HOWARD GARDNER Harvard Graduate School of Education Boston Veterans Administration Medical Center
The period of the middle 1980s marks a special moment in American educational circles. For the first time in a generation, the quality of public education in America is undergoing considerable scrutiny. There is little question that, as a consequence of these discussions, education will change--indeed, it has already begun to change. Even as the pressures mount for educational reform, insights about the nature of the teaching and learning processes are issuing forth at an accelerating rate from the research community--not only from researchers in education but also from workers in cognitive science and neuroscience. A major question for our time is whether the findings from educational research will address, and satisfy, the needs of educational reformers; and, if so, what form the end result may take.
In light of the record of previous reforms, and of plausible theories of human nature, ample grounds for pessimism exist. It is possible that the call for reform will peak, if it has not already done so, and that the changes made will turn out to be chiefly cosmetic. Despite the good intentions of planners, reform may fall victim to facts of economics (e.g., a depression) or of demographics (e.g., an influx of poorly prepared students whom the schools are unwilling or unable to serve; or a cohort of poorly trained teachers) or of cultural trends (e.g., the effects of drugs or of the mass media will overpower the effects of schools). In such cases, of course, prognostic exercises like this one, however stimulating for the participants, will prove to be exercises in futility.