: “I think that’s as much a problem for faculty as it is for students. And by that I mean faculty who…don’t follow our academic integrity policy.” Another faculty member points out the importance of the kind of assignments faculty give to students: “I think faculty need to stop giving examinations that are, that lend themselves to…dishonesty. You need sort of iterative assignments and stuff that’s better and requires way more effort to cheat.”

Indeed, faculty also describe strategies they believe prevents academic dishonesty, such as using the software program “Turn It In”; giving students different colored and ordered tests; and creating assignments which require written responses rather than multiple choice questions.  It is noteworthy that students rarely discuss these deterrents.

A small number of faculty discuss the dilemma of ignoring academic dishonesty, or turning a “blind eye,” in cases when they empathize with a putative reason for the academic misconduct. In one such case, a faculty member explains that after observing a student use his Apple watch to cheat on a test, she learned that this student juggled three jobs, and began to view him differently. She wonders: “Should I fail this young man? I cannot. It [comes] from my heart. You know why? Because he comes to class…right after his Taco Bell. Works all night. He comes to class…And sometimes [other students] make fun of him, because he’s, he’s sleeping…But we can work things out.” One student claims: “Sometimes professors just pass you just because they feel bad…they’re not as strict as they probably should be.”

2) Perception that academic dishonesty occurs more (or less) as a result of institutional policies

While some students credit institutional policies, such as honor codes and/or severe punishments as effective deterrents of academic dishonesty, some faculty members believe that their respective institutions may actually contribute to the problem of academic dishonesty—identifying lack of clear policies, unfair punishments, and unhelpful “conduct codes” for students.

Some faculty members lament that their institutions do not take a firm stand on academic dishonesty; as a result, the responsibility falls on individual faculty members to handle situations as they see fit (and as described above,  faculty attentiveness may waver, for different reasons). As just one example, a faculty member explains how too much flexibility around reporting procedures can actually be damaging to developing habits of honesty among students:

I think the university gives us way too much leeway. It doesn’t insist that you report…you’re allowed to resolve this issue anyway you wish….but that means that a lot of my colleagues um, don’t report it. They just fail the student on that particular assignment. A sort of a slap on the wrist…I did initially do that, but then…I realized that the students that are cheating or almost never just doing it in one class, it’s almost never the first time. Everybody, every single person that I’ve caught cheating has said to me, this is the first time I’m doing it. So by the 10th time that happened, I knew that that can’t be true. And I realized that these students have probably been doing it for years, probably multiple classes, and therefore I’m going to throw the book at them, every time I catch somebody doing it.

Other faculty members feel that the institutional policies for academic dishonesty are too strict and don’t address the core issue. One faculty member, for example, suggests that simply expelling students punishes them in the short term, but does not teach them about the importance of ethical work over the long term. Instead of supporting firm punishments, this faculty member would rather the institution help to develop alternative programs and systems, such as “peer interventions” as a way students can actually help teach each other (rather than just punish).  Furthermore, this faculty member goes on to say that often, in cases of academic dishonesty at his institution, the “crime” is not equal to the “punishment” and that students might learn from a different consequence:

… This is one of my radical ideas that probably is, won’t work. But since it’s never gonna happen I can feel free to say it. I think we need a much less rigorous academic policy thing so where the punishment is much more sort of swift and certain, but smaller…there’s places you can put pressure that … I mean, registration dates, I’ll tell you, you mess with grades all you want students will grumble a little bit. You make their registration date a day later…they will freak…out.

3) Misconceptions among students about what constitutes “academic dishonesty”

Closely tied to institutional policies, both students and faculty share concern that many students just don’t understand the rules and expectations for shared work, both in terms of giving credit and collaborating with others.

For example, students report that because the boundaries of honest and dishonest “collaborative” work can be confusing or blurry, academic dishonesty may be more likely in group work. One student explains:

So I have a couple of friends that have collaborated in the past in comp sci [sic] classes when they were new to those. And there are some pretty strict rules about how, like who you collaborate on work, and it’s just kids not understanding. Because I think our generation is taught, again and again, that collaboration is okay and it’s important. So kind of making those divisions clear, this is a moment where collaborating is not okay…I can see that being really confusing, especially on homework assignments, if you’re thinking that you’re helping each other, but really you’re supposed to do it independently and, yeah that can get complicated.

Another student explains how sharing or “collaborating,” even if you are not supposed to be doing so, is not a matter of concern: “We try our best, people still cheat. It’s not like it’s super profound here. I don’t think we’ve been in the news for that…You might collaborate on a homework assignment that you’re not supposed to collaborate on…”

Similarly, both students and faculty—those at the most selective as well as the least selective campuses—claim that students have not been appropriately taught the rules and standards of plagiarism and citation.

One faculty member says:

I have to constantly, constantly say this, and I have, you know, this is what plagiarism is. But sometimes it’s just ignorance. They just don’t know how to use their own words. And we have a stupid conduct code that stays plagiarism is when you knowingly copy. Well people don’t knowingly copy, they just copy.

In the end of the discussion, this faculty member concludes, “They’re a cut and paste generation anyway…”

Some faculty members explain that students from different backgrounds have an especially hard time with concepts of plagiarism and citation:

But [plagiarism is] a big issue that students just don’t recognize…Especially if they’re coming from countries…where they’re expected to memorize what the teacher has said, or memorize what the book has said, they don’t understand why that is a problem. Obviously, I’m, I’m [n]ot the expert here, but they’re not realizing I wanted [work] either in their own opinion or their own words.

Even more troubling, some students also differentiate among forms of academic dishonesty, claiming a qualitative difference between sharing homework (which they do not consider to be “academic dishonesty”) and cheating on an exam. These distinctions help students to justify their wrongdoings. One such student explains: “…I’ve, like, copied homework, but not like…but never on test or anything and I guess that’s not really the problem, but, uh, yeah, I guess like [I] copy homework…” Another student devalues the importance of cheating on homework: “Maybe I’m totally naïve [about academic dishonesty]. A couple of times I have seen like academic dishonesty in very mild, mild forms like on a very small assignment. But it doesn’t strike me as a bigger problem.”

4) Perception that academic dishonesty occurs more among certain students or groups of students:

The majority of students and faculty identify “typical” types of students who carry out academic misconduct—those who are particularly stressed, preoccupied with other non-academic responsibilities, as well as those students who might be “lazy.” Regardless, participants tend to rationalize that students do not intend to engage in wrongdoings, they just can’t help it!

For example, one student says that academic pressure and stress can lead to unintentional academic dishonesty: “There’s definitely a pressure to do well and I think sometimes people get caught up in that and lose…integrity in the process.” Another student suggests: “…A lot of people don’t intend to do it, but they are just so stressed out and they just don’t have the time to actually work…they find that that’s their only option left [is] to like plagiarize and…copy and paste, like, their assignments and stuff.” At least one student recognizes the irrational behavior: “It’s funny because…the plagiarism and the cheating isn’t necessarily to get from a C to an A, it’s to get from like an A minus to an A, which is crazy to me that that’s the kind of pressure that the school or that this mindset is putting on kids, is that it’s not just that they are cheating because they are failing…it’s like they are cheating to be perfect.”

One student defends a student that she might consider “lazy”: “…I feel like, kids can be lazy about their work, so I don’t think they’re actually going in there, trying to plagiarize, it’s just that they end up doing it because they’re not trying hard enough to be original.”

To a lesser extent, some students and faculty describe particular groups of students that cut corners, including (but not always limited to): athletes, students involved with Greek life, students of low or high socioeconomic status (ironically), and some international students. Ironically, taken collectively, these students make-up a large portion of the student body!

These perceptions (or misperceptions) emanating from our data—about what constitutes academic dishonesty, the internal attitudes and types of students that might be more likely to engage in dishonest work, and the role that professors and/or institutional policies play in contributing mixed messages—should be concerning to educators as well as citizens. Dishonest work not only mocks the purpose of college, but also perpetuates a society without ethical norms or integrity. In the next blog, I offer some suggestions for how we might address academic dishonesty and larger issues of ethics on the college campus.

Acknowledgement: I am grateful to Jeffrey Robinson, who carried out the in-depth analysis of participants’ comments pertaining to this topic.

© 2019 Wendy Fischman and Howard Gardner

Categories: Blog

A Tribute for Howard Gardner’s Retirement

May 23, 2019 - 9:34am

Howard Gardner is officially retiring from his teaching duties at the Harvard Graduate School of Education the end of the 2018-2019 academic year, although he will continue to be a research professor and carry on with his current projects.

To mark the occasion, HGSE has released a tribute in his honor by two of his colleagues. In a short essay, Mindy Kornhaber, a former student of Gardner’s, provides an overview of Howard’s accomplishments and contributions, concluding that “Howard’s legacy of extraordinarily good work will continue around the world and far into the future.” Mara Krechevsky of Project Zero contributed a well-crafted and humorous limerick celebrating Gardner’s scholarly career as well.

To read both and other highlights of Gardner’s career, click here.

Categories: Blog

Ethics at Work: The Importance of Academic Honesty in Our Schools, Part I

May 16, 2019 - 11:16am

by Wendy Fischman

Recently, an egregious scandal erupted in higher education. For perhaps the first time, several dozen parents have been exposed for blatant wrongdoings—paying others to change answers on standardized test scores; fabricating identities and resumes of their own children to disguise them as top tier athletes; paying coaches on the side to “recruit” their offspring. Questions have swirled about the degree of student knowledge and cooperation in their parents’ decisions and behaviors. How did these activities—unethical and illegal—come about?

While many were shocked about the allegations, some of us were not surprised—especially those of us who have been investigating young people’s beliefs, values, and goals with respect to work and education. Indeed, this scandal joins together two lines of work in which my colleagues and I have been long engaged.

In this blog, I review some of our early research on how young people—in school and in the first few years of their careers—describe their views on unethical and dishonest work, which includes cutting corners, lying, and blatant cheating. In subsequent blogs in this series, I highlight emerging findings from our national study of higher education about the importance (or lack thereof) about ethics and academic dishonesty on college campuses. In conclusion, I put forth suggestions for how to address these issues in educational contexts.

The Good Project

For the last twenty-five years, my colleagues and I have been investigating what it takes for individuals to carry out “good work.” We define this concept as foregrounding three Es: work that is at once excellent (high quality); ethical (considers the impact on others); and engaging (meaningful to the worker). We portray good work through a “triple helix of ENA” because all three strands (excellent, ethical, and engaging) are inextricably linked. Indeed, in more than 1500 in-depth interviews with professionals across nine different domains of work, we found that if professionals are to carry out work that is appropriate for the particular profession and in service to the wider society, the individual needs to care about the work—it needs to matter—otherwise the challenge may be too great.

As an example, consider the print journalist faced with a dilemma: Should she knock on the front door of a home in which a mother just lost her son, in order to be the first to get a story? Her personal beliefs instruct her not to intrude; but at the same time, these values come in to conflict with her role as a budding professional, her ambition to become known (get her name on the front page of the newspaper in the morning), and the pressure from her editor to break the story (“if it bleeds, it leads”).

Or, consider the geneticist who struggles about whether or not to patent a gene which he has not fully investigated—the patent may lead to considerable personal profit, but at the same time, it may also yield misleading information and prevent others from conducting further research.

Such cases underscore one of our major findings: “good workers” need to navigate competing responsibilities—to self (both one’s values and ambitions), family and friends, workplace and domain, and the wider society. Indeed, we wrote a book on data collected from just one of our interview questions: “To whom or what are you most responsible in your work?”

As part of the larger study of good work, we also studied the “origins of good work.” Specifically, we focused on adolescents and young adults who were passionate about a certain area of work, often considering it a “calling.” We sought to understand the formation of “good work” and “good workers”—the early influences and experiences that lead (or fail to lead) individuals to carry out work that is at once excellent, ethical, and engaging.

Revealingly, we learned that though contexts can differ for workers at different stages in their careers, young people experienced many of the same conflicting responsibilities that mature workers must navigate. For instance, an aspiring high school journalist, who espoused values of objectivity and truth, struggled with the dilemma of printing a story about an alleged rape on campus—especially after a school administrator told her he would not fund the edition of the newspaper if she proceeded. A young geneticist in graduate school lamented his mentor’s pressure to “go public” with findings before they were triple checked, thereby violating one of the pillars of scientific research.

The similar stories and reflections about dilemmas and difficult decisions were not the major surprise, however. Members of our research team were shocked that so many of these young students openly and directly told us how they often cut corners, lied, or cheated in order to get what they thought they wanted, at the time. Equally surprisingly, none of the students asked us to turn off the recorder (back in the days of a “tape recorder”!); nor did they give any indication throughout the interview that they were nervous or embarrassed to admit their wrongdoings (e.g. they did not whisper, preface the story with reasons why they had no choice, nor asked us how we planned to use the information).

And the reason? Students apparently felt justified to make their own rules. They reasoned that they had worked hard and deserved to be at the top. After all, others cheat and get away with it, so why shouldn’t they?

Most striking to us, however, these young students said that one day, when they are in positions of power and authority, they wouldn’t have to cheat, lie, or cut corners. Then, but only then, they will be able to “do the right thing.” In a book called Making Good, we highlight examples of these wrongdoings and their consequences for others.

Which leads us right back to the offending parents—individuals who have status in American society—certainly fame and resources—to get what they (and/or what their kids wanted). In many ways, they reflect the “kids” we interviewed nearly twenty-five years ago—those who believe that their actions should be, or could be, legitimized in some way—those who may never have been stopped or questioned by a teacher, mentor, a supervisor, or family member. It’s quite possible that they feel that their earlier misbehaviors were justified and there is no reason to change course.  As Augustine memorably exclaimed in his Confessions, “Oh Lord, make me chaste, but not quite yet!”

The scandal brings about important questions about the role of education in developing character—elementary school through higher education. For example, what are the responsibilities of educators to inform students of ethical boundaries of academic work? What are educators’ responsibilities when they come across academic dishonesty? Similarly, what are the responsibilities of administrators in terms of setting institutional policies, and of peers in reporting observances of academic misconduct?

In the next blog, drawing on our large, national study of higher education, I focus on preliminary findings on academic dishonesty on the college campus: its incidence, its perceived importance, and its interpretation on the part of various constituencies.

© 2019 Wendy Fischman and Howard Gardner

Categories: Blog

Gardner Interviewed by National Art Education Association

April 23, 2019 - 1:45pm

In March 2019, Howard Gardner presented at the annual convention of the National Art Education Association (NAEA) as a keynote speaker on “Beyond Wit and Grit,” tying together multiple intelligences (MI) theory with his decades on The Good Project.

NAEA has now released a special interview with Gardner following the convention, in which he answers questions about his childhood and early career, the many facets of his scholarly work, and his thoughts about current issues in the field of education, including social media, nurturing creativity, and how to advocate for arts education.

Click here to read the article.

Categories: Blog

Excellence in Higher Education Summit

April 19, 2019 - 12:41pm

From April 4-5, 2019, Harvard University hosted a summit on “Excellence in Higher Education” organized by the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning. Speakers included leaders and researchers from across Harvard and a number of other institutions, including Howard Gardner, who spoke on the topic of the national study of the college experience in the United States that he has conducted for the past seven years.

Gardner shared several takeaways from the data thus far, including the prevalence of mental health as an issue for students today, the “transactional” attitude with which students often approach college, and the need for institutions of higher learning to avoid “mission sprawl” and “projectitis.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education has also released a brief summary of the conference, which provides an overview of Gardner’s presentation. Click here to read the article in full.

Categories: Blog

Harvard Magazine Covers Gardner’s Higher Education Study

April 18, 2019 - 1:10pm

The May-June issue of Harvard Magazine has published an article by John S. Rosenberg, Editor in Chief, about Howard Gardner and Wendy Fischman’s national study of higher edition.

Summarizing the motivations and methods of the study, Rosenberg provides an overview as well of the initial findings regarding the primacy of mental health and belonging on college campuses, as well as the mental models with which students approach their college experiences.

Click here to read the article in full.


Categories: Blog

On Quality Higher Education: An Essay in Three Installments, Part 3

April 1, 2019 - 12:08pm

To Our Readers: After some reflection, we’ve decided to violate the “rules of the road” with respect to the preferred length of blogs, and we are releasing the second and third blogs in this series at the same time. As always, we welcome and learn from your comments, sent either as notes to us or posted here on the site.

by Howard Gardner and Wendy Fischman

Re-Embracing the Liberal Arts: The Pivotal Roles of On-Boarding and Intertwining

In the previous blog, we called for an affirmation—or, more properly, a reaffirmation—of the academic and cognitive aims of higher education. Why is it challenging to re-embrace fully the core of a liberal arts education? We have identified two principal reasons.

One reason is mission sprawl. As one learns about so-called liberal arts institutions today, one swiftly encounters a wide range of aspirations, many of which have little to do with academic or even cognitive aspirations. Colleges are expected to produce good citizens; kind and empathic human beings; happy persons who are self-realized; individuals who want to lead the world, change the world, be good team players, make the world better; individuals who are healthier in mind and body. We admire these aspirations. But it’s clear that no institution can achieve all of these goals (see our recent blog on takeaways for college presidents), and it’s not at all clear that colleges—as campuses, as institutions, indeed as economic enterprises—can or should aim for all of these goals.

Indeed, we contend that at most one other goal can be prioritized, and that goal needs to be thoughtfully integrated with the aforementioned academic and cognitive mission.

The second reason stems from the personal challenges that face many students. When we began our own study some years ago, we were completely unprepared for two major findings across a deliberately disparate set of campuses. We found that challenges of mental health were encountered everywhere, and were, for whatever reasons, on the increase. And across campuses, we found as well (and presumably relatedly) that a large number of students reported their feeling that they did not belong; they felt alienated in one or another way—from the academic agenda, from their peers, from the overall institutions. And to our surprise, this alienation proved more prominent among graduating students than among incoming students!

Of course, colleges did not arise chiefly to address these personal issues, any more than they arose to increase voting or encourage fraternizing or to better the neighborhood or engender personal happiness. But it is simply not possible for colleges to address the principal educational mission we’ve assigned them if a significant proportion of students can’t get past their own feelings of alienation or their mental health challenges.

Indeed, these challenges need to be addressed upfront for students at the beginning of the college experience.


Four years can pass quickly. If there is any chance that colleges are able to address and achieve the assignment that we have proposed, they need initially to carry out four important tasks.

First of all, they have to help students deal with their difficulties in health (physical as well as mental).

Second, they must provide suitable and appealing entries to the academic agenda (to prevent the drift away from academics that has been persuasively documented by Richard Arum and other scholars).

Third, students need to understand why they are being asked to study statistics, stylistics, historical or economic cycles, what the reasons are for reading original texts or carrying out laboratory experiments. They need to grasp that they are not being asked to remember the facts that they encounter but rather that they learn to think in the ways required by different disciplines.

And a fourth point: Schools need to develop courses and materials that invite students into the range of “ways of thinking”: problem solving, problem finding, and exhibiting knowledge that we have argued are the major, and perhaps the most powerful, reasons for offering non-vocational higher education. As we have sometimes put it, at this point in life students will be acquiring intellectual capital on which they can and should draw for the rest of their lives.

We propose that these onboarding experiences are the tasks primarily for the first year, but it may well be that students will need additional “onboarding” as they face new contexts—as they meet different people, choose majors and minors, and discover curiosities and passions. Importantly, new initiatives do not need to be created to help students onboard: the tasks can be and should be integrated into existing structures. And if after these efforts, students can truly not meet these challenges, with the help of teachers and appropriate institutional facilities and facilitators, they should not be enrolled in college at this time in their lives

Resistances to Our Proposed Program

Most institutions of higher learning do not embrace, either explicitly or implicitly, the focused agenda that we’ve proposed. We can identify several reasons:

Unreasonable ambitions. Some schools, including ones with which we have been closely associated, believe that they can and should achieve a wide range of goals in four years. And perhaps with some students—the same ones or different ones—they can claim across-the-board success. But it is far more likely that in the perhaps well-motivated effort to achieve a wider range of goals, they in fact realize none of them or achieve weak and hard-to-document effects.

Indeed, if non-academic goals—say, social or emotional development—are to be reached, they are likely to be reached as a result of the presence of appealing role models on campus and the way the institution itself is run and addresses challenges. If consistent modeling is ingrained in the culture of an institution, most students can be expected to live up to these high standards. To be sure, mental health and belonging issues may need to be specifically supported by trained professionals (either on or off campus).

Pleasing many masters. Even those leaders who realize that they cannot be all things to all people are reluctant to narrow their goals. The scholarly focus that we endorse places at-risk the loyalty and support of different constituents, ranging from parents and student applicants, to the varying agendas of alums, trustees, donors, and the wider society. Like politicians campaigning for office, campus leaders declare a wide range of promises, but know that once in office, these cannot really be achieved. (One could make the same criticism of those involved college admissions, but that is a topic for another day.)

And we have not even mentioned the securing of a good job, often foremost in the minds of what “the sector” has come to term the “customers.”

Confusion about the purpose of any institution. To be successful as an organization, workplace, or profession, it’s important to know one’s mission and to keep that mission sharply in focus. Mission sprawl can be fatal.

Of all the institutions in our society, (and here we have in mind American society), only our schools and colleges are expected to pick up all of the pieces that have not been assumed by other institutions—nuclear and extended family, religious institutions, civil society, community centers, the media, profit-making companies, and the like. And because (as a society) we are not able to orchestrate these various entities, we end up saddling our colleges with the challenge of leading young people from adolescence to adulthood.

It’s an assignment that no institution can achieve—and especially not one whose avowed mission should be a focus on the cultivation of the mind.

Intertwining Goals and Means

We hope to have made the case for the centrality of an academic agenda—what might historically have been dubbed the “University of Chicago” model. But we now want to allow that there may be a “happy medium” between a sole focus on academics, on the one hand, and mission sprawl, on the other hand. Having prioritized the academic mission, it should also be possible to carefully intertwine the academics with one additional mission for a campus.

Based on our own work over the last quarter century, we would propose—as an additional goal—the development of a strong ethical sense. Indeed, we have written extensively about the importance of “good work” and how educational institutions can help orient students toward that goal. But there are other viable missions—for example, civic, religious, spiritual, and communal. 

However—and this is a big reservation—we don’t favor an additional goal unless it is tied—indeed, integrated or intertwined—with the academic program. Rather than pulling students in a different direction, this additional mission should be encountered and embodied across the required curriculum. So, to be specific, if a school prioritizes the nurturing of ethical professionals, ethical issues should arise and be addressed in classes, be they literary, historical, psychological, or “hard science.” Or, by the same token, if a school stipulates the goal of nurturing good citizens, questions of citizenship should be encountered in literary works like An Enemy of the People, history classes on the French Revolution, economics or psychology classes that weigh the advantages of “opt in” vs “opt out” choices. Put differently, the academic and civic or ethical missions should reinforce one another, rather than pull in different directions.

Though each is worth a separate posting if not an article or book, we want to place a few additional issues on the table.

Challenges in Levels of Academic Development. Even if our general vision is accepted, a major challenge needs to be recognized. When they enter college, students may have quite different degrees of knowledge and skills with reference to the academic requirements—both in regard to specific topics and with respect to overall level of analytic and communicative skills. This fact has long been recognized. It was memorably summarized in William Perry’s model of intellectual development during the college years and has recently been poignantly described in Anthony Jack’s The Privileged Poor.

It would be highly optimistic, if not delusional, to believe that these differences can be washed away or eliminated over the college span. But the clear goal of college should be to increase the analytic and performance skills across the board, so that all students end up much stronger than they were at the time of matriculation (we now call this Higher Education Capital, or HEDCAP). Moreover, having moved in a positive direction, it should be possible for students to continue to enhance the key skills post-college, whether in a professional program, on the job, or in their leisure.

Campus life. Most of our work has centered on schools that require, or at least feature, residential life. A “24-7 experience,” in which students have the opportunity to learn from (and sometimes live with) peers and on-campus adults, constitutes a powerful treatment. Undoubtedly, engagement in campus life and residential life provides unique experiences—for example, bonding with peers from different backgrounds, learning about new interests as a result of student clubs and organizations, and taking responsibility for the community as a whole. But at the same time this treatment can work to reinforce the academic goals, it can also compete with them, or even, in the least happy occasion, undermine them.

In brief, campus life should enhance the academic experience, but not overshadow it. Far too often, students focus on social and extra-curricular objectives as a reason to go to college. However, the services and the resources on campus can institute powerful levers in one or another direction. And even more powerful, are the role models and exemplars on campus—professors, administrators, or those who provide services which many students may take for granted, but whose efforts should be acknowledged and, as appropriate, celebrated as well.

Vocational education. It’s fair to ask about the place of vocational education in the picture that we have sketched. We have no objection to schools that describe themselves as training individuals in business, marketing, journalism, pharmacy, or nursing. If they succeed in achieving their avowed goals, they have handled the mission challenge satisfactorily and perhaps enviably.

The question arises as to whether such a vocational school or program can also achieve the liberal arts goals that we have described. In the best instance, we believe that they can. Indeed, we cherish the memorable words of a senior at the Olin College of Engineering who said, “I am achieving the best of both worlds: a liberal arts education and an engineering degree.” But to embody the intertwined double helix of vocational training and liberal arts mind-opening is a formidable challenge.

Why now? In writing these words, for the most part, we believe that we are presenting ideas that are sensible, indeed non-controversial. And we acknowledge that we may be preaching to the choir; individuals who read this blog are likely to be in the field of education and to acknowledge, if not to endorse, the merits to what we are saying.

But we are also writing at a unique time in American (and perhaps world) history. For the first time, large portions of the population believe that higher education is not worth the money or, even more depressingly, that it is bad for the nation. Just why this is so is a complicated matter, one on which far wiser observers have amply commented.

At such times, institutions are tested as they have not been before. And higher education faces a clear choice: the sector can continue to claim, against the evidence and against plausibility, that it can repair the various fault lines in the society. Or it can reassert the major reason for its existence and strive to show that, in the present challenging climate, it can achieve what it was designed to achieve. If it fails, the whole sector is likely to be so fundamentally altered that the vision we’ve described will have disappeared—and perhaps for a very long time.

© 2019 Wendy Fischman and Howard Gardner

Categories: Blog

On Quality Higher Education: An Essay in Three Installments, Part 2

April 1, 2019 - 9:31am

To Our Readers: After some reflection, we’ve decided to violate the “rules of the road” with respect to the preferred length of blogs, and we are releasing the second and third blogs in this series at the same time. As always, we welcome and learn from your comments, sent either as notes to us or posted here on the site.

by Howard Gardner and Wendy Fischman

Beyond the Mellon Papers: Our Aspirations for an Education in The Liberal Arts

In the previous blog, we described the goals of an ongoing comprehensive study of education in the liberal arts as well as the challenges entailed in securing reliable evidence of progress in realizing these goals.

The Mellon papers illustrate in graphic detail that the term “liberal arts” can have many meanings. Liberal arts can foreground different kinds of institutionalization and implementation, for different purposes and with different possible results, immediately, in the short run, and in the longer run. How can one make sense of this lexical, vocational, and “deliverable” tangle?

Our reading of the Mellon papers has stimulated us to propose our own vision of an education in the liberal arts. Our vision can be stated succinctly, but its realization and justification requires considerable unpacking.

The principal purpose of a liberal arts education should be the achievement of academic and cognitive growth. Any other purpose needs to be deeply intertwined with these academic and cognitive priorities. By the conclusion of a four-year education in an institution that calls itself a liberal arts school, or that claims to infuse liberal arts significantly into a required curriculum, all graduates should have been exposed to a range of ways of thinking that scholars and other serious thinkers have developed over the decades, sometimes over centuries. Students should have ample practice in applying several ways of thinking; and they should be able to demonstrate, to a set of competent assessors, that they can analyze and apply these ways of thinking. Put specifically and succinctly, graduates should be able to read and critique literary, historical, and social scientific texts; exhibit mathematical, computational, and statistical analytic skills; and have significant practical “hands on” immersion in at least one scientific and one artistic area.

To be clear, this portrait of a liberal arts education is by no means novel; it is reflected in the curriculum developed at a range of institutions at the end of the 19th century, described in Harvard’s influential Red Book at the end of World War II; embodied in “gen ed” and “distribution” requirements at hundreds, if not thousands, of institutions; and foregrounded in the statements and documents of major organizations of higher education, such as the American Association of Colleges and Universities, the Council of Independent Colleges, the COHFE and Ivy League schools, and analogous consortia.

Why is it important, indeed essential, once again to make the claim for the priority of the academic and cognitive enterprise? Our own seven-year study of a range of institutions documents that this priority is all too often honored in the breach, rather than in the observance. Majors and distribution requirements may persist, but the primary academic and cognitive purposes are rarely highlighted and, all too frequently, they are ignored altogether. Instead, as a sector, those of us in non-vocational institutions have gotten sidetracked, caught up in talking about developing students’ independence, self-realization, happiness, character, and ability to gain the knowledge and skills required for their chosen occupations (topics foregrounded in several of the Mellon papers). Of the 1000 students whom we interviewed at length on ten disparate campuses, depressingly few report the experience of exploring new topics and acquiring new ways of thinking as central to their college experience. It is because so many institutions of higher education have undergone “mission sprawl” that we now argue vociferously for getting back on track—staying “true” to the original intention of the liberal arts (and of the liberal arts and sciences).

Even if we re-embrace this classic goal, such a program raises many questions—about additional goals, diverse student bodies, and significant obstacles that individuals may not have faced at earlier times. In the third, final blog in this series, we address a congeries of these issues. We then offer our own suggestions about how best to reaffirm and realize the goals of a liberal arts education in the 21st century.

© 2019 Wendy Fischman and Howard Gardner

Categories: Blog

On Quality Higher Education: An Essay in Three Installments, Part 1

March 25, 2019 - 8:58am

by Howard Gardner and Wendy Fischman

Background: The Mellon Papers

Thanks to the generosity of several funders, including The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, over the last seven years we have had the privilege of studying non-vocational higher education in the United States. We originally called our study “Liberal Arts and Sciences in the 21st Century,” but, as a result of our 2000 interviews, we came to realize that the phrase “liberal arts and sciences” has little meaning for most constituents—and is often misunderstood. Still the phrase has considerable resonance within the higher education community. Indeed, as part of a recently undertaken much larger study of the sector, The Mellon Foundation commissioned several papers on the liberal arts, and these papers have now been posted here.

The papers, well worth reading, cover a range of topics: definitions of liberal arts (varied, needless to say); the history of liberal arts education in the United States (dating back to the seventeenth century); and the relationship between an education described as liberal arts and a survey of possible and desirable outcomes: vocational, financial, cognitive, social, civic, and artistic, both in the short run and over the course of a lifetime.

Perhaps not surprisingly—and appropriately, given that the wide-ranging Mellon study itself will unfold over the next several years—the papers raise provocative questions in lieu of providing reasonably definitive answers.

What do we know? Attending and completing college certainly raises one’s income over the course of a lifetime; the study of humanities is less lucrative (particularly in the short run) than the study of engineering, science, or the “hard” social sciences. Once one goes beyond financial payoff, however, patterns are difficult to discern. It’s hard to demonstrate—particularly to a skeptic—that a liberal arts education makes you smarter, a better thinker and communicator, a kinder, happier, more civic-minded person, or a more likely voter.

To reach firm conclusions, one must compare graduates of a liberal arts college to those who have graduated from a vocational or professionally oriented school, as well as those who went right to work after high school or who had some kind of a “gap” experience—ranging from a year to a decade or more. Such comparisons have a self-selection problem (with different kinds of students presumably choosing the respective route). Additionally, we don’t know whether desirable outcomes occur because of which individuals choose to go to college and which ones make it through to graduation, or because the “higher scorers” go to one kind of college rather than to another. Nor can we state with confidence whether positive outcomes occur in institutions that describe themselves as liberal arts, that require courses in the liberal arts, that mandate some sort of distribution requirement, and/or that showcase some other feature or combination of features. And of course it would be important to find out whether any documented outcomes persist—or perhaps emerge more powerfully—over a much longer period of time.

It’s a laudable goal of the much larger Mellon study to tease out which of these dispositions are causally related to completing a liberal arts education and which can be tied to certain programs at certain institutions or certain kinds of institutions. We hope that it will succeed! But even in this era of easily gathered and easily analyzed “big data,” it’s not a foregone conclusion that we’ll know in five years about the effects—or, less happily, the non-effects—of an education anchored in the liberal arts and sciences.

In the ensuing blogs, we present our own vision of a quality education in the liberal arts and address some of the challenges to this vision.

© 2019 Wendy Fischman and Howard Gardner

Categories: Blog

The Mental Health Enigma: One Size Does Not Fit All (Part I)

March 11, 2019 - 11:24am

By Wendy Fischman

The state of mental health on college campuses has become a major topic of conversation. In recent months, media outlets ranging from The Chronicle of Higher Education to Foreign Affairs have featured stories about how campuses have been inundated with reports of students’ personal problems.

When we began our study of higher education in 2012, we detected traces of concern from participants on our two pilot campuses; but soon thereafter, nearly every participant across the eight other schools—including students, faculty, administrators, parents and trustees—acknowledged a mental health problem. Indeed, the majority of individuals participating in our study indicated that mental health was the biggest problem on campus, and that was in comparison to other well-known problems, such as academic dishonesty, alcohol and substance abuse, peer relationships, and safety. Among students, our largest constituency, both mental health and safety—described as violence and sexual misconduct—are the overwhelming choices. In this and in succeeding blogs, I discuss our own preliminary findings about mental health in higher education.

By now, we are prepared to hear ample discussion of mental health on any campus that we visit. Indeed, we’d be surprised if we didn’t! However, we have also learned that the prevalence of mental health concerns across disparate campuses, with varying student populations of all kinds, needs closer examination.

To begin with, we might have expected to hear about more about stress and anxiety from first year students. After all, they are onboarding to college—and so they have to deal with academic pressure from an unfamiliar environment, the experience of attending large lectures with hundreds of other students, the challenge of forging social connections with peers.

Surprisingly, though, we find that an even greater percentage of graduating than first year students designate mental health as the biggest concern on campus. Moreover, the challenge occurs across the range of campuses. According to our data, mental health is an equally big concern whether students are on residential or non-residential campuses, and whether they attend highly selective or non-selective schools. When we began our study of higher education, we did not intend to be writing about mental health issues. But this is a topic that we can’t ignore, especially when it distracts students from engaging with academic and other aspects of campus life.

Although the concern about mental health, broadly speaking, is equally strong across various kinds of campuses, interesting and important differences are associated with the more and less selective schools, and residential vs. non-residential campuses. (And we note that in our study, more selective schools are residential; less selective schools are not; hence these factors are confounded.) These differences provide useful insight, while also complexifying the general issue. In unraveling the enigma of mental health issues across disparate college campuses, “one size does not fit all.”

  • Students encounter different problems.

As described by adults on campus, there are some discernible patterns in the kinds of problems students experience. Students at the more selective campuses tend to seek support for issues relating to maintaining a high standard of academic work, balancing academics with campus activities, and handling complicated peer relationships. The more selective institutions in our study (primarily residential), are often comprised of more affluent students, as well as more financial aid for those who are in need. In contrast, students at the less selective campuses tend to seek help to deal with traumatic family situations and balancing academic work with paid work. Their limited time on campus can prevent these students from connecting with peers.

These different causes of stress lead to different kinds of recommendations. At more selective campuses, mental health professionals believe that students need to develop more resilience when confronting academic imperfection and vulnerabilities exposed by relationships with peers and adults. Their counterparts at less selective schools report that the students that they see exhibit plenty of resilience, but need help developing meaningful relationships with others. Put differently: perhaps as a result of navigating traumatic situations and/or finding ways to make the financial ends meet, students at less selective schools can handle “imperfection” and “failure;” but they need to feel more comfortable confiding in and relying on others.

For students in both settings, living apart from parents is described as an important factor in mental health, but plays out in different ways. Students at more selective and residential campuses—those who may be accustomed to daily familial support—find that balancing personal needs (laundry, cooking, shopping) away from parents for the first time is stressful. But students at less selective and non-residential campuses—those who may not have not been raised by their own parents, or who are the first in their families to go to college—find the separation difficult in another way. According to one mental health director, “first gen” students have a hard time talking with parents who don’t have an understanding of the value of higher education, especially when not directly linked to a job or financial outcome that will support the family.

  • Students seek help (or don’t) in different ways.

According to mental health providers at the more selective schools, students tend to take the initiative in seeking help. At the less selective schools, fewer students go to the mental health center on their own. More often, students are referred to mental health services by faculty and student life administrators who observe suffering in some way.

There are a few possible reasons for these differences. First, the more selective campuses have stand alone, independent centers, with little to no connection to other departments on campus. They are labelled and recognized as such. At the less selective campuses, mental health services are more closely tied to other administrative and programmatic departments, such as academic advising, tutoring, and inclusion and diversity offices. Accordingly they may well be less distinctive. Second, on the whole, the less selective campuses are bigger campuses, those in which mental health services may not be as widely known. On smaller campuses, as the saying goes, “everyone knows everything.”

A third consideration: Knowledge about and connection to individuals who can help may be closely connected to the larger concept of belonging, whose three varieties are described in an earlier blog. If students feel a sense of belonging to academics, to peers, and/ or to the institution as a whole, the likelihood is high that they would have a faculty member or advisor, a friend, or awareness of centers on campus, where they might seek help. Those who feel alienated may not know to whom or where to turn. On an initial analysis, at the less selective schools in our sample it appears that higher percentages of students feel alienated from academics, peers, and/or the institution.

Regardless of size, type, or availability and accessibility of mental health services, students who tell us about seeking help complain that there are not enough services or counselors. Students lament long waits (weeks) to be seen or a limited number of sessions per academic year. In an earlier blog, we reflect on whether campuses should ramp up mental health services or help students become “hardier” by using techniques on their own—for example, those learned from cognitive behavioral therapy.

  • Mental health providers have different goals for students.

Though all mental health providers and directors clearly want to help students overcome personal issues, they tend to have different goals for students.

For those students at the more selective campuses who struggle with academic pressure, stress about jobs and careers, and/or problems from being overscheduled, mental health professionals hope that students will focus on these problems. But they also prompt students to investigate larger questions about their place in the world and how they might eventually contribute to a larger society. One mental health director states, “I would like [students] to leave with the sense that they are not the center of the universe.” In other words, the goal is for students to focus on contributing to a wider society, not just harping on their own personal challenges and achievements.

With respect to students at less selective campuses who come for help with trauma (losing a parent, fear of safety), the focus is on helping students become stable and productive—going to class, completing work, and staying in school.  As described earlier, these students tend to be more resilient based on what they have already gone through; but in the words of, one director, “when they fall apart, they fall apart.” The clinicians’ emphasis is clearly on helping individuals cope with the particular challenge being faced—learning humility or engaging in public service are left for another day.

In future writings, we expect to take a closer look at other topics relating to mental health: for example, particular words used by students to describe “mental health” challenges (even if they aren’t their own challenges); correlation of students’ preoccupation of mental health with other key concepts of our study, such as mental models, “higher education capital,” called HEDCAP (formerly LASCAP for liberal arts and sciences capital), and belonging; and the range of approaches to mental health carried out across schools in our study.

© 2019 Wendy Fischman and Howard Gardner

Categories: Blog

Takeaways from an Esteemed Advocate of Liberal Arts Education

March 5, 2019 - 11:40am

by Howard Gardner

Julie Kidd is President of The Endeavor Foundation in New York City, a position she has held since 1975. As part of her Foundation work, Kidd has spent several decades supporting, developing, and advocating for liberal arts programs, within the United States and also abroad. We have known each other for many years—I believe that we first met at a conference in Cambridge on the liberal arts twenty-five years ago! Since then, The Endeavor Foundation (previously called The Christian A. Johnson Endeavor Foundation) has generously supported much of our research, and Julie has become a valued adviser and friend.

After reading our “Takeaways” For College Presidents, Julie prepared her own very thoughtful list. She has generously given us permission to post her takeaways below. Wendy Fischman and I are preparing our own more recent thoughts about the purposes of higher education and will post them within the month. May this important conversation continue!

Julie’s Seven Takeaways:

1. Create a compulsory freshman course on the meaning and power of studying in the tradition of the liberal arts and sciences. This can be demonstrated in many concrete ways. Send a precis of the course to all parents of incoming freshmen.

2. Create a framework in which small groups of students study the same topics together across several courses and thus create a common frame of reference and compelling themes for discussion outside the classroom. This framework should include civic engagement experiences so that students apply their learning to real world situations while, at the same time, creating experiential bonds which work against feelings of disconnectedness and anomie.

3. Maintain a faculty student ratio which allows faculty to work closely with their students and to provide significant and meaningful, grounded mentorship.

4. Reward faculty for teaching first and scholarship second.

5. Redirect funds away from competitive athletics to athletics for health and well-being and to establish life-long practices of exercise.

6. Break up our large universities into small liberal arts colleges within the university so that small, personalized classes can be the norm and also so that a great deal of mentorship work can occur.

7. Have courage to challenge the norms and gain support for these approaches through continued bombardment of the public with appropriate information about what higher learning and the college experience should be.

Without these commitments, in my view, the college and university experiences today will not change or improve. The system needs transformation, not little changes around the edges, though those are better than none at all. Change around the edges, however, can cause a false sense of complacency, which undermines transformational change.


Categories: Blog

Steps Toward Free Speech on Campus

February 25, 2019 - 10:57am

When we began our study of higher education seven years ago, we had clear expectations about what we would hear from various constituencies. Our predictions were frequently off the mark. We had expected to hear a lot about political disputes on campus, but in fact, across constituencies, we heard much more about personal problems: student feelings that they did not belong, and student reports of depression, anxiety, and other mental health challenges.

Why such a cloudy crystal ball? Here’s one analysis. Over the last several years, notable political disputes have garnered headlines in the written and broadcast media. For anyone who follows life on American campuses, the mere mention of a college can activate a predictable set of associations:

Indeed, it is the fortunate campus that has not garnered such headlines in the last few years.

We do not know whether, if our study were repeated or were longitudinal, we would encounter more mentions on campus of these “hot wire” political issues. Or whether, alternatively, such episodes are of interest chiefly to the media, ever eager for dramatic stories, or for administrators or trustees whose most fervent wish is to remain off the front page.

On reflection, I’ve reached some tentative conclusions. Actual controversies about specific speakers are not that common; as documented by Sanford Ungar, who tracks free speech issues, campus clashes are restricted to a small number of provocative speakers, almost all politically conservative. If you invite Anne Coulter or Milo Yiannopoulos or Richard Spencer to campus, you can expect vocal protests; and if they actually make it to campus, they will require protections with the attendant expenses. There appear to be no left-wing speakers who are equally controversial, but certainly a militant atheist like Richard Dawkins would cause perturbations at a religious campus.

A political issue of a different flavor concerns me. This “free speech” issue concerns the amount of self-censoring by students, teachers, and administrators; the reasons for such self-censoring; and whether that self-censoring is important and needed, or problematic and ripe for confrontation. Here’s where one encounters arguments about “safe spaces,” political correctness, trigger warnings, and other efforts to lower the political, social, and cultural heat before it has a chance to move the campus thermometer in a risky direction. I teach at a professional school, the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where such self-censoring is a live issue—one predictably discussed more in hushed terms than on public platforms.

In his book Safe Spaces, Brave Spaces, law professor-turned-school leader John Palfrey lays out the arguments pertaining to both facets of the title. He explains the importance of free speech, particularly in the American context (the United States has the strongest laws protecting free speech anywhere in the world). Palfrey also reviews the reasons why many individuals, particularly from certain historically disadvantaged groups, feel that they have been the victims of free speech norms, and accordingly favor various kinds of interventions which make them feel safe. This situation has only been aggravated by social media outlets, like Yik Yak (now deceased) or lurid posts on Reddit, which allow anonymous hate speech presumptively under the cloak of the first amendment to the Constitution. On this “safe space” line of argument, there are valid reasons for creating safe spaces of various sorts on a campus.

It would be more than presumptuous of me to come down hard on either side of this debate—I respect John Palfrey’s moderate, even-handed stance.

That said, I put forth here a proposal that seems sensible for colleges and universities—and especially for those institutions that are not purely vocational, those institutions that we should expect to draw on the terminology, the concepts, and the traditions of the liberal arts and sciences when controversial issues arise.

When admitted, students should be informed about what it means to be a student in that particular community of learning. Aspirations for free, unfettered communication—even, perhaps especially, on controversial issues—should be the goal. But if that is the goal, one needs to have clear examples of how such discussions should take place: what it means to disagree strongly without being disagreeable or worse. And equally, one needs specific examples of speech acts, language, debating tacks that are counterproductive—and why such expressions and tactics should accordingly be discouraged or, in extreme cases, sanctioned.

An example: The arguments put forth by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray in their book The Bell Curve are certainly controversial; but it is possible to discuss the issues civilly. Indeed, over the years, I have done so both in person and on the radio with Charles Murray.

I propose two ordered steps:

  1. Campus Consensus

The leaders of the community (senior administrators, faculty, trustees) must themselves agree on the norms of the community. This is not easy to do, needless to say—and especially challenging when the population is large and diverse! Indeed, when such agreement had not been achieved at the University of Chicago in the fall of 2016, the results were counterproductive—students and others heard contradictory messages. Those with the biggest stake in the institution must take whatever steps are needed to bring about a viable consensus, which can then be shared—publicly—with the wider community.

  1. Onboarding of New Students (and others, which would include new faculty, as well as transfer students).

The school must devote as much time and effort as necessary to familiarizing students with the norms of communication and discussion with respect to controversial issues, the reasons for them, and the consequences if these norms are undermined. In recent years, such efforts have been undertaken with respect to plagiarism, a much more pervasive problem since the advent of the Internet, and with respect to sexual misdeeds, a perennial problem, though one whose frequency across time is difficult to estimate.

These forms of onboarding are obviously important; the nature and the specifications of the norms of discussion and discourse about important topics are at least as important. They are absolutely central to the purposes of a college or university—over time and in any democratic society. And they are most likely to come up in courses in the humanities and the softer social sciences—particularly those disciplines that are in jeopardy nowadays.

Along with other societies around the globe, contemporary American society is challenged today on these very issues. If our future leaders and our future citizens are to have disagreements without being intimidated or resorting to disruption, we had better lay the groundwork during undergraduate years—if not sooner.

© 2019 Wendy Fischman and Howard Gardner

Categories: Blog

Gardner Named to Top 30 Management Professionals

February 22, 2019 - 1:25pm

Howard Gardner has been named #18 on a 2019 ranking of the top 30 management professionals.

The annual list from Global Gurus compiles the profiles of influential and inspirational leaders and speakers in management theory and strategy. 

To learn more about this ranking, and to see the full list visit the Global Gurus website here. Congratulations to all those named!

Categories: Blog

Longing to Belong: An Important Issue for Higher Education

February 14, 2019 - 1:08pm

by Wendy Fischman

In higher education, the context can shift quickly. When we began our national study in 2012, higher education seemed to be highly valued (funding for Pell grants nearly doubled), MOOCs were on the rise, and “liberal arts” as a form of education was admired and emulated in many parts of the world. In fact, we originally named our study “Liberal Arts and Sciences for the 21st Century.” Now, seven years later, after ascertaining that “liberal arts” is not widely understood in the United States, we use a more neutral title: “Higher Education in the 21st Century.”

Of course, we had concerns about higher education—otherwise we would not have undertaken 2000 interviews with it major stakeholders, including incoming students, graduating students, faculty, administrators, parents, trustees, and young alums. As consumers of the national media, we were prepared to hear about the escalating costs of higher education, and also about incidents of racial, sexual, or political conflict on campus. But as we carried out our interviews, we came to see that issues of “mental health” and “belonging” loom large for every constituency and on every campus; they seem to be the biggest struggles students confront, impacting both academic experiences and other features of college life.

In our efforts to gain deeper insights into issues of belonging, our research team devised a coding scheme. We parsed the concept of “belonging” into three separate categories:

1) Academic: mastery and ownership of course content/major/scholarly work;

2) Peer: meaningful connections with other students; and

3) Institutional: identification with mission and spirit of the campus.

These categories help us to understand whether these forms of belonging correlate with one another (positively or negatively) and whether they differ across majors, gender, kinds of campuses, and other independent variables. We also wanted to see whether we would find patterns across constituency groups—for example, incoming students and graduating students, and across the ten disparate schools participating in the study. Accordingly, we designated several questions about belonging (and non-belonging) that can be grouped into three categories: 1) overall sample; 2) types of schools; and 3) correlations with other concepts and constructs in our study.

1) Overall Sample: How does belonging (in each of the three areas) for first year students compare to belonging for graduating students? How does belonging for male students compare to female students? How does belonging compare for students in the humanities, natural sciences, or social sciences?

2) School Type: How does belonging (in each of the three areas) for students at small schools compare with students at large schools? How does belonging for students at residential campuses compare to students at campuses that are primarily for commuters? And how does belonging for students at more selective institutions compare to students at less selective institutions?

3) Correlations with Other Concepts: What is the relationship of belonging (in each of the three areas) to the mental models that we have delineated—do “transactional” students have more or less belonging than “transformational” students? What is the relationship of belonging to “higher education capital” (HEDCAP), formerly referred to as “liberal arts and sciences capital” (LASCAP)—another major concept of our study? Do students with higher HEDCAP scores have more or less belonging than students with lower HEDCAP scores?

So far, an initial finding has surprised us: for all three belonging categories, the overall percentage of students who describe a sense of belonging “decreases” between the group of first year students and the group of graduating students.

At first glimpse, the finding seems counter-intuitive. That is, why do graduating students who have been enrolled for 4-6 years (or 2-3 years in the case of community college students) tend to feel less connected to academics, peers, and the institution than do their first year counterparts? And, why is it that graduating students tend to feel more alienated than those who have just arrived on campus? 

There may be several explanations—for example, the kinds of orientation programs and residential requirements of a particular campus. Pursuing this example, before school begins, some institutions offer opportunities for incoming students to bond with peers and faculty in service activities or on camping trips. At least one of the schools participating in our study added a residential requirement for sophomores in order to facilitate deeper connections among peers. As a contrast, perhaps graduating students have the proverbial “foot out the door” and are ready to “move on.”

We suggest another possibility. Over the course of college, as students further identify their own interests and passions, get to know their peers in deeper ways, and experience campus life in its fullness, they come to realize that they have different values from other students, and possibly as well from their faculty and administrators. In other words, they really “don’t belong” on their campus. It is also possible that initially, in the first year of college, some students simply assume that others are like them, due to superficial traits, and later find that this is not true.

One such example is a student I’ll call Alex.

Alex is a graduating student at a selective college, a double major in literature and neuroscience. He comes from a rural area in the United States, where he graduated from a high school without having received useful advice about the college experience. Half the students from his graduating high school class went to college, while many of the others went into the military. Of those who went to college, he estimates that half went to a community college. He came to college with the belief that “[college is] important [because] searching for knowledge is the number one goal in life, and this is just like the most noble thing you could do…”

But, over time, Alex finds that his “noble” ambitions are at odds with those of other students. He says, “Everyone here has pretty much the same goals… the same career goals of just making a lot of money.” Specifically, he reports that within the neuroscience department, “I’m the only person I know…that’s not trying to go to med[ical] school. Everyone is very pre-med or just pre-tech, pre-finance, very career oriented and genuinely don’t care that much about the major that they’re doing a lot of the time…”

Alex also faults administrators for a focus on lucrative careers, rather than for emphasizing the humanities. As he explains, on-campus adults encourage students to attend career fairs and to network because they will make “connections for life” and that through these experiences, connections will be “set in stone forever.”

On the cusp of graduation, Alex reflects: “I wish somebody had told me more about [this] when I came in…[I] generally bec[ame] disillusioned over time with how and why people come into college, and how they deal with their classes, and why they take their classes, and what their career goals are, and realizing that so few people, especially here, are interested academically in what they’re doing in any way.”

In our terms, Alex’s “mental model” for college is “misaligned” with the models of those around him, particularly students and administrators. He approaches college with an “exploratory” mindset—that college is an opportunity to immerse in different fields and “search for knowledge.” This mindset comes into direct opposition with the “transactional” mode, in which the goal of college is to get a degree and meet people in order to build a resume for a future job or career. In a nutshell, Alex feels alienated from the academic realm, peers around him, and overall institution in which he attends.

Though we certainly don’t want to advocate for feelings of alienation or loneliness per se among students, it is clear that Alex “found himself” through the college experience. This form of discovery is evident in his articulation of the great distance between his own goals and the ambitions and motivations of many others on campus. Though he may be “dismayed” by his experience, he stayed true to his values, rather than compromising on these values in order to “fit in.”  

Interestingly, though we were not prepared for “belonging” to emerge as one of the most pressing issues on campus, the topic may well be tied, in some ways or in some circumstances, to finances, “ROI,” and jobs—concerns we had thought would dominate our interviews. Perhaps the issues of “ROI” and “belonging” are not as distant from each other as we might initially have believed.

For their useful comments, we thank Shelby Clark, Kirsten McHugh, and Katie Steele.

© 2019 Wendy Fischman and Howard Gardner

Categories: Blog