Howard Gardner was recently interviewed by Korean Newspaper Joongang Daily in conjunction with the publication of the Korean translation of his book The Disciplined Mind. In the interview transcript below, Gardner offers his thoughts about intelligence, creativity, and education on various fronts.
Click here for a PDF of the published Korean article.
Joongang Daily: As you probably know, you are well-known as the father of Multiple Intelligences theory. Your main works, including The Disciplined Mind, Frames of Mind, Extraordinary Minds, etc., deal with how the human mind operates. What does multiple intelligences theory mean in your overall academic career?
HG: Even today, over thirty years after I developed the theory, most of my mail, from all over the world, concerns MI theory. I have a website where I post occasional columns and answers to questions. (I would be happy if someone were to translate the website into Korean!)
My work on “MI theory” has taken me to interesting places and expanded my horizon, and I am glad that I developed the ideas and that they have had numerous applications in education. I have four children, and we are expecting our fourth grandchild—so as long as that paternity is recognized first, I am happy to be the father of MI theory.
That said, in my own scholarship, I have gone on to other issues. For the last twenty years, I have been studying ‘the good’—what it means to be a good worker, a good citizen, and a good person. One reason for this research is that I have seen MI ideas misapplied—and, I have to say, sometimes it has been in Korea. I came to realize that I had a responsibility to speak out when the ideas were not being used in a good way.
One of the rewards of being a scholar is that you can investigate whatever interests you. And so, after 20 years on the Good Project (see thegoodproject.org), I am now studying higher education in the United States as part of a project called “Liberal Arts and Sciences in the 21st Century.”
Joongang Daily: How do you define the human mind in the context of your research/studies? Among the many aspects of the operation of the human mind, which draws your interest the most?
HG: I construe the human mind very broadly—of course all mental activity comes from the human brain, but the human mind extends far beyond the brain to the technologies that we use, to the other people with whom we work and solve problems, and to history, culture and the arts. In my long career, I have had the chance to study many aspects of human cognition—intelligence, creativity, leadership, and ethics. I am more interested in ‘high end’ cognition—how we draw meaning from experiences, rather than how we see a line or hear a sound. And I’ve been more interested in cognition than in emotional or social aspects of the mind, though they are very important as well.
Joongang Daily: In many of your works, you deal with creative minds in human history. Nowadays, many governments and corporations are developing various programs to foster people with creative talents; they are pouring in their resources for this purpose. In your opinion, what does it mean to be creative in modern society? I also wonder if you think developments in science and technology are affecting human creativity.
HG: I think that creativity today is not fundamentally different than it was 100 or 1,000 or even 10,000 years ago. Creative people use their minds to solve problems, to raise questions, and to create objects that arouse the interest and the excitement of others. If I had to specify differences today, I would mention two: 1) we have much more help from technology, particularly digital technology; and 2) we are more likely to work with others, both near and far, than alone. The image of the solitary creative individual, working in a garret or cave or study, is much less relevant today.
Developments in science and technology have always affected creativity. Until now, however, creativity has come chiefly from human beings, not from robots or computers. If that should change, then maybe the computers will be studying creativity, rather than the psychologists or policy makers who study it today!
Joongang Daily: Recently The Disciplined Mind was published in Korea. In this book, you have emphasized the importance of academic discipline. However, many people think that creativity is hindered by becoming familiar with the existing knowledge system. How do you respond?
HG: If you spend too much time mastering existing knowledge, that can be counterproductive. On the other hand, unless you know what has been learned before, and how it was learned, the chance is that you will re-invent the wheel rather than coming up with something new, useful, and interesting. As I express it in a book called Five Minds for the Future, being creative means thinking outside of the box. But you can’t think outside of the box unless you have a box! And that box contains the disciplined knowledge that you have acquired, often over a significant period of time.
Joongang Daily: You’ve visited Korea several times, as far as I know. Is there anything you want to say about Korean education? What do you think is the most distinct feature of Korean education?
HG: What I have to say is conventional wisdom about Korea. Students are very good at mastering material and performing well on standardized tests. For students with academic intelligences, this is fine, but it creates enormous stress on young people who may be stronger in areas that are NOT tested by standard tests. Korea stands out in terms of achievement but also stress. Parents are often too tough on their children, probably because the parents themselves were stressed when they were young.
My own experience is that Korean students are often very tough on themselves, very demanding. Up to a point that may be good; but when it becomes self-destructive, that is bad. It used to be said that East Asians were not as creative as Westerners due to cultural differences. But I think that is no longer true. The secrets of creativity are open to everyone, and there are many creative artists, musicians, and scientists of Korean background both in Korea and abroad.
Joongang Daily: Recently, the problem of school bullying is becoming more and more serious worldwide. As an antidote to this problem, our government passed an act called the Character Education Law. What do you think is the core idea of character education?
HG: Often Character Education focuses on identifying and drilling what one should do and what one should not do. That’s fine as far as it goes—no one should lie, steal, or injure others. But the more challenging aspects involve how one should behave in a difficult situation, where there is no easy answer: for example, when one is tempted to cheat on an examination which seems unfair, or when a friend of yours cheats. Those difficult situations cannot be solved simply by being told what to do. One needs to discuss alternatives, understand the positive and negative aspects of each, and work together to make a better community. To do this well is challenging; and that is what we focus on in the Good Project, mentioned above. In fact we have created a toolkit which helps students, teachers, and parents tackle difficult issues like bullying or cheating or competing for scarce rewards. One needs to understand WHY people bully and what are the harms for the victim, the victimizer, and the larger community.
Joongang Daily: As the youth unemployment rate soars, many universities are now faced with the problem called “the collapse of universities,” as they are closing down humanities and basic science departments. Do you think there might be solution to this problem?
HG: As I said before, all of my work now is focused on “Liberal Arts and Sciences in the 21st Century.” I focus on that highly current topic because I am aware of the situation that you describe and want to do something about it. It’s very important that our leaders understand why broad education is essential, not only for work but also for citizenship; alas, too many of them contribute to the problem, rather than to the solution.
When we are interviewing students and parents in our study, and they say that the purpose of education is to get a job, we follow up with the question “And what happens when the job disappears?”. Often they are shocked; they never thought of that possibility before. Of course, the whole reason for a broad education in history, philosophy, and the arts, as well as basic science, is to prepare you, as best we can in 2015, for the world, no matter what the jobs happen to be in 2020 or 2050 and no matter what is the state of the world.
Joongang Daily: As Internet technology is improving, the kind of information people need is changing. With this background, many people are saying that schools are collapsing and education itself is at stake. What roles can schools, or education itself, play in this era? What meanings do they bear?
HG: For as long as I can look ahead, we will have schools, because we need places for young people to become socialized, to learn to deal with peers, to master citizenship, and—without wanting to be frivolous—to have a place to go while parents are working! But more and more of traditional education—acquiring the literacies and the disciplines—will occur online, before the age of school, and throughout life—no more will we think of education as ending at age 20 or 25. Teachers will become more like coaches or curators, less like dispensers of information that is readily available on any search engine.
A few years ago a ‘wise guy’ student said to me, “Dr Gardner, why do we even need school when the answers to all questions are on my smart phone?”
I looked at him for a moment and said, “Yes, the answer to all questions, except the important ones!” And that’s another reason why schools and the liberal arts and sciences will continue to the indefinite future.
Joongang Daily: What do you think is the biggest problem we are facing these days? How do you think education should change in the 21st century to solve that problem? What can an educator do?
HG: I assume that you mean the biggest problem in education—because problems of climate change, the water supply, regional warfare, and nuclear weapons are far greater than the educational challenges, significant though they are (I hardly need remind an audience of South Koreans, given the weapons available in North Korea).
I don’t think that there is a single biggest problem in education. As I have suggested in my answer to other questions, we have a lot of misconceptions about the reasons for education (not just to get a job) and where it should take place (not just online). In the United States, the biggest challenge is to make the teaching profession attractive enough so that talented students will devote a significant proportion of their lives to teaching and that they will help to bring a diverse society closer together. But in other countries, like Singapore, Finland, or Korea, there are other strengths and other challenges.
Joongang Daily: It’s been thirty years since you announced Multiple Intelligence theory. It has been very influential around the globe. How do you think this theory will be evaluated thirty years from now?
HG: When I put forth the theory, I thought that the most important part was the identification of the specific intelligences and their relation to specific regions of the brain. And indeed, I think that is why the theory attracted a lot of attention. But today, I think it was more important simply to pluralize the word ‘intelligence’ and to help parents, teachers, and children themselves realize that you can be smart in more than one way, and that it’s important to identify your strengths, and make use of them—for work, for play, for what you are passionate about, for how best to work with others. I don’t know and I don’t care whether my name and the phrase ‘multiple intelligences’ will still be on the radar screen, but I do hope that the ideas of ‘several ways of being smart’ will become part of common sense, common knowledge, and common wisdom.
I’ve often said that one of the big problems with IQ is that you can’t do anything about your IQ—it is just a way of labelling you and oftentimes dismissing you. The good think about an “MI” way of thinking is that it gives hope to all people about their own potential and gives parents and teachers different ways of addressing their students. Indeed, that is one of the key ideas in The Disciplined Mind, where I show how important knowledge can be conveyed in ‘’multiple intelligences ways’.
Joongang Daily: With advances in brain science and cognitive science, new findings regarding human learning and decision making are now coming into light. How do you think this progress will affect education in the future? Nowadays, it seems that many people are especially interested in Artificial Intelligence. What do you think of the future of AI?
HG: Brain science and AI (cognitive science) are different from one another. Any educator—indeed, any educated person—should monitor what is happening in both areas of science. I think that brain science will be most important in helping us to identify potential learning problems, very early in life, and in suggesting ways in which to address those problems effectively. It is already happening with respect to spoken and written language.
As for AI, I am less interested in creating machines that will replace human beings than I am in creating machines, programs, and apps that will allow human beings to achieve what we want to achieve more skillfully and more ethically—working together with us, just as we should all learn to work with other persons, even if they don’t look or sound the way that we do.
To put it differently, if brain science or cognitive science can help human beings to survive and thrive together, that should make all of us very happy.