Saturday, January 7, 2012

Five Minds - revisited

I read the book Five Minds for the Future by Howard Gardner a couple of years ago.  Today I returned to the blog posts I wrote at that time as I'm currently reading Chapter 1 of the 21st Century Skills book where Howard Gardner writes about the five minds.

It's always good to come back and revisit something - this time my thinking about the five minds is going a lot deeper and I'm thinking about different things.  For example only by reading Chapter 1 this morning did I actually come to see that three of the minds (disciplined, synthesizing and creative) are cognitive, while the other two (ethical and respectful) and more to do with our humanity/behaviour.  I've also started to think more about our role as educators in developing these five minds.

For example, if we take the disciplined mind, Gardner writes that it takes at least 10 years to become an expert or master in a discipline - so certainly for many this learning will start at school.  However, in order to remain a master it's necessary to continually practice and move forward - an expert is therefore a lifelong learner.  Towards the end of the chapter Gardner writes that the mind that is most likely to be at the greatest premium in the future is the synthesizing mind.  He says:  "those whose synthesis makes sense to others will become invaluable teachers, communicators and leaders."

Over the past year I've read a lot about the creative mind.  Both Daniel Pink and Sir Ken Robinson have written about how important creativity is for our future.  Gardner links creativity with both the disciplined and the synthesizing minds.  He writes "the disciplined mind involves depth;  the synthesizing mind entails breadth; and the creating mind features stretch".   He says creation is unlikely to emerge in the absence of disciplinary mastery and synthesis:  "it's not possible to think outside the box unless you have a box".  However too much discipline or synthesizing may inhibit creativity.  In addition creators must be risk-takers and must be willing to fail and use this failure as a valuable learning opportunity.  They must be motivated and resilient and the best way for educators to encourage those attitudes is to provide challenges and even obstacles for our students to overcome.

Can the development of a respectful and ethical mind also be encouraged by education?  Respect will certainly be fostered by the attitudes of those around, for example the peers or teachers that a student is with for 6 - 7 hours each day.  A teacher can also open up the walls of the classroom through technology to enable contact with others that have different perspectives from the students - showing diversity as being something positive.  Students are also exposed to the rights and responsibilities of being part of a school and classroom community.  If they see the adults they come across behaving in an ethical way and reflecting on the decisions they are making, if the atmosphere of these communities is an ethical one then the students will be more likely to become ethical themselves.  For example at the start of every year we talk with our students about being responsible when using the computers.  We want our students to be safe and to be legal.  We explain to the students about intellectual property and about how to attribute what they are using correctly.  As adults we need to be modeling this too:  it would be counterproductive for us to tell the students that they shouldn't be using copyrighted images or music in their work, for example, if they are doing it on a computer with unlicensed software installed.

This past year I've thought a lot about being ethical.  Although most people do want to behave ethically  as a result of self-interest this doesn't always happen.  Gardner goes on to explain, "it does not suffice simply to keep one's own ethical house in order.  One acquires a responsibility over broader realms of which one is a member."  We are responsible not only for what we do, but for what we do not do.  With students we tell them that if they are a bystander to bullying they are part of the problem.  As adults, if we see wrongdoing going on and remain silent we are also bystanders.  Gardner writes that we are "member[s] of an institution or profession with certain obligations attendant thereto.   The whistle-blower assumes an ethical stance at the cost of a respectful relationship with his supervisor."  He writes about our obligation to speak up and that if this is futile the only ethical course is to leave the organization.  This is often a difficult thing for individuals to do.

At one of my previous schools I participated in a multiple intelligences workshop with Thomas Armstrong, as well as attending the Harvard Project Zero summer school.  Therefore I'm aware of Gardner's earlier work on multiple intelligences.  In Chapter 1 of the 21st Century Skills book, Gardner writes about how the five minds match with the multiple intelligences.  He points out that the disciplined and creating minds draw on any or all of the intelligences, and that respect and ethics draw on personal intelligences.  Ethics is also built on a logical intelligence.  In recent times Gardner has been exploring a new intelligence - existential intelligence - which could be the basis of synthesizing.

As I reflect more on what I'm reading I see how important good schools are in fostering the development of each of the five minds and that this development is most likely to occur when individuals are in families and schools that value all five kinds of minds.  As teachers it's important for us to be role models and to regularly show our students aspects of the five minds:  discipline, synthesis, creation, respect and ethics.

Previous blog posts about Howard Gardner's Five Minds for the Future:
Five Minds
The Disciplined Mind - STEM, STEAM and SHAM
The Respectful Mind - Respect, Motivate, Achieve
The Ethical Mind - Ethical Education

Photo Credit:  Brain by Dierk Schaefer Attribution 

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