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

Tom de Zengotita, J.C. Herz, and Clifford Pickover on Truth, Beauty, and Goodness by Howard Gardner

From: Tom de Zengotita
Date: 11-6-97

The reason Bloom and Hirsch get so much attention is this: they believe in something more elevating then politics. Next to that, the fact that they are horribly mistaken in almost every other way is relatively unimportant. The left, having forsaken the true and the good in favor of the practical, has nothing comparable to offer.

Gardner should not be surprised at "how incredibly superficial most of the applications" of his ideas has been. Most progressive educators in the trenches don't have to time (or the education) to do things any other way -- they make demos of reform, not reform. (Gardner indirectly admits this by moving to the time issue in the same paragraph.)

His lament about "knowing something about history," etc. doesn't sit comfortably with his attack on coverage and the hundreds of different important things we could study idea -- he's right about the lady with the "Jewish thing" -- she did mean intellectual, and the fact is that most people, including educators, aren't intellectuals. Only intellectuals seeking understanding spend serious time doing things like "just getting enough history and math" so they can have a "background" for other inquiries. In the absence of exposure to real intellectuals only a very few kids will be inspired to seek understanding in such ways. No technology will take up the slack.

From: J.C. Herz
Date: 11-6-97

When I was a child I was given very smart toys. Puzzles & blocks & tanagrams & optical illusion coloring books. Shapes to recombine. Patterns to recognize. Connect the dots. And I still play a version of this child's game. With media. Newspaper and magazine clippings. On my kitchen table. Connect the dots. And then I mail this little media sculpture to my friends and ask them to draw the lines. Color it in. So here's last week's, by way of thanks for my copy of EDGE:

Three items on the multidimensional chess board of pop culture and multinational commerce. Comprise an interesting solution space (publishing, television, architecture, brand-name beer, and Islam, for starters). Connect the dots:


Pearson P.L.C., the British media company, said yesterday that it had agreed to buy All American Communications Inc., which produces the popular TV series "Baywatch," for $373 million in cash and the assumption of $136 million in debt. All American, which is based in Los Angeles, is the world's largest owner and distributor of game shows, including "The Price Is Right" and "Family Feud," and has more than 90 on the air in 29 countries. Pearson owns The Financial Times, Penguin Books and Madame Tussaud's wax museum. Shares of All American gained 75 cents, to $25.125, in Nasdaq trading.

#2 Bloomberg item last month: GRAND MET AND FOSTER'S SELLING BRITISH PUBS.

Grand Metropolitan P.L.C. and Foster's Brewing Group Ltd. agreed yesterday to sell about 4300 pubs to an investment vehicle set up by Nomura Securities for L475 million in cash, or about $765 million, and the assumption of L775 million of debt. The companies being sold -- the Inntrepreneur Pub Company and Spring Inns Ltd. --own 2,903 and 1406 British public houses respectively. Grand Met, based in London, is in the process of merging with Guiness P.L.C. and has been disposing pubs and other brewing assets to focus on food, wines and spirits. For Foster's, which is based in Australia, the sales is part of a plan to shed its British assets. Nomura already owns 1,130 pubs through its Phoenix Inns Holdings unit.

#3 Marisa Bertolucci's concluding remarks about the Aga Khan's annual award for Islamic architecture, in the September issue of Metropolis:

...The participants know that if Islam -- its people, their cultures, and their habitats -- is to be preserved and to advance, it will depend in large part upon how imaginatively and responsibly its built landscape is conceived. They understand how in architecture, economic, political, social, aesthetic, and spiritual (or secularizing) forces converge. Of course, the future of the West also depends on such an understanding, since a flood of technological, social, and economic change is washing away our own cultural and national identities. As borders become virtual and definitions disappear in the emerging global village, we need to reinvent and redefine ourselves. With values diluted by homogenization, societies can become destabilized, providing fertile breeding grounds for fundamentalism, be it the Islamic Jihad or the Montana Militia...Indeed, the West and Islam are merging. Muslim immigrants are thronging into Europe and the United States; homegrown Muslim sects, like the Nation of Islam, are flourishing. Western culture continues too to permeate Islam; even in fundamentalist nations like Iran, teenage girls wear designer blue jeans under their chadors, travelers sneak in jazz CD's, and residents stealthily install satellite TV to catch Baywatch.

From: Clifford Pickover
Date: 11-6-97

I found Howard Gardner's ideas on education to be fascinating, and I have headed in a slightly different direction in order to find the best ways to educate. In my own life, I have found that wishing for certain goals to be an unusual and important part of the educational process. I also find that talking to children about their wishes is particularly fascinating. In fact, I have collected thousands of wishes from all around the world, from people ages 9 to 90, and gathered them together in a (so far unpublished book) titled "THE BOOK OF WISHES." You can learn more at my web site

Imagine a future world where a kindly and wise Goal Giver assigns children fascinating goals that must be achieved in their lifetimes. When you are born, your parents are handed a list with one-hundred goals. Some goals are difficult to achieve (pass a course on differential geometry and topology) while others are simpler (play "Silent Night" on the piano). As a stimulus to a nation's citizenry, if one were to achieve all 100 goals, there is a reward of one million dollars. What would such a world be like? What are some goals that a Goal Giver should assign? What would a human faced with this list really achieve?

Such an idea is not preposterous; in fact, there is a human today who forced himself to achieve over 100 goals set down on paper in the early years of his life. The man's name is John Goddard. When John was only a teenager, he took out a pencil and paper and made a long list of all the things he wanted to achieve in life. He set down 127 goals. Here is a list of just some of his goals:

  • Explore the Nile river.
  • Play "Claire de Lune" on the piano.
  • Read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica.
  • Climb Mt. Everest.
  • Study primitive tribes in the Sudan.
  • Write a book.
  • Read the entire bible.
  • Dive in a submarine.
  • Run a five-minute mile.
  • Circumnavigate the globe.
  • Explore the Great Barrier Reef of Australia.
  • Climb to the very top of Cheop&apos.s Pyramid.
Impractical? Not at all. Today John Goddard is in his seventies, and he has accomplished more than 104 of his original 127 goals. He's become one of the most famous explorers in the world. Goddard is the first man in human history to explore the entire length of both the Nile and Congo rivers. His remaining goals are not so easy. He wants to visit the moon and explore the entire Yangtze River in China. He still has not visited all the world's countries, but this goal is almost achieved. He also wishes to live to see the 21st century.

When I read about John Goddard in early high school, I made my own list:

  • Play "Bach̀s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor" on the piano (achieved 1990)
  • Learn Ch̀ang-Shih Tai Chi and Shaolin Kung Fu (achieved 1996)
  • Obtain a Ph.D. from Yale University (achieved 1982)
  • Sell a novel (achieved 1995)
  • Raise golden Amazon sevrum fish (achieved 1990)
  • Play bass guitar in a rock band (achieved 1975)
  • Eat spicy tekka maki (achieved 1994)
  • Own a Mitsubishi sports car with a stick shift (achieved 1994)
  • Fire an Uzi submachine gun and Magnum 45 (achieved 1993)
  • Publish a technical paper with a triple integral symbol (achieved 1986)
  • File a United States patent (achieved 1986)
  • Have a book published in Japanese (achieved in 1991)
  • Have a professional massage (achieved 1993)
  • Have a book turned into a movie (not yet achieved)
  • Read Will and Ariel Durant's entire Story of Civilization (not yet achieved)
  • Visit Istanbul, Bangkok, and Jerusalem (not yet achieved)
  • Eat Fugu (not yet achieved)
  • Find Adventures of a Grain of Dust, a book lost since childhood (not yet achieved)
  • Become an expert at the Japanese game Go. (not yet achieved)
  • Fully understand the concept, "All that is not given, is lost" (not yet achieved)
As bizarre as wishing and wish-fulfillment might seem as part of the educational process, I believe it to be an exciting approach for realizing grand goals. Ask your children what they would wish for.

I think of "wishing" as part of a whole cultural picture; people's wishes mirror their feelings and position in the rest of society. My experience reading and listening to people's wishes has made me realize that wishes are not casual but rather are rooted in the wisher's present life and concerns. In fact, it seems that wishes often replay people's lives in depth, dredging dreams that are almost subconscious until written down. A wish can give both literal information and also symbolic information revealing a persoǹs inner world with all its conflicts.

In more repressed times, the simple act of wishing was the greatest of sins, punishable by everlasting fire in the afterlife or by cruel Inquisition-like punishments in this life. I hope that discussions of wishes will help the next generation grow up in a world where more wishes come true, where the expression of desire is not a discourageable act but rather viewed as a creative tool and emotional outlet. Since wishes are a barometer of the human condition, our society should devise more open ways of talking about desires that will be positive and constructive.


-- Cliff Pickover

"Life is a movement from the forgotten into the unexpected." Learn more about the wishing project at: http://sprott.physics.wisc.edu/pickover/home.html

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