The Third Culture

Truth, Beauty, and Goodness: Education for All Human Beings
A Talk With Howard Gardner [9.21.97]

Howard Gardner Photo

Introduction by
John Brockman

Howard Gardner, Professor of Education at Harvard University, is deeply involved in educational reform, particularly in the United States. He is dismayed by how much of the discussion, both in the United States and abroad, is basically methodological and technical. "We argue endlessly: shall we have charter schools, shall we have vouchers, shall we have elected school boards, shall we have national standards, who gets to decide on them, should there be national tests, are unions the problem, are they solution, who funds education, etc.," he says. Those questions are not trivial, but he find a paucity of discussion of the purposes, the goals of education nowadays and in the foreseeable future.

Gardner, who is more or less on the progressive side of education, is struck by the fact that most of the attention is paid to people who can be described as conservative: "there's more attention paid to Allan Bloom's book The Closing of the American Mind and E.D. Hirsch 's book Cultural Literacy, both published ten years ago, than almost anything else that's been written on education in America in recent memory."

How do we push away the thickets and get to fundamentals? Howard is under no illusion that he's going to come up with answers that other people haven't come up with before; "Plato and Socrates had a lot to say on the topic, also Confucius and Rousseau among others," he notes. "But we can't simply repeat the traditional answers mindlessly. We can't just go back to the trivium and quadrivium because they seemed to work in the Middle Ages. We do know a lot about human beings that we didn't know before, and we know something about the shape of the world, which is very different than it has been in the past. I am pondering the constraints of education as well as the things that are changing; I am thinking about what we've learned about the mind and the brain and different cultures. I want to lay out something which at least I'd want to have for my kids, and at best what I'd want to have for kids everywhere."

Gardner has written fifteen books, nine of which have the word "mind" in the title. Read on and you will understand why.


Howard Gardner talks with John Brockman...