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February 1, 2008
Vol. 65
No. 5

Book Review / Five Minds for the Future

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Howard Gardner, Harvard Business School Press, 2006
Throughout his career, psychologist Howard Gardner has expanded our concept of what a lively intelligence looks like. In Five Minds for the Future, Gardner departs from describing the workings of intelligence to passionately prescribing five qualities of human intelligence people must cultivate to meet the future well equipped.
Gardner proposes five "minds"—what I would call mindsets—that humans must develop to live successfully in the 21st century: the disciplined mind, the synthesizing mind, the creating mind, the respectful mind, and the ethical mind. These minds do not correlate to the eight multiple intelligences that Gardner famously introduced into cognitive psychology. Rather, they are broad ways of using the mind to interact with the world that draw on the various intelligences.
Although Gardner clearly believes education is in dire need of change, the book is optimistic. Gardner devotes a chapter to exploring each of the minds, peppered with examples of how that mindset can be nurtured in families, schools, and a sampling of professions. He gives a surprising number of examples from the business and management training world, often contrasting progress in that arena with conservatism in the education world.

Of Discipline, Synthesis, and Creativity

The first chapter contains the most complaints against current teaching practice. Gardner argues that the disciplined mind (in the sense of being grounded in an academic discipline) is woefully weak in youth. Students think of information as discrete bits of (forgettable) facts and do not understand that a discipline provides a systematic framework for how to manipulate that information. Many K-12 teachers focus on imparting facts to their charges—"inert knowledge" Gardner calls it—rather than helping students tap into a distinct way of thinking about the world. Yet in professional training, young adults prepare to work within their fields through simulations or guided case studies and simulation training will probably become even more pervasive in coming decades.
To create disciplined minds, Gardner claims, teachers need to present content not as an end goal but as "a means to better informed practice," coaching students on how well they are picking up the distinctive viewpoints and behaviors of the professional. This chapter lists four checkpoints for immersing a young mind in a discipline.
The mindset Gardner maintains is most needed for this info-accumulating century is the mind that can sift and synthesize information from a vast universe of sources. Students must be pushed to synthesize partly because as children age, their minds naturally become more compartmentalized. Having a connection to a discipline helps here, too; teachers can help youth develop a strategy for synthesizing disparate facts and observations by drawing on the tools of their discipline, such as the detailed notes and who-what-where-when touchstones of journalism. Yet, Gardner claims, true interdisciplinary syntheses are more common in the business world than in schools.
Gardner's eight strategies for how learners can synthesize ideas contain surprising choices that clearly nod to multiple intelligences. For example, he suggests guiding students to fashion a synthesis not just through written narratives or taxonomies, but also through nonverbal artistic projects.
The creative mind chapter is fascinating. Gardner takes on the idea made popular by gurus like Edward de Bono that creativity is a generalizable capacity that can be called upon in any discipline. He questions whether creativity is truly demonstrated by the ability to brainstorm dozens of uses for a paper clip, say, or connect seemingly different ideas. Gardner suggests that creativity must be situated within a given discipline or community: for a work to count as creative, the domain in which the creator moves must be significantly changed by his or her contribution. Yet, to create, students must stray from the disciplined mindset: If a learner has too slavish an adherence to a discipline, he or she may become an expert but not a creator.
Gardner recommends this formula for nurturing creative minds:Following a period of open, untrammeled exploration in early childhood, it is indeed appropriate to master literacies and the disciplines. However, even during periods of drill, it is vital to keep open alternative possibilities and to foreground the option of unfettered exploration. Sluices of creativity can be maintained by exhibiting different, equally viable solutions to a single posed problem; exposing youngsters to attractive, creative persons … and introducing new pursuits that … reward innovation and look benignly on errors. (p. 86)

What Makes for "Good Work"

Gardner predicts that in the near future forces other than the individual human mind (such as computer simulations of human intelligence) will make creative breakthroughs. Yet he also pleads for "a generous dollop of creativity in the human sphere—in particular in the ways in which we human beings relate to one another." Gardner's recommendations for how schools can foster respectful minds are practical, including open discussion of group conflict and unflinching study of how far disrespect can lead humans into nightmares, such as the Holocaust. He showcases recent breakthroughs in respect among former enemies, notably the commissions on truth and reconciliation in South Africa in which victimizers and victims together publicly testified about their involvements in human rights abuses.
In his chapter on the ethical mind, Gardner discusses his ongoing research with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and William Damon about factors that promote or undermine "excellent, ethical, and engaging" work. This research has involved in-depth interviews with 1,200 individuals. One finding is that, after families and friends, young people trust their teachers more than any source. Gardner lays much responsibility for creating the orientation toward "good work" at educators' feet.
He also focuses on how to "inoculate against" various approaches prevalent in the United States that work against building ethical minds (such as the breakdown of taboos against conflict of interest). I wish Gardner had written more about the pressures against his positive prescriptions. The explication of his five key mindsets is inspiring, but what about mindsets permeating our world that work against making students more discipline-attuned, creative, respectful, and so on? Educators daily encounter powerful players that value winning a perceived international competition far above acting respectfully, to give just one example. Teachers could use advice on how to navigate through these competing mindsets.
Gardner does discuss forces we may confront that would undermine his five approaches, including "the often arbitrary conventions of the school day." To counter resistance, he claims, teacher training programs must prioritize the skills of these mindsets. "It is an ethical obligation," Gardner concludes, "Societies will not survive—let alone thrive—unless as citizens we respect and cultivate the quintet of minds valorized here."

Naomi Thiers is the managing editor of Educational Leadership.

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