The Complete Tutor
Gardner, Howard, Technos: Quarterly for Education and Technology
HARVARD GRADUATE SCHOOL OF EDUCATION'S HOWARD GARDNER, AUTHOR OF 18 BOOKS (TRANSLATED INTO 20 LANGUAGES) AND SEVERAL HUNDRED ARTICLES, IS BEST KNOWN IN EDUCATIONAL CIRCLES FOR HIS THEORY OF MULTIPLE INTELLIGENCES, A CRITIQUE OF THE NOTION THAT THERE EXISTS BUT A SINGLE HUMAN INTELLIGENCE THAT CAN BE ASSESSED BY STANDARD PSYCHOMETRIC INSTRUMENTS. DURING THE PAST 15 YEARS, HE AND COLLEAGUES AT HARVARD PROJECT ZERO HAVE BEEN WORKING ON THE DESIGN OF PERFORMANCE-BASED ASSESSMENTS, EDUCATION FOR UNDERSTANDING, AND THE USE OF MULTIPLE INTELLIGENCES TO ACHIEVE MORE PERSONALIZED CURRICULUM, INSTRUCTION, AND ASSESSMENT. HERE HE EXPLAINS THE RELATIONSHIP--AND ITS POTENTIAL--BETWEEN COMPUTERS AND MULTIPLE INTELLIGENCES.
It may be a coincidence, but the same events that stimulated the development of the computer have also brought about a revolution in our understanding of teaching, learning, and the functioning of the human mind. Throughout recorded history, the ideal education has consisted of a skilled teacher working intensively with a single student. Whether it is Aristotle preparing young Alexander to rule Macedonia, Jean-Jacques Rousseau cultivating the natural talents of his fictional Emile, or President Mark Hopkins of Williams College sitting on a log with a student, individual attention is the most reliable way to develop the full powers of the growing individual. But beyond the time-honored techniques of the tutor, have we learned anything new about how the mind learns since classical times, the Enlightenment, or the mid-19th Century? In particular, if we want students to understand consequential materials--for example, the theory of evolution or the meaning of the Holocaust-do we have available new concepts and techniques that will allow us to do a better job?
BEHAVIORISM AND COGNITIVISM
Before we can answer that question, it's important to take a step back to understand the enduring legacy of behaviorism. Until the 1960s, ideas developed by behavioral psychologists like B.F. Skinner dominated psychology. Behaviorism taught that the only cognitive phenomenon worth focusing on was observed human activity--the job of the psychologist or educator was to reward desired behaviors and to punish or ignore undesirable ones. Though students might differ in brightness, behaviorists believed that all persons learned through the same schedule of reinforcements. These psychologists argued that there was no point in examining the structures and processes of the brain; indeed, strict behaviorists refrained from even referring to such dubious entities as ideas, schemas, representations, or thoughts.
The advent of the computer changed psychology forever and spawned the cognitive sciences. For the first time in history, mechanical entities could represent and transform information; that is, computers could store data, manipulate symbols, solve problems, transform input, and the like. It made sense to think of such devices as representing and manipulating information; certainly, therefore, it was senseless to withhold this characterization from the humans who created and programmed computers!
Ever since Herbert Simon and Allen Newell designed the first thinking machines in the middle 1950s, the computer has replaced the behaviorist's reflex arcs and schedules of reinforcement as the model par excellence of the human mind. Instead of focusing on actions and reactions, as the behaviorists did, cognitive scientists argue about the nature of human mental representations. What is the "stuff" that we think in; how many forms of representation do we have; how does one learn, remember, understand, and create?
In the first years of the computer revolution, some four decades ago, it seemed parsimonious to assume that there was a single form of mental representation that was used by all persons for all thinking. Still under the influence of the behaviorist legacy, the early cognitive scientists saw the individual as relatively passive, receiving inputs and operating upon them according to simple forms of association. …