Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Educating for Understanding

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Educating for Understanding

Article excerpt

In this interview, Howard Gardner, a professor in the Graduate School of Educaton at Harvard University who is widely known for his views on intelligence, discusses his work, his current research interests, and the field of education.

WIDELY known for his views on intelligence, as put forth in the highly acclaimed Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (Basic Books, 1983), Howard Gardner is a professor in the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University and a researcher at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Boston. He has written on creativity and on the history of the study of cognition. In The Unschooled Mind: How Children Think and How Schools Should Teach (Basic Books, 1991), he describes some of the problems of contemporary American education and outlines some possible solutions for parents, teachers, and administrators. In this interview he discusses this work, his current research interests, and the field of education.

JS/MFS: In The Unschooled Mind, you criticized American schooling. What is your biggest concern?

Gardner: My biggest concern about American education is that even our better students in our better schools are just going through the motions of education. In The Unschooled Mind, I review ample evidence that suggests an absence of understanding -- the inability of students to take knowledge, skills, and other apparent attainments and apply them successfully new situations. In the absence of such flexibility and adaptability, the education that the students receive is worth little. I suspect that this problem exists in other countries as well, but our American fixation on the mastery of facts and the administration of short-answer instruments of assessment makes the problem particularly acute here.

JS/MFS: Should "deep understanding" be fostered across the curriculum and possible across intelligences? Gardner: Yes. I don't see how anyone could hold a different view. But just how to achieve understanding in different intelligences and across the disparate areas of curriculum is a difficult issue on which many scholars will need to work.

JS/MFS: For students with an I.Q. of say, 84 or lower, is a "deep understanding" realistic?

Gardner: I am not interested in a student's I.Q. I am interested in his or her current understanding and what can be done to enhance it. No human understands everything; every human being understands some things. Education should strive to improve understanding as much as possible, whatever the student's proclivities and potential might be.

JS/MFS: How can we best educate exceptional children -- the mentally retarded, the learning disabled, and even the gifted?

Gardner: Obviously, there is no one best way to educate all children. Indeed, the biggest mistake of past centuries has been to treat all children as if they were variants of the same individual and thus to feel justified in teaching the same subjects in the same ways. We must discover areas of strength and characteristic approaches to learning. And, as much as possible, we must bring the teaching to where the child is. When a child does not learn, it is premature to blame the child, because, more often than not, the failure lies with the educator. When we educate: better and when we can educate in a more personalized way, then children will learn better.

JS/MFS: Why do our schools fail to teach generalization, understanding, and transfer?

Gardner: Educators have simply not appreciated how difficult it is for students to transfer knowledge from one situation or domain to another. Unless one takes the "high road to transfer" and helps students to see explicitly the connections (and nonconnections) between domains, generalization and transfer will not occur with any reliability.

JS/MFS: What theories of learning might you suggest for teaching for understanding?

Gardner: In The Unschooled Mind, I develop an approach to learning that is built on a triangle: 1) Piaget's approach to cognitive development, 2) my own theory of multiple intelligences, and 3) recent research on the constraints that govern the ways in which young children master such domains of knowledge as language, number, and causality. …

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