Building the 21st-Century Mind

From Scientific American:

Multiple-intelligences-decisions-ethics_1 Howard Gardner is a professor of cognition and education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He’s also the author of over 20 books and several hundred scholarly articles. Gardner is probably best known in educational circles for his theory of multiple intelligences, which is a critique of the notion that there exists but a single human intelligence that can be assessed by standard psychometric instruments. His most recent book, Five Minds for the Future, offers some advice for policy-makers on how to do a better job of preparing students for the 21st century. Mind Matters editor Jonah Lehrer chats with Gardner about his new book, the possibility of teaching ethics and how his concept of multiple intelligences has changed over time.

LEHRER: Your most recent book argues that we need to dramatically re-think the way we think, especially when it comes to learning. What's the problem with our current models?

GARDNER: As many people have pointed out, our educational system basically prepared individuals for the 19th and 20th century. In Five Minds for the Future, I describe the kinds of minds that will be at the highest premium going forward. Although our existing models of learning are reasonably good for developing a disciplined mind, they have almost nothing to say about the synthesizing mind, though it is arguably the most important mind for the 21st century. I don’t think that any of us knows how best to cultivate the creative mind; but our current ways of thinking and teaching are excellent at quashing the creative mind.

As for the last two kinds of mind I identify in the book—respectful and ethical—these are generally considered beyond the purview of theories of learning. Respect should be inculcated from birth, and is best learned by example. As for the ethical mind, that has been my chief research concern for the past 15 years. Our current thinking about this vexing topic is best accessed via a visit to

LEHRER: Why are these five types of mind so important right now?

GARDNER: In writing this book, I was taking on the mantle of “czar.” If I were the czar of education and of the work place, these are the five minds that, I believe, would most be at a premium, the ones that I would train, if possible, or select for, if necessary. To summarize, they push the mind in three ways: disciplined (depth), synthesizing (breadth) and creative (stretch). There may be some division of labor across individuals, but everyone should have at least some experience with each kind of mind, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to work productively with others.

Despite the financial meltdown, the world is getting smaller every day. Unless we are able to respect those who appear to be different from ourselves, we are not going to be able to work with them. And unless we behave ethically and responsibly, we will not be able to enter into trusting relationships with others and it will become a dog-eat-dog world. Although the current financial meltdown is due to many factors, the lack of an ethical compass in major corporations and financial institutions is a major cause. I make no claim that these are the only five minds, nor that they were unimportant in the past. What I do claim is that these are the five minds that we need to keep front and center going forward, and I suggest how they work and how they cultivate them—but those details are in the book!

More here.