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Howard Gardner
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Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education / Harvard Graduate School of Education
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What’s in a Name? The Puzzle of the Liberal Arts

September 24, 2018 - 9:42am

by Sophie Blumert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Double Positive vs. Double Negative

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shifting the Spectrum

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

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

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

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

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

© 2018 Wendy Fischman and Howard Gardner

Categories: Blog

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

September 10, 2018 - 9:59am

by Jeffrey Robinson

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

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

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

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

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

Mary: Parallel Mental Models

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

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

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

Jack: Intertwined Mental Models 

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2018 Wendy Fischman and Howard Gardner

Categories: Blog

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

August 27, 2018 - 12:13pm

by Wendy Fischman and Howard Gardner

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

An Earlier Model

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

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

Part III. Key Additional Analyses in our Study

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Survey!

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

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

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

Conclusion: A Few Words about Our Own Motivation

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

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

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

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

© 2018 Wendy Fischman and Howard Gardner

Categories: Blog

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

August 20, 2018 - 11:32am

by Wendy Fischman and Howard Gardner

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

An Earlier Model

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

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

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

Initial Surprises and Emerging Concepts

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

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

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

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

Two Key Concepts

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

  1. LAS Capital

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

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

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

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

Additional points about LASCAP:

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

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

2. Mental models

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2018 Wendy Fischman and Howard Gardner

Categories: Blog

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

August 13, 2018 - 8:15am

by Wendy Fischman and Howard Gardner

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

An Earlier Model

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

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

Part I. The Nuts and Bolts of our Research

Interview Questionnaire

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

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

Selection of Sites and Participants

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

These topics are covered in the next two blogs.

© 2018 Wendy Fischman and Howard Gardner

Categories: Blog

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

August 9, 2018 - 7:59am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Blog

Should We Require All Students to Take Philosophy?

August 3, 2018 - 6:45am

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

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

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

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

Requirements: Pros and Cons

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

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

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

Why Philosophy?

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

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

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

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

Curricular Equivalents

What about common core, or general education requirements?

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

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

A Gatekeeper to Knowledge

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

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

Jobs and “Practical Knowledge”

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

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

And so I have two responses:

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

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

Categories: Blog

The Good Life: Integration of Academics and Civic Engagement

July 23, 2018 - 10:32am

by Wendy Fischman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Blog

Mensa Research Journal Features Multiple Intelligences

July 13, 2018 - 1:26pm

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

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

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

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

Click here to learn more. 

Categories: Blog

Gardner Meets Dr. Ruth in Harvard Ed. Magazine

July 5, 2018 - 8:07am

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

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

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

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

Categories: Blog

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

June 26, 2018 - 12:29pm

An Introductory Message from Howard Gardner

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

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

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

A Word about Alignment

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

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

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

-Howard Gardner

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

Wendy Fischman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2018 Wendy Fischman and Howard Gardner

Categories: Blog

High School Writing: The Return of the Repressed

June 12, 2018 - 9:11am

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

So much for repression—not psychodynamic but scholarly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Blog

The Child as Father to the Man

May 31, 2018 - 6:59am

As I have sought to embody the name of this blog, I’ve focused on my own learning that has taken place this year: through recent reading (e.g. my two posts on the von Humboldt brothers); ongoing research (our study of higher education in the United States); and current teaching (what readings to assign to my current students).

At the same time, I have been writing a memoir—at present longer than an article but shorter than the book. Some of its content is rehearsed in a lengthy interview that I recently gave to the Harvard Gazette. In the memoir, I mention that my high school, college, and graduate school papers were thrown away. And so I have had to rely on my memory—good for facts, but very poor for experiences. (My wife quips that I am repressed—and, perhaps, she is right!) Accordingly, when I have reflected on my youth, I have tended to downplay my childhood and early adolescence. Indeed, I’ve suggested that my intellectual and scholarly life really began when, at age 18, I arrived at Harvard College, and my mind was opened to the lifelong pursuit of knowledge.

While doing this autobiographical reconstruction, I was aware that I had been the co-editor of my higher school newspaper and also that I had taken a stimulating “senior seminar” in high school. But I had scant memories of those years and had never bothered to look at three years of newspapers which occupied a few shelves in our basement—unexamined, indeed unopened!—for almost 60 years.

After completing a first draft of the memoir, I decided to dust off the sixty or so copies of The Opinator—sometimes complete with graffiti—and see what I had actually written. In doing so, as a bonus, I discovered four papers that I had written in my high school senior seminar. And what I discovered was astonishing to me—quite different from what I had been able to reconstruct about my literary past with my admittedly feeble memory.

Let’s start with the newspaper. I had always liked to write, and as early as elementary school, I had put together short newspapers. Accordingly, as soon as I arrived as a sophomore at Wyoming Seminary in Kingston, Pennsylvania, I joined the staff of The Opinator. It was a very unusual publication—appearing each week, it covered the waterfront of topics, featured engravings, and was supported by advertising (it looks like The New Yorker, not like The New York Times).

In “comping” for the paper, I had a choice of news, sports, or literary beat, and for whatever reason, I joined the literary board. As a junior, I became the junior editor, and then, with friend and classmate Barry Yoselson, I co-edited The Opinator from the spring of 1960 to the spring of 1961 (as it happened, the period when John F. Kennedy ran for and was elected president).

My first surprise was how prolific I was. Almost from the start, I was a regular contributor to The Opinator—often writing something every week. The second thing I discovered was that I wrote about almost everything. I wrote short stories—typically about elderly people reflecting on their lifespan (was I anticipating the memoir on which I am currently working?). I reviewed books—for example, a comparison of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World with George Orwell’s 1984. I reviewed plays and concerts—and while the reviews of the plays were unremarkable, one review of a concert was quite acute. That’s probably because the performer was a pianist and I, as a reasonably good pianist, knew the pieces (both from recordings and from my own performances of them). I also wrote about topical topics—like the craze over hula-hoops and the most recent television season.

Since middle childhood, I have been a news junkie. And so it is not surprising that I wrote about what was happening in the world—summits of world leaders, nuclear weapons, population explosion. But what came as a complete surprise is how interested I was in education. Indeed, one could almost say that I had the “education beat.” I wrote about getting into college, about honor codes, about grading—admittedly topics of interest to college-aspiring high school students. But I was also aware of contemporary educational debates—for example, the just-published report on the American High School written by former Harvard President James Conant. And in a set of pieces that were amazingly anticipatory, I (and my colleagues) wrote about testing—standardized tests, in particular—with criticism of intelligence tests. I even had a column on liberal arts education—the topic with which I have been obsessed for the last five years—and we featured a wood cut cover that read “Truth, Beauty, and Goodness,” the virtues about which I’ve been obsessed for over a decade.

For the most part, the news and editorial coverage was what you’d expect from a high school student living during the Eisenhower years. But in retrospect, I am struck by two features of this news-oriented coverage.

First of all, I was extremely patriotic – note this phrase: “Let us balance our cherished ideals of freedom and equality with the presence of intelligent discipline so that America can remain a stronghold of freedom.”

Second, and relatedly, I was a full-fledged Cold Warrior—entirely against the Soviet Union, worried about the fate of the divided city of Berlin, and even frightened of China. As a somewhat redeeming feature, The Opinator did call for the recognition of “Red China”—a full twenty years before that actually happened.

I now cringe when I read some of these more incendiary passages:  “It is horrifying to realize that if China were to wage war on us, we could kill one billion Chinese and still have several hundred million Chinese left alive.”

Nowadays I am definitely a globalist, a pacifist, and a Gandhian. I suspect that my views changed in part because of changes in the world situation (the fall of the Iron Curtain, the shocks of the Vietnam War and Watergate) and partly because I had moved from a very conservative part of the Northeast (a former coal mining region of Pennsylvania where Donald Trump won the popular vote) to what was often called the People’s Republic of Cambridge.

As a result of this “remembrance of things past,” I now realize that much of my intellectual agenda of more recent decades actually began before college. In that sense, the child really was father to the man. And what of my actual writing? Did I simply report “the facts” and “conventional opinions,” or was it at all critical? I’ll discuss that in the next blog.

Categories: Blog

In Memoriam: Jeffrey B. Ferguson (1964 – 2018)

May 16, 2018 - 11:05am

Education is an ancient undertaking. Socrates knew a lot, as did Confucius, the Biblical prophets, and the Talmud scholars. There are not a lot of new practices in education—and not many original teachers. For this reason, when a teacher (and a program) seem highly original, it’s worth paying attention.

Such was the case with Jeffrey B. Ferguson, the Karen and Brian Conway Presidential Teaching Professor of Black Studies at Amherst College. Jeff was raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and received both his bachelor and doctoral degrees from Harvard University. In 1996, he began to teach at Amherst College, where he quickly acquired an admirable reputation.

Howard served on the Amherst Board of Trustees from 2009 to 2015, and Jeff came to speak to its members several times. On each occasion, he stretched the group intellectually. Jeff devised new ways of imparting academic skills in his Black Studies courses, and these tactics turned out to be useful for almost every student across a range of disciplines. We were fortunate that Jeff allowed us to study and write about his educational inventions. What started with one impressive professor in one course, grew into a three-course sequence which came to be known as the “Explicit Courses.”

Founded in rural Massachusetts in 1821, Amherst College is a small, private, highly selective institution. For most of its past, the college had an all-male student body with a strong focus on intellectual achievement and athletics. It was filled with graduates of elite secondary schools, and with professors who were recognized scholars as well as fine teachers. Amherst faculty and students were well matched…for the 1950s. Later, after considerable controversy, the college became coeducational. Then, under President Anthony Marx, Amherst expanded the diversity of the student body more dramatically than any of its “peer” institutions. The new makeup of the student body was supported by energetic fund-raising.

Rapid change has its costs. This demographic revolution led to a dramatic and largely unanticipated disjunction between many of the faculty and many of the students. Any student admitted to a highly selective institution such as Amherst College is likely to believe that he or she can read a book, write an essay, complete a research assignment, and defend any side of an argument. Faculty also assume that incoming cohorts possess the same knowledge and the cultural literacy as cohorts in the past. However, it soon became clear that this was not always so, particularly among less privileged minority students. For all their evident promise and aptitude, few had received a rigorous liberal arts training before attending Amherst in skills such as reading, summarizing, writing, analyzing, arguing, debating, and so on.

Enter Jeff’s Explicit Courses. The idea of these courses was to provide rich support—“scaffolding,” as it is sometimes called—for students who did not acquire these skills at home, at Phillips Exeter Academy, or at Scarsdale High School. The Black Studies Department reorganized its courses into a sequence—reading, argument, rhetoric, research—which we nicknamed the University of Chicago sequence, recalling as it did the efforts of University of Chicago professors Mortimer Adler, Wayne Booth, Stephen Toulmin, and their colleagues.

As a result of Jeff’s ingenious curriculum, students in the Black Studies Department began to thrive in their studies, not only in the their major but across much of the curriculum. In our interviews with those taking the Introduction to Black Studies course (which focuses on deep reading), students remarked at how much better prepared they were to participate in discussions of text in courses ranging from Creative Writing (What is my core argument? What are my common themes? How does my word choice affect my argument?) to Sociology (better appreciation for how to talk about minorities, policy disputes and implementations of programs). Then three intriguing things happened.

First, students from across campus flocked to Professor Ferguson’s courses. These were not only African-American students and not only the allegedly ill-prepared. Students from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines saw the progress of peers who were enrolled in these courses. They did not want to miss out on the opportunity to cultivate and refine their own academic skill-set.

Second, other faculty in Black Studies began to adapt their own courses to fit this new model. This trend spawned the aforementioned “Explicit Course” series that we were able to observe in our study. The three courses are mandatory for Black Studies majors but do not need to be taken in any specific order. Majors from other disciplines can take whichever courses they prefer, and do not have to enroll in the full sequence. The first course in the sequence is BLST 111: Introduction to Black Studies. This course encourages reading agility and comprehension, as well as improved writing skills. The second course is BLST 200: Critical Debates in Black Studies. Students spend the first half of the course studying a six-part conceptual framework for making and analyzing arguments and the second half of the course engaging in classroom debates. In the final course, BLST 300: Research in Black Studies, students learn how to work through the formal research process.

With the support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, professors at Amherst in other fields have begun to use Explicit Course methods. Designing Explicit Courses is challenging. Such courses constitute an art form, with scaffolding in the early stages, followed by the gradual withdrawal of support. The courses require unusual commitment on the part of teachers and students. Such pedagogical immersion is probably easier at Amherst College than at a larger, less selective school—and the seriousness with which Amherst faculty have always taken teaching is contributory as well.

Like other seers, Jeff will not enter the promised land himself. It is up to those of us who were inspired by his charismatic example to practice what he created and to pass on the word.

Kirsten McHugh

Howard Gardner

Categories: Blog

Harvard Gazette Interviews Howard Gardner About His Life and Work

May 10, 2018 - 2:08pm

In the summer of 2017, Howard Gardner had a series of conversations with reporters from the Harvard Gazette, Harvard University’s official news website. The topics of these discussions ranged from Gardner’s early life and family to his lifelong scholarly work. 

In May 2018, the Gazette released an in-depth profile of Gardner based on these conversations. We are pleased to share this interview with you, accessible by clicking here. In this piece, Gardner talks about the influences, challenges, surprises, and regrets that have influenced his personal life and career trajectory as a scholar and researcher.

Please feel free to post any reactions or reflections in the comments section below.

Categories: Blog

Lifelong Learning: A Confession

April 30, 2018 - 11:42am

I’ve given my blog in education the name of Life-Long Learning (the acronym LLL for short). Clearly I think that LLL is a good idea and, by implication, I’ve sought to exemplify it. Yet, looking at what I myself have done recently and peering clearly in the mirror, I feel the need to add, “Lifelong learner: Heal thyself”!

For the past two years, I have taught a course called “Understanding Truth, Beauty, and Goodness.” This course builds on the ideas presented in my 2011 book Truth, Beauty, and Goodness Reframed: Educating for the virtues in the age of truthiness and Twitter.

As the subheading indicates, I consider these three perennial virtues in light of the rise of social media, on the one hand, and the postmodern critiques of these virtues, on the other. Put succinctly, I look at the virtues in relation to the disruptive forces of philosophical challenges and technological innovations.

I think that the course is a good one; students seem to like it and learn from it. So I have incentives to continue it much as it is. And yet, this year I realized two things;

  1. The reading list is heavily skewed toward white American and European males, with hardly any writers from the rest of the world, and not many women authors.
  2. While the reading list contains many recent articles from the press and some recent scholarly writings, the key texts come from decades ago.

In reflecting on these tendencies—one might properly call them biases—in the reading list, I made a revealing discovery. Most of the key texts are writings that came to light when I myself was a student in the social sciences, fifty years ago. To be specific:

  • When studying truth, we begin with Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962/1970); and we review the debates between linguist Noam Chomsky and behavioral psychologist B. F. Skinner from the same period.
  • In our study of beauty, the key texts come from philosopher Nelson Goodman (1968) and art historian E. H. Gombrich (1960). I should mention that we also read two more recent treatises authored by Elaine Scarry (2001) and Kirk Varnedoe (2006).
  • As for our examination of goodness, the key texts are both from the same period: John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice (1971) and A. O. Hirschman’s Exit, Voice, and Loyalty (1970).
  • Finally, in our quick survey of developmental psychology, the students read Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky, both born in 1896, and review key writings from Lawrence Kohlberg in the 1970s. One exception again: Alison Gopnik’s book The Philosophical Baby (1999).

I can’t avoid the inference that students are being asked to relive my own experiences as a student: to read the texts that were intellectually formative for me half a century ago and to critique them as I have over the years. Or, in the spirit of earlier blogs in this series, I am suggesting that the ideas that transformed my thinking should also be the ones that transform the thinking of my students, who are considerably younger, to say the least. There’s also the inference that there’s “nothing new under the sun” and that, with few exceptions, the relevant field was formed and has not changed materially since I occupied a student seat several decades ago.

Of course, I can come up with counterarguments:

  • The benefit of distance: These readings are not fly-by-night; they have stood the test of time. Indeed, during the last week of the course in both years, we read a synthesis from the tail end of the 20th century (E. O. Wilson, 1998), but I have already shifted the second work of synthesis from Sean Carroll (2017) to Harari (2015) because Carroll did not pass the test of time… and perhaps Harari won’t either.
  • Each field has its formative texts which everyone should encounter first hand: This is a somewhat more convincing argument. If you are to study sociology seriously, you need to read the writings of Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, and Max Weber. Though these were written over a century ago, subsequent sociological writings build upon or challenge these foundational thinkers. One can make a similar case with regard to Freud in psychoanalysis, Chomsky in linguistics, or, in my own field of developmental psychology, Piaget, Vygotsky, and a few others.
  • Exposure to what students are unlikely to encounter otherwise: Because the social sciences are decidedly trendy, most graduate programs focus on recent empirical articles. And so it is possible—if not likely—for a student to get an advanced degree without ever encountering these key foundational texts. I have enough authority—or am bullheaded enough—that I can induce students to read Piaget’s writings rather than empirical studies which, whether or not the author is aware of it, are based on issues and concepts developed by Piaget (and his collaborators, notably Bärbel Inhelder).

And I can also be defensive:

  • My shifting interests: Unlike many of my teaching colleagues, I have wandered over a wide academic turf. As a result, I have not kept up with the most recent theoretical and empirical writings in each field and have to depend on older knowledge. As a compensation, students are exposed to a teacher who can make links and offer syntheses that may be less available to a more focused scholar.
  • Insider knowledge: Because I have lived with these texts for a half century (and in some cases, knew the authors reasonably well), I have intimate knowledge of the arguments. I can point out weaknesses and contradictions as well as brilliant insights that changed parts of a field or perhaps launched a new one.
  • This field of study is not natural or physical sciences: Were I teaching chemistry, physics, or biology, I would necessarily have to focus on works written in the last few years—even ones that have not yet been published. But social sciences develop much more slowly and, in my own view, they don’t establish permanent truths—they provide data-based reasons for proposing certain organizing concepts, frameworks, and theories… as I put it, “ideas that change the conversation.”

So much for pros and cons.

Should I to continue to teach this course in the future, I’d consider several changes:

  • Diversify the demographies and backgrounds of the authors. Insight and wisdom are not confined to white males who lived in the 20th
  • Choose more key texts of recent vintage. The books and key articles do not need to come from 2020 but some should bear a more recent date of publication.
  • Inform myself of some of the recent trends in the field. I have already decided to consult colleagues who are more current and find out what works they are reading and assigning.

Some final notes: When something is going well, there is no need for radical alterations. Were I to teach this course for a decade, I’d hope that by 2028, the reading list would be quite different, and the class discussions and student papers would reflect those differences. But for 2019, I won’t blow the course up; instead, I will tweak.

An important goal of education is to give students the opportunity to have their own thinking challenged and perhaps transformed. It’s valuable to reflect on which works and ideas transformed you as a learner; but there’s no reason to assume that there is a single royal road to transformation. Indeed, across time and across learners, transformation can be catalyzed by many different texts, discussions, and experiences.

Categories: Blog

Three Founders of The Good Work Project Named Among Most Influential Psychologists

April 19, 2018 - 9:34am

Howard Gardner, Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi, and William Damon, the three founders of the Good Work Project, have been recognized among the fifty most influential living psychologists in an online ranking by TheBestSchools.org.

Howard Gardner comments below on this news.

Generally speaking, I pay little attention to rankings. To be sure, it’s nice to be ranked higher, rather than lower. But I am sufficiently familiar with the process to know that one can easily finagle the ratings; and that they are, at best, a very imperfect index of quality, however scrupulously they are assembled and displayed.

That said, I was pleased to see the list of “The 50 Most Influential Living Psychologists in the World” as determined by The Best Schools. On that list were my close colleagues Mihaly (Mike) Csikszentmihalyi and William (Bill) Damon, and me.

In 1994-1995, the three of us had the privilege of full-year fellowships at the Stanford Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. And it was there that we conceived of a ten year project—a study of the professions—which came to be called “The Good Work Project.” That project yielded ten books, scores of articles, and various tools for the workplace. Until this day, almost a quarter of a century later, we each continue our own work in the spirit of the original project—in my case, under the title “The Good Project.”

I am pleased to thank the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences for enabling this collaboration and to salute Mike and Bill, my close colleagues and friends—now recognized as  “influential psychologists.”

Howard Gardner

To learn more about this work, please visit TheGoodProject.org.

Categories: Blog

American Philosophical Society Publishes Jerome Bruner Memoir

April 16, 2018 - 12:32pm

Howard Gardner’s memoir of Jerome Bruner, the pioneering cognitive psychologist who passed away at the age of 100 in 2016, has been published by the American Philosophical Society.

In this reflection, Gardner provides an overview of Bruner’s life, work, and influence, including personal recollections. The essay appeared in the December 2017 of Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society.

Click here to access the piece in full.

Categories: Blog

A Requiem for “Soc Rel”: Here’s to Synthesizing Social Science

April 10, 2018 - 9:57am

As both an undergraduate at Harvard College in the early 1960s, and as a doctoral student at the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in the late 1960s, I studied in a field called “Social Relations”—universally shortened to “Soc Rel” (and pronounced “Sock Rell”). Right after I received my degree in 1971, the field was terminated. Almost no one nowadays has even heard of Soc Rel, and accordingly, its demise has not lamented. Yet I believe it was an excellent example of interdisciplinary social science. We should seek to preserve the valuable lessons that it embodied.

First, a brief potted history. In the late 19th century and early 20th century, the social sciences were born. Following loosely on European examples, American scholars began to carry out empirical research in psychology (e.g. experiments); in sociology (e.g. surveys); and in anthropology (e.g. field work in remote cultures). (Comparable work was carried out in other social sciences, such as political science, economics, and linguistics, but that’s another story.) These fields of study often spawned departments in universities; and there were also collective enterprises across fields—as organized, for example, in the New York based Social Science Research Council (SSRC), founded in 1924. (SSRC supported my research in the early 1970s, and I subsequently served on its Board.)

The period before, during, and after the Second World War saw considerable interdisciplinary work in the social sciences (some, indeed, spurred by WWII). In my own field of developmental psychology, there were Bureaus of Child Welfare in several Midwestern universities, and Committees or Departments of Human Development at schools like Yale and the University of Chicago.

The establishment of institutes, committees, and departments is almost always a joint product of history, biography, and funding (chiefly private foundations, in those days). Disciplines develop alone, in tandem, or, more rarely, together, while scholars from these fields also carry out their work alone, in tandem, and, more rarely, together. At Harvard, during the 1940s, there was an unusual collection of distinguished scholars who came to know one another and to be invigorated by one another’s work. Specifically, the major figures were psychologists Gordon Allport and Henry A. Murray; anthropologists Clyde Kluckhohn and Cora DuBois; and sociologists Samuel Stouffer and Talcott Parsons. Among these scholars, Parsons was notably ambitious: he was intellectually ambitious, trying to tie the social sciences together through a conceptual framework (very influential in its time, now largely forgotten); and he was organizationally ambitious as well, thinking/hoping that the heretofore separate disciplines could, if integrated, prove to be far greater than the sum of their parts.

Hence in 1946 the Department of Social Relations was launched, as both an undergraduate major (or concentration) and as a doctoral degree department. (The name is truly awful!) For a while it thrived, because of the leading scholars involved; because of the interesting work that they carried out, sometimes jointly; and, it has to be stated, because Soc Rel was seen as being an easy major, one favored by many athletes.

And now an autobiographical turn. When I entered college in 1961, I had not heard of Soc Rel (probably very few high school students had). I assumed that I would be an history major and that I would go on to law school (adults had often told me that I would become a lawyer some day). But through a combination of circumstances, I became interested in this new field of study (new to me, still new to the academy), and when I was turned off by my sophomore tutorial in history, I decided to switch to Soc Rel—which turned out to be a fine home for my interests and my intellectual style.

When I look back on this experience and wonder why I was attracted to Soc Rel, I can identify two separate reasons. On the one hand, I liked very much several of the major professors—sociologists David Riesman, Daniel Bell, and Charles Tilly, personality psychologist Henry Murray, cognitive psychologist Jerome Bruner, psychologist of language Roger Brown, anthropologists David Maybury-Lewis and Lawrence Wylie, and several others (alas, no women scholars). (I also liked the work of social psychologist Stanley Milgram, though we clashed personally.) Above all, there was the eminent psychoanalyst Erik Erikson, and I was fortunate enough to be his tutee as both a junior and senior in college. Though Erikson often told his students “Don’t try to be me,” it’s clear that he was a role model for me throughout college, just as Roger Brown and Jerome Bruner became role models in graduate school.

The other reason had to do with the kind of work that was central to scholarship in this area—and the real reason for this blog!

While the scholars in this field usually had their own specific expertise—ranging from linguistics to psychoanalysis—they moved readily and comfortably across the social scientific terrain. Riesman and Erikson—the individuals who had the greatest influence on me in college and later in life—did not represent a discipline at all. Riesman was trained as a lawyer, not a social scientist; and Erikson had never gone to college! To try to put them into a disciplinary bin was hopeless. Instead, they carried out what I have called “synthesizing social science.”

In this work, they surveyed large bodies of knowledge, did considerable field work, and then put together powerful syntheses. Most famously David Riesman (and his colleagues Nathan Glazer and Reuel Denney) focused on the new social arrangements emerging in the United States. They contrasted the “tradition directed” perspective of the 18th century Americans with the “inner directed” perspective of the frontier-attracted 19th century and the new “other directed” perspective of suburban Americans (white middle class, we would now underscore) of their own period. For his part, Erikson observed widely across several distinctly different societies, probed the life cycle through psychoanalytic sessions with hundreds of patients, and put forth his theory of eight stages of the life cycle—beginning with the conflict between trust and mistrust of the infant; highlighting the crisis of identity versus role diffusion of adolescence and early adulthood; and culminating in the struggle between integrity and despair as one’s powers wane in old age.

It would take many pages to detail how these authorities went about their work and reached their conclusions—and this is a blog, not a door-stopping book. But it may help to point out that the scholarly efforts of these researchers and writers—and others in the “Soc Rel” tradition—fell between two examples. While their work often came up with “easy to summarize” conclusions, it was not “mere” journalism; the authorities spent years observing and reflecting and took their time in reaching and expressing their conclusions. (They also wrote well!) On the other hand, the work was not quantitative science. While there were certainly “data,” they were informed by informal observations rather than large surveys or carefully controlled experiments, complete with tests of statistical significance.

Put differently, they were more informed individual and societal portraits than traditional science: not putting forth claims that could be “tested” in the sense of Karl Popper, but rather sense-make syntheses that sought to capture the world in its complexities. Neither Riesman nor Erikson nor their colleagues would have dreamed of claiming that they had obtained “truths” in the manner of astronomer or a geneticist.

And there, perhaps, lies the major explanation for the decline and demise of Soc Rel. Within universities, individual departments, and especially their doctoral training programs, are powerful entities. With the passage of time (and the passing of the pioneers), up-and-rising scholars wanted to be known as developmental psychologists, or sociologists of religion, or physical anthropologists—and not as experts in “Soc Rel” or even as synthesizing or qualitative social scientists.

But there were also the factors of age and successions. As I was going to graduate school, the founders of Soc Rel were all retired or about to retire—and only rarely had they nurtured successors of equal scholarly eminence and organizational skills. With first rate scholars retreating to their disciplinary trenches and budding Soc Rel scholars (like me!) who were less eminent, the pull toward safe and secure traditional departments was powerful.

Indeed, the demise of Soc Rel in the early 1970s could be well analyzed in terms of its constituent disciplines. There was the psychology of ego on the part of ambitious faculty; the sociology of departmental power; and the ethnography of a particular set of characters who had shared a vision but had not built the infrastructure or recruited the next generation of leaders. RIP Soc Rel.

But not entirely. As I and my colleagues pass the age of the founders, some of us still carry the Soc Rel banner. Among my own classmates, Rick Shweder of the University of Chicago clearly spans the range of disciplines; and among colleagues at other schools, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, long at Chicago and now at Claremont Graduate School, moves easily among the social sciences and also writes in the synthesizing mode of Riesman, Erikson, and their associates—nearly all male, given the university environment of the period. And in recent memory, there were other scholars who clearly carried the Soc Rel banner—for example, sociologists Robert Bellah and Neil Smelser.

I am bold enough to assert that there will long be a need—and perhaps also a hunger—for the kind of synthesizing social science embodied by the leaders of Soc Rel. To be sure, without institutional support (from universities and philanthropists), it will be more difficult to pull off this approach. But I have sufficient optimism that young scholars with the “Soc Rel” gene will be able to learn from the powerful role models of an earlier generation and to continue to compose impressive works in that tradition. How else will we understand the times in which we live, and the people with whom we live?

Categories: Blog

Bill Drayton and Howard Gardner in Conversation

April 2, 2018 - 8:52am

In December 2017, Bill Drayton and Howard Gardner—friends since their days as classmates at Harvard College—had a wide-ranging conversation at the Harvard Club in New York City.

This lightly edited version of that conversation highlights Bill’s vision of the changes that are taking place at rapid pace around the world and how they can and should lead to a world of change-makers.

Bill Drayton, Harvard Class of 1965 Yearbook Photo

Howard Gardner, Harvard Class of 1965 Yearbook Photo

Gardner: So, I’m talking to my longtime friend Bill Drayton. He has talked about what it took to get the big story about changemakers out, and there’s a lot more planning and a lot more time than I would have thought. He didn’t just talk to reporters who said, “Yeah, I’d like to talk to Mr. Drayton and find out what you’re up to.”

Instead, he spoke to people in the media and found out somebody who was an up and coming writer — this is David Bornstein. And, there were articles published, and then a major book. But the point that really hit home with me is that it helps to understand what a changemaker is if you’ve become one yourself.

Now that was probably not thought of as part of the plan initially, but do I have it right?

Drayton: Well, David became a social entrepreneur, introducing solutions journalism much later.

Gardner: Mmm.

Drayton: The original insight, I think, is that if you’ve had a big story, it doesn’t fit into the journalistic story-writing time-frame. You have to find people who are big enough to break a big story. And then you can help them do that, but it’s a completely different type of conversation — “big framework change story” — and it’s ripe. So, there’s some wonderful writers that we’ve been talking to for years who genuinely understand “everyone a changemaker”, but they haven’t done anything.

In terms of writing.

They’ve done other things.

So one of them has set up, come, and said to me, “I’d like to do a book on this.” And another has, as a trustee of an institution, gotten that institution to move, but he hasn’t been writing. Now we’re at the point where we’re in the tipping mode, and so it’s the right judgment for a publisher, or an editor, or an individual writer to say, “Not only is this where the world is going, but it’s now here.” And we’re at the stage where millions and millions of people are going to look dumb if they…

Gardner: (laughs)

Drayton: Just in the last year, literally the last nine months, we have several publishers who’ve now made this decision. It’s a very interesting measure of where we are in the tipping process.

Gardner: So, can you spell that out a bit? What does it mean for a publisher to get it and to be an embodier?

Drayton: Well, it’s always been the case. A great editor or publisher sees a big story and they make a judgment: “This is important. This is important for the readers I want or have, and it’s time.” If they make those judgements correctly, they will get the writers and therefore the readers, and therefore the advertisers and the elan inside their organization. … So, there’s this wonderful book, I just love it, Bully Pulpit. Do you know of it?

Well, it’s by Doris Kearns Goodwin, on progressivism, and the subtitle is “Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism.”

I love this book, because it’s so right on this point and, you know, I give this book to people (laugh) when I’m trying … You have the opportunity to do this.

Gardner: McClure’s Magazine?

Drayton: McClure’s. Exactly.

So, Mr. S.S. McClure founds this magazine and he sees the big story. Now, all this stuff is going on. Industrial revolution, and uncontrolled capitalism, and the farmers are mad at the railroads, and other people are upset about the food being unsafe, but no one sees the whole picture. And they don’t understand how it really works.

And so he goes to Paris for Ida Tarbell. As a young woman, she said, “I’m not doing the mom thing. I’m going to be a writer.” She’s struggling writing on the West Bank. McClure goes to her and says, “Ida, you grew up in western Pennsylvania. You remember what happened to the independent oil people there? Now if you really do take on investigative reporting about Standard Oil and John D. Rockefeller, et cetera, it may take you two years, but then, month by month, we will publish this.” And his advice to her was, “This is going to be complicated…. build the storyline around the story of John D. Rockefeller.” So, that’s what made Ida Tarbell’s career. And then it was Ray Baker and various others. And so this is a great editor who saw the moment. This is a framework change when people in America could see, “Oh, that’s the problem. And here’s what we can do about it.”

Gardner: So, let me ask you about something that just came up today when I was doing an interview with a leader at the local college here. The person said to me, “You know, we’re trying to mobilize the students, but we’ve been behind. We’ve been behind because we’ve been using email, and of course they’re using Twitter and other social media platforms, and we just don’t have either the knowledge or the personnel to work on that.” So, you and I have been talking about books and magazines, but I’ve also said to you people don’t read anymore, meaning that they don’t read books. So, to what extent are you thinking in terms of the 21st century media rather than books and magazines?

Drayton: I don’t think it matters whether it’s this or that…

Sure, the medium has an impact, but this is a gigantic framework change. That’s just a fact, F-A-C-T.

From the year 1700 to now, the rate of change and degree of connection has been going up exponentially. Mirror curve going down: negative demand for repetition. Those are facts. Here we are. Old system dead. It’s continuing because of inertia, with more and more pieces falling off because they are failing and some other pieces making it into the new structure, and they will survive. We are just at a point where the old system doesn’t work anymore. And you know, if you are a 12-year-old or a 15-year-old, you have to figure out that this is the new game and to play in this game, right now, you’ve got to practice being a changemaker.

And you want to be a part of an “everyone a changemaker” school, youth program, whatever. Your parents have to figure it out. And the school board and the education writers. Everybody. This is a very profound framework change. People get lost in many distractions including social media because they don’t see the strategic change or their way forward. It’s the society, the schools, and youth programs. It’s terrible. So many are deeply disempowered.

Gardner: Yeah, but what you have to realize, what you have to concede, is that most of the use of social media platforms is no better. In fact, it’s frivolous.

Drayton: So, when you have an “everyone a changemaker” school — and we have a lot of them because of the Fellows and because of the Youth Venture initiative — it’s very different. It’s the norm for kids to have an idea and build a team and build something and make it work. And they are all being invited to participate as contributors or clients of the others. And it’s the norm. And people are empowered. And the moment you got your power and you know you can change the world …

Gardner: Yeah.

Drayton: You can express love and respect and action. You know what reaction that brings. You have the skills that the world wants.

Gardner: Tell me if I have the chronology at all right. You’ve been thinking about and developing both the idea and the practice of changemaker for decades. The notion of empathy, which at one point I think you called active empathy or something like that, is a somewhat newer idea in your conspectus. Is that right?

Drayton: I think it’s always the case. Great entrepreneurs have to intuitively know where the world is going to be in 20 years. And they have to be right about that. Because they’re launching a change that’s going to take 20 years to get there. And if they don’t know what the environment is going to be, they’re not going to succeed. So, we were like that. We knew consciously — the curve sort of knew that. And we could see empirically that a wave of social entrepreneurs, which is the cutting edge of this thing, were moving into the social arena.

The “everyone a changemaker” revolution started around 1700 with business. In 1980, it moves into the social arena. You’ve got a wave of social entrepreneurs. And we have a framework change goal introducing the construct of social entrepreneurship, which is deeply empowering everyone, including millions and millions of people who will never be entrepreneurs.

You can care, you can organize. That’s practical. It’s respectable. In fact, people will respect you for doing this. That is empowering for people, so that’s part of the “everyone a changemaker” revolution.

We did not consciously articulate our “everyone a changemaker” insight until about 12 years ago, but we knew it intuitively.

Gardner: Yeah. And I think, even if you didn’t put it into words, for people who knew what you were about, this was not a mystery to them.

Drayton: But it makes a big difference when you say it out loud. Everyone is a Change-maker. So, it’s not just a small number of people or some people, but everybody.

Because everyone has to be because (otherwise) you’re marginalized. The “new inequality” is: Are you a changemaker or are you out of the game? All the old inequalities are still there, but if you were in a winning group in the past and you missed this turning point, you are now on the wrong side of the new big divide. And if you’re part of a group that was doing badly before and you got on this, you’re part of the new winning arrangement.

Gardner: Or at least you’re in the game.

Drayton: There is such overwhelming demand for people who have changemaker skills, especially with anything resembling the high level. Sure, the old prejudices are there, but this is a turning point that’s so powerful …. just look at the difference. How long did it take for the new wealth, not based on land, to be very powerful and very prestigious? And it took over …

Gardner: But not very empathically, which is why I want to ask: When did empathy become a major part of the narrative?

Drayton: Well, first of all, it’s always been there. So, one of our four criteria for the election of staff or Ashoka Fellows has always been ethical fiber.

Gardner: Yeah, and that’s true. I know that from you.

Drayton: And we know you can’t be a good entrepreneur if you don’t have that (empathic trait).

Gardner: Well, the former head of Uber does not … the reason I’m pushing this is it seems to me, you and I have written and talked about this before that changemakers can cause a lot of trouble and that’s where I think …

Drayton: Yes …

Gardner: The move toward empathy is so important.

Drayton: No, you’re exactly right. So, I’m sorry. I know I’m jumping into the future, so let me just finish up on that last strand for a moment and then I’ll focus on empathy.

So, in the human lifecycle, you’ve got to master cognitive empathy really early. Because you need that to be able to master the other three essential changemaking skills: sophisticated teamwork, opposite to the past leadership, and changemaking. And if you don’t have the cognitive empathy skills that allow you to serve the good of all, you will be rejected, marginalized. This is the first generation where you can’t be a good person by diligently following the rules. They increasingly aren’t there as change accelerates. You will hurt people. You will disrupt groups. So, cognitive empathy is completely fundamental.

Now, we are in the transition zone. The old system was rules, punishment, fear. Well, that doesn’t work very well. So, of course, you have people who are taking advantage of the transition. And, once you’re in the new arrangements where every institution absolutely has to have people that have mastered this set of skills, starting with cognitive empathy, it allows you to be a trustworthy, good person committed to the good of all. Every organization needs to have you use these skills and purpose. You can’t have everyone be powerful and not have this. So, you move into a coherent system where everyone wants this because it makes you healthy or happy and live longer. Everyone around you wants you to have it and they help you and every institution. The transition is the messy part. People are no longer living in tiny communities where you don’t need this empathy-based ethics.

Gardner: Or you have it within the community — what I call neighboring morality — but it doesn’t extend beyond the community, what I call ‘the ethics of roles’.

Drayton: Why was psychology invented as a field in the late 19th and early 20th centuries? Because we really needed it.

And all those little communities, tiny little communities of 500 or 1,000 people, most people don’t even need … Not only the village, but they’re part of it. I mean, it’s astonishing. Even today, there are vast numbers of people who live on one street in a village and that’s it.

Gardner: Interesting. You may not know this, but Freud initially studied hysteria. And his cases were about hysterics. It turned out that they were overwhelmingly women,… they tended to be women who had grown up in the (small country villages), so to speak, and then moved to the city, and they couldn’t deal with it. So in a sense, I mean, psychology was probably invented for many reasons in many places, but it’s interesting that it was that dislocation from what the Germans called “From Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft” from community to business that was very disruptive for generations.

Drayton: Community and a system of living by rules, you do what your father did and your mother did, et cetera, et cetera. By the late 19th, early 20th century, the rate of change in major parts of the world had reached the point that people desperately needed these sets of tools, so the field of psychology is invented, and it’s popularized almost immediately. I do not think that was an accident.

Gardner: And actually, even though I’m not particularly a fan of how it’s done, the big psychology in the last 20 years has been positive psychology. I don’t know if you’ve heard that phrase or not, and it does try to focus on happiness and empathy and things like that. But to me it’s too sloganish, faddish, and a little bit creepy. But you know, it, it’s certainly important.

Drayton: What gives you stability in managing and understanding this is if you start with “This is the way the world is organized and will be organized” and work from that to what’s needed. So, 150 years ago, we needed everyone to be literate in written language. Everyone. Completely radical idea. It just was needed. Now, we face a similar reality-based need — that all humans learn how to contribute value in an everything-changing world as changemakers.

All this is building, in my view, to humanity becoming one big organism. We’re developing very rapidly to operate like a brain. For any particular goal or need, a very large part — 20% or so — of the brain lights up and, you know, memories, and the inner ear and the left toe, they are all ready for you.

The same thing is true with humans as a species now. And this is now going into the future…. the entrepreneurs, the big nature framework change, pattern change entrepreneurs deeply from within committed to the good of all — that’s what a social entrepreneur is. It’s not defined by subject matter. That group of entrepreneurs is (parenthetically) the only group that takes everything into account because that’s what their value system is. They are not in it for the shareholders or this or that ideological point of view. And they are not the lazy person who leaves pieces out. This is the group of entrepreneurs that you want to be as powerful as possible. And that’s what our “Collaborative Entrepreneurship Jujitsu” (CEJ) process is about. And, we are now restructuring the movement so that, right down to the budgets, we build around the CEJs — not geography, not function, not subject matter.

So, a new issue comes out. All around the world, we don’t control this. Great entrepreneurs come up. They see it. They have a solution. And we are really good at spotting them, bringing them together, and seeing the pattern. And this is virtually the only focus group with any value about the future, because this is a focus group of entrepreneurs who can’t succeed in their life if they make bad judgments about what the world is going to be like in 20 years. And so, overwhelmingly, 90-95% of the 1,000 (Ashoka) Fellows who are focused on kids put kids in charge.

It’s the same ratio when you look at health. It’s a smaller number of 600 or 700 Fellows. Overwhelmingly, they put patients, family, friends, neighbors, and peers in charge. Both of those patterns fit what an “everyone a changemaker” world needs and the way it’ll work. So, we have two independent ways of saying, “Okay, check.” This is where we have to end up. And both of them are in the frame of what’s good for the whole of life, not for this piece or that piece. So, then, the methodology we’ve developed in the last three years, which is totally thrilling, is working. We’re far enough in now that I can tell you it’s working. It’s a four-stage process of how the team of leading social entrepreneurs build teams of others — I’ll explain that — and opens that up to absolutely every single human being so that you get into the mass tipping stage three.

Stage One is recruiting Big Game capacity co-leaders, chiefly Fellows. Winning top Big Game organizations with huge power is the first part of Stage Two. The other half is making the ideas, services, and links open to all, e.g., the 14-year-old girl in a district town in central India. Stage three is the soap opera with daily episodes. That’s what we must provide once you have tens of millions of people who have to find a safe place to get evocative stories so they can understand and participate in these changes and not get left behind. Then, there’s this huge demand for publishers. And that’s where we are — we’re very close to that.

And so, when we go to publishers, we’re saying everything I’ve said to you, and this is your big strategic opportunity, a really big one. So, once you see it’s in everyone, meaning literally everyone — a powerful person, the giver, the changemaker world, and then you’ve got to have a different definition of growing up, which starts with cognitive empathy, which you have to have to be a good person. Without that, you don’t have the skill to be in life for the good of all. Which is why that particular definition of empathy is so completely critical.

Then, the younger, the better, but …

Gardner: No, just a definitional question. Jujitsu, how you’re using it. Pressure, counter-pressure, any challenges?

Drayton: So, this image is a slight simplification of jujitsu. But this great big gorilla of a person is charging at you and you’re a little person.

Gardner: (laugh)

Drayton: And you hold your pinkie out and you do at just the right point and the gorilla goes head over heels and crashes. So, it’s knowing exactly the move that will use the energy of the forces that are there, of the existing world, to tip it.

Gardner: So, I have three things, that I want to ask you about and since you know me, you’re not going to be surprised by any of them.

The first is Trump and Trumpism. The other two are bigger issues. One is artificial intelligence. And the other one is brain and genetic manipulation. Because one thing that hasn’t changed in millennia is what human beings are, but those two things could. And so, I’m wondering there to what extent do you think about them. So, you can take those in any order.

Drayton: Well, Trump is very easy, because that’s happening all over the world.

Gardner: Yep.

Drayton: I mean, he’s just a particularly egregious person.

You know, the prime minister of India is an RSS monk. And that’s pretty extreme. You see this pattern all over the world. We have increasing we versus them politics. Pretty much every where in the world, income distributions are getting worse, regardless of the nature of the economy or the ideology of the country. What’s happening is the new inequality. Many people (including almost everyone you and I know personally), even though they don’t say it out loud, are in the new economy. They’re doing very well. Their incomes are going well.

I mean, the support is people who have less and people who have more have said it’s an unholy alliance. Just like the Southern Democrats and the northern Liberals in the 30s.

Gardner: I don’t understand. What’s the alliance?

Drayton: I mean, Trump is supported both by people who have less and less and by people who are very, very rich and don’t want to give up anything. And if you look at the tax bill (passed in January 2018, after this discussion), that’s the evidence for it. It’s an unholy alliance. It’s the opposite of jujitsu. And you’re right, I mean, Scandinavia is less troubled than other parts of the world, but even there you see it. Yeah. But, your point here would be that when it looks like big change is going to happen, people re-trench in various ways.

I don’t think this is necessary. Our job is to stop it.

Everyone is a changemaker. I mean that very literally. It has to be. There’s no guarantee that it comes out right. What’s happening now is those people who are not in the game and don’t have the skills and are not developing the skills, every year the level of these skills that is required is going up. It’s not going from A to B. It’s on and we’re on an exponential curve. So, you know, they’re falling further and further behind.

Gardner: Yeah. But that like leads right into artificial intelligence, which is what I worry about. Because of more and more things that people used to do are now done more efficiently, more effectively by machines, much of what we have traditionally considered to be work. Something you know a great deal about —ordinary labor and white collar work — is transformed and there may not be a replacement for it.

Drayton: Well, I mean, I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be a lawyer. I don’t want to be a truck driver. I think good riddance.

Gardner: But, radiologists are also being replaced. 

Drayton: Who wants to be a radiologist?

Gardner: (laugh) Probably a lot of people in this club where we are meeting.

Drayton: (laugh)

Gardner: But, you know, people have to have a livelihood, right?

Drayton: Yes, actually we can figure this out. So, here are things that we know we’re going to need more and more of and are very satisfying for both sides of the transaction. All of us need help growing up and not just for 20 years, but we’re going to have to keep growing up as the world changes faster and faster and …

Gardner: That I certainly agree with.

Drayton: And well, you know, you help me, I help you.

Gardner: (laugh)

Drayton: Can we figure out how to monetize that?

Gardner: (laugh)

Drayton: Well, we did that, you know, with potatoes and beets. Why can’t we do that with different ways of helping one another?

Gardner: Well, especially if we live longer and longer, it’s a new kind of problem.

Drayton: Well, and …

Gardner: I mean, as you know Social Security was based on the assumption that not many would reach our age.

Drayton: Yes. And so, of course it’ll be different, but you know, we’ve gone from 97% of the world’s people living in small, isolated agricultural villages to 2% of the U.S. population doing agriculture. And we’re not poor. We haven’t collapsed because of that.

Gardner: Yeah, but it is true that the new entrepreneurs in the technological world are able to do what they do with very few people. That’s the big difference from steel and coal and so on.

Drayton: And, you know, if you look at what’s going on inside Google, they’ve got some areas that are so repetitive. And it’s hard for Google to have the fluid, open team of teams architecture for those who work in these areas. That’s a problem for them. But the rest of it is a fluid open team of teams. That’s one of the reasons they are a successful company. And, you know, if we’ve gone from 97% agricultural to 15%, are we really going to die if it goes to 2%? No. I think it would be marvelous if all that energy, people had the ability to work together as a species-wide brain, providing consciousness to the universe. Which means we’ve got to help one another. And why do we have this artificial boundary between people and the rest of a) life and b) creation?

It doesn’t make sense. I believe the South Asian point of view versus the Abrahamic point of view.

Which is very homocentric. But anyway, you can leave that aside if you want …

Gardner: I think it’s an interesting and important idea. I guess if you look at the history of humankind in a generous spirit, our circles have gotten larger.

Drayton: This is what sets humans apart. I just read this article about how the first multicellular creature came about. Apparently, the main hypothesis is that one cell ate another. And the other said, “Oh, this is very comfy in here.” And then you had two cells, and you start creating an organelle and, now we’re billions that make us up. And it’s the story of cooperation being what wins, which is very different from the image of Darwin. But the evolutionary success is cooperation.

Now, think about the frontiers, the projects that we humans can give ourselves to figure out how to cooperate better, more. And, as I say, why limit it? What if we find life elsewhere? Well, we will find life elsewhere. That’s obvious.

Gardner: Yeah, I guess it depends on what you mean by ‘life’. Most people are interested in whether there are entities that we could have some communication with. But, of course, that’s a much higher bar than, uh …

Drayton: Well, if you’re a South Asian …you think, you are one with an amoeba or a rock.

Gardner: Mmm.

Drayton: The South Asian point of view is that the universe is one. And nirvana is your getting back to that point. You have universal, complete 100% empathy, unity with the universe as a whole. Not just humans. I don’t know if it’s right or not …

But why not? It’s certainly an attractive idea. And you know, if you observe even relatively simple forms of life, it’s hard not to empathize. Children certainly empathize. And Howard, I saw my first mountain lion in life ever this September.

I was coming up this mountainside and it was reasonably steep. It was above the tree line. I don’t know what it was doing up there. It’s not supposed to be there, but there it was. So, I looked up and there was this mountain lion 40 or 50 feet ahead just walking across. I’m going up. It’s going this way. And it was just this amazingly beautiful powerful being. You could see the muscles, that long cat-like stride. And it was beautiful. Now, how could you not empathize?

If we don’t have the imagination to spot value creating opportunity, something is wrong with this picture.

Gardner: Yeah, but what I’m just thinking is that these wonderful epistemologies and eschatologies unfortunately coexist with, you know, what’s happening in Myanmar and, as you said, in India and so on. And, you and I are both betting on the better angels. I am just much less optimistic than you are. And that’s in part because, you know, you’ve made moves, which have been reinforced in the sense that they work better than many people would have expected. And then, you keep raising the gauntlet or the envelope or the jujitsu movement.

In contrast, my training is basically to be critical and skeptical and to think about why things might not work, even though I love what you’re doing and I want it to work.

We would be kind of a yin and yang if we were in the same office every day.

My mentor Jerome Bruner, whom you know of, and George Miller started the Center for Cognitive Studies at Harvard. Bruner was a great optimist. He said, “Every day, I would plan for optimism and Miller would plan for pessimism.” (laugh) And much, much nicer to be on the optimistic side.

Drayton: But it’s not just about optimism. It’s fact.

Gardner: Well, it’s fact that things are changing quickly and that most of us are not able to instantly get with the program. It’s not fact what will happen. That’s the Trump phenomenon.

Drayton: But, Howard, we have gone from no life to one cell to two cells to us being here. Cooperation wins.

That’s the story. That’s a fact. And if you look at all three and a half billion years or whatever it is, it’s an exponential curve. And we are privileged to be at the point where we leave the world of rules …

Rules will still be there to help us, but they are really increasingly minor authors. It’s not rules, punishment, fear. It’s people from their deepest beings freed up to be good people, to express love and respect. To have this way of living, and with everything around them reinforcing that and helping that. We don’t have that now because we are in this wretched transition. And so, of course, we have craziness at the moment.

We are hurting so many people now.

Gardner: Norman Ornstein, the political commentator, said something quite shrewd about Trump. He said, “You know, we are a nation with laws. But we’re also a nation of norms.” And, you know, the number of norms about how one treats people, whether it’s publicly or in your own circle, that have been basically, you know, exploded by, one man and his circle is So, the way I think about this in my work: I’m very familiar with what it means to be in a profession – and transformative and disruptive things are happening to all manner of professions, from professors to radiologists to journalists.

But the way I put it is, maybe the professions will disappear, but I wouldn’t want to be living in a world where it wouldn’t make sense to say, “He or she is acting like a professional, is very professional. And he or she isn’t.” Whether it’s the people who serve here in the club, or the people who are served, you can evaluate each person on whether he or she acts professionally.

Drayton: So, in a world defined by change, not repetition, it’s totally psychologically stable, because people are changemakers. They have those skills. You know, I would go crazy if you put me on a repetitive job. I would be very unhappy and then I would either leave or I would blow the thing up.

People have, for millennia, been living in a world of repetition. Efficiency in repetition was the game. You learn one skill, you repeat it for life in a world of workplaces with walls. Well, this world is going away, has largely already gone away. And many of these people have no clue.

Cognitive empathy is hard. You’ve got to connect the mirror neurons and the cerebral cortex and God knows what else to make that work. And, you’ve got to practice it a lot and then you’ve got to constantly be building up your map of how the world works, because otherwise you can’t understand the kaleidoscope of constantly changing, morphing contexts and combinations.

Gardner: You know, you were talking about how the world has been a world of rules and the invention of science is very interesting in that regard. 

Because when you were saying about how you would be bored out of your mind, I posit that people go into science particular with that motivation. Though it may be understanding amoebas …

Drayton: Not wanting…?

Gardner: Not wanting to live in a world of routine. And those of us in science do depend on people who will be more routine to make sure the cages are clean and so on. That “scientific attitude” was not really manifested in much of the world beforehand.

Drayton: It was one period and it was …

Gardner: The Greeks.

Drayton: And North India at the same time.

Gardner: The so-called axial age.

Drayton: And what happened there was that you had a series of towns that experienced a town meeting-like, civic community. It was so far superior to kings and tyrants. And then, there was a coalition of cities like that in both places. So, you had a critical mass, that for 150 years, you had the first outbreak of the “everyone a changemaker” world. Leading to the invention of history, geometry, and so much more.

Gardner: Or at least the people who counted, which would have been male voters …

Drayton: But, if you listen to some of the Delian League tales of these times, the women were not equal, but they participated in the culture too. 

Then Philip of Macedon modernizes the phalanx. And in his generation, that’s the end of the city-states in Greece. And his son Alexander went on to demolish everything else.

And you know, the phalanx is a form of organization. The team is the next form. In a team, everyone is responsible for helping everyone else individually and collectively build the skills and teamwork needed for overall success. That means also helping build and constantly rebuild the synaptic architecture of the team.

Gardner: Let me switch gears radically because something happened earlier this week. And, I was surprised because I made a connection, which I hadn’t made before. At Project Zero, which is our organization, we had a visit from a major educational policy maker.

We were talking about international tests where the performance of all countries are compared with one another. You know, Finland is first, Singapore is second, the US is 45th, etc. I asked him, “How about if individual states or individual cities could be included in the rankings and not just ‘official’ nations?” And he said, “That would be fine with us,” which I was pleasantly surprised to hear him say.

So, how do you deal with the nation thing? I mean, we’re talking about the Delian League and you know, it’s been a motif in various ways for as long as we have recorded history.

Drayton: Well, nation states are actually pretty recent.

Gardner: Well, nation states from the 17th century, but I mean the notion that you are, a Roman or that you are a Persian goes back thousands of years.

I’m saying, here we are, you know, in a world which is currently defined by nations. If you were the czar so to speak, what scenario do you see?

Drayton: We are a part of building that alternative. So, Jean Monnet set this in motion for Europe. Europe’s the most balkanized, the most tribal of all continents bar none. And it’s caused huge trouble for the world. So, Monnet went after that by articulating the positive goal of a united Europe and then working from a citizen group, finding political opportunities that were “wins” for all the politicians to build European institutions. And then you’ve got a positive dynamic of idea, institution strengthens idea, makes it more credible.

I think it’s a prototype. That’s why I think he is the second greatest person in the last century.

Gardner: I guess, part of what I’m saying is it was easy to underestimate the reactionary powers.

Drayton: But, Howard, we’re just now getting to the turning point.

Gardner: I mean, people have seen this coming for a long time.

Drayton: The Renaissance was an effort to get back to the city states organized the way the Greek polises were. And you know, Charles of France and his medieval army made that a crazy idea. And England develops the first integrated/de-centralized society bigger than a town meeting. And that provides a critical piece. So, that wasn’t that long ago. And you know, this has been evolving very rapidly. Those curves, since 1700, are mathematically exponential. Both the up rate of change and the degree of interconnection. Down is declining demand for repetition. Those are just happening. So, you know, of course, the transition is a mess. That’s what I keep saying.

Gardner: You have to hope you’re right.

Drayton: So, our job, for all of us, is to build the reality. And the form, as usual, will follow the reality.

Gardner: What about changemaker schools?

Drayton: Most principals and teachers do not define themselves as big. Their job is not to change the world. They wouldn’t choose those jobs if that was how they defined themselves. And they don’t have practice in the big game. And so, this is not where we’re going to find the leadership for the change that’s going on now that we need. It’s first the Fellows.

Either 1,000 or 1,300 Ashoka Fellows are focused primarily on kids. And Fellows that are not primarily focused on kids deal with kids. You can’t deal with the “new inequality” if you don’t deal with kids. Almost all of the Fellows put kids in charge. And when we help a community see what this means, it changes their lives in really profound ways.

Gardner: So, the kids are educating the adults in a certain way?

Drayton: Well, if you look at the “Your Kids” tool, that’s exactly what happens. So, roughly 10 days ago, we were in Phoenix with the top managers of Boehringer Ingelheim US. And we did “Your Kids” with the managers. They overwhelmingly want it. They want to be trained in how to do it. We’ve done it with machinists. We are working with the service workers, vis-a-vis the janitors and lunch ladies in the schools. This is their way to get dignity as well as make sure their kids succeed.

In that methodology, which we’ve discussed before, the host organization person says “It’s a world of change. We either are there or we must get there, but this is about your kids. They’re going to have to live in this world of change.” Ashoka then says the same thing in a different way. And then, a young person who has her power stands up and tells her story. And that’s it. People in the room, they’ve been told twice, world of change. This is really important for something that most people care about more than anything else in their life. And then they see this young woman who has her power. She is going to be a happy, healthy, long-lived person. The world wants her. She knows it. She has it. That’s the turning point. They have just seen and felt what their success as a parent or grandparent requires.

Ashoka then asks three questions: “Is your daughter practicing changemaking like Daniella?” “Does your daughter have Daniella’s power?” “Does America or Brazil or whatever have a future if all our kids don’t have this?” Then we jump into what you must and easily can do to get your daughter thus to get her power. The key to the success of Your Kids is the young person. That’s it, Howard — I just get goosebumps every time I see a young person who has that power. It’s just, you know, all animals have evolved to feel deep satisfaction when their young can fly. This is life success…

We’ve got four major new thrusts, all mutually reinforcing. We are going to start moving them out, this year. First, LeadYoung, stories of young changemakers for school intranets and more. Second, Ashoka Young Changemakers. These kids have to apply to be co-leaders in the Everyone a Changemaker movement, because we need them to do that. And they have to make that decision.

Third, Peer-to-Peer Allies. We never have “trainings”. At least if I have my way. Anytime the word “training” comes up, I try to cut its head off! Then, fourth, Your Kids. You can see how all four reinforce one another, feed one another. And the demand is overwhelming. It’s absolutely overwhelming. We’re way behind. We underestimated the market.

Well, we’ve been saying to universities, through Ashoka U, that probably one of the most strategic things you need to do is reach out to the high schools and middle schools that feed you and help them see the new pedagogic reality …

Gardner: Absolutely.

Drayton: And you are championing the young people in those schools who are being powerful now. You. NYU or Arizona State or wherever. And, then, of course, you’re going to be able to recruit the people who are going to be the changemakers, the really strong ones.

And they will define your campus culture, and they will be really successful alumni in the new game. This is the smartest thing you can do.

New York City does really well when it has good immigrants.

It’s a city designed for that. So, why doesn’t the city go out, you know, like a football team, and recruit changemaker immigrants?

Gardner: So, you were talking about John Lindsay, Mayor of New York City, immigrants. This, this must have been in the late 60s, early 70s.

Drayton: So, my prescription is that the city should go out and go to places like Gujarat and Maharashtra and recruit. And you get people who have that energy. The city is made for them. This city is made for immigrants to start things …

Gardner: But, I did have one other idea. You were concerned, and I think even upset by something that I told you or wrote you a year or two ago. But there’s a way of spinning it so that it fits very much into what we are saying now. The one finding from our study, which we already discerned years ago, was that mental health is the biggest problem everywhere. From the elite schools to the most unselective, the very fact that the mental health is the biggest issue everywhere.

Maybe this is a symptom of the fact that the kids realize that the world is changing in a way that they are not going to be able to deal with. And that’s all they know because they haven’t been at your feet.

But it’s not to say that if they end up in a changemaker environment at ASU or NYU, they’ll suddenly change. But it could be a symptom.

Drayton: It’s hard, I think, for any of us to even begin to imagine what it’s like if you know the world doesn’t need you, doesn’t want you. I mean, that’s terrible. And then, you’re in this wretched school and everyone tells you “you can’t”. And you’re being narrowed and narrowed, which is the exact opposite … I mean, it’s a terrible thing that’s happening.

Now, I didn’t have that sort of a childhood.

Gardner: None of us did.

Drayton: Right.

The fact is that this world is here now and you don’t have the opportunity to just follow a set of skills and a set of rules. That option is gone. And if it isn’t gone now, it will be in five years. This is the new inequality.

Gardner: Bill, I always thought of you as being a species and you’re trying to find conspecifics. And there were conspecifics. They could have been anywhere. But you were a mutation, an aberration.

And now, we’ve reached the point, for better or worse, where we need the aberration, the mutation, to become part of the natural DNA. And this is why starting very early is essential, because to undo the damage that is …

Drayton: Absolutely. Yes.

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