Howard Gardner

The Disciplined Mind, Part II

VTR Date: May 26, 1999

Guest: Gardner, Howard


Host: Richard D. Heffner
Guest: Howard Gardner
Title: Howard Gardner … “The Disciplined Mind”, Part II
VTR: 5/26/99

I’m Richard Heffner, your host on The Open Mind.

And this is the second of two programs with a guest who has been dubbed “one of America’s most interesting psychologists” and whose concept of “multiple intelligences” has provided us such a profound insight into education generally … Dr. Howard Gardner, professor of Cognition and Education at Harvard University.

Now in 1997, the New York Times Science Section reprinted a number of the responses John Brockman received when he marked the anniversary of his innovative website called “Edge” by asking a number of America’s leading intellectuals to submit to him what he called “the question you are asking yourself”.

Howard Gardner’s response particularly resonated for me, and I’ve been waiting almost two years now to ask my guest to elaborate upon, perhaps to answer, the compelling question he has been asking himself, namely: “However appropriate it may be for the economy, the ‘market model’ is a grossly inadequate model for the rest of human society.

“With the decline of religious conviction and the slow pace of changes in the legal code, how can we nurture persons and institutions that can resist a purely market orientation in all spheres of living?” And that’s the question. Since you’ve been putting it to yourself that I put to you now.

GARDNER: I think even to raise the question is to sound an alarm bell because in the past it’s been rather easy to assume that there’s an intrinsic logic to different spheres of life, whether it’s the sphere of education, the sphere of law, the sphere of medium that people without having to work too much on ethical and moral issues will find that they could sort it out. But I think we live in a time when the pace of change is staggering and, as I said in that little quotation, the mechanisms which modulate change like religion, community values and the law all are either frayed or change only very glacially. So what I’ve been doing with some close colleagues has been to look at various spheres of society … at journalism, at science, at business and we’re looking at other spheres as well and talking to individuals who are, as it were, at the cutting edge of these different domains and trying to understand what they see as the pressures and what they see as the opportunities. And this is work that we really are in the middle of now, so it’s premature to give any firm conclusions. But let me talk about the way we’re thinking about it, which is that we’re interested in people who do good work. Work that is both good in quality and work that takes into account the implications of that work and we look for individual’s alertness to five kinds of responsibility. Responsibility to self, to your own goals, which could be selfish, but we hope they won’t all be; responsibility to the people around you, your family, your friends, the people whom you work with on a daily basis; responsibility to institutions, if you work for an institution (and most people do); probably the most important responsibility, the responsibility to your calling, what it means to be a journalist, a scientist, an artist, an educator, a business person; and then finally, responsibility to a larger society, the people whom you don’t know, but whom you might influence; the people who will come after you and the planet in terms of its ecological and physical and spiritual well-being. And we certainly find people in every sphere who are very concerned about these issues. But things are changing so quickly that often, even if you know what your values are, you don’t know how to exercise them at the present time. I mean, you’re trained, for example to be a foreign correspondent, or an investigative reporter, and then the decision is made simply to close down the bureau because it doesn’t make profits, or because what you find out might be damaging to a business interest. That puts you in a very, very difficult situation. Most people feel they don’t have much choice, they’ve been trained, they’ve got to go along with whatever’s going on in their, in their profession. But there are people who say, “I won’t accept this. I’ll try to invent a new institution, or I’ll try to do a guerrilla action.” Or, “I will try to continue doing what I’m doing and defy them, make them fire me. I won’t go softly into the night”. What provides that kind of fiber? Certainly early experiences are very important. Religion is much more important than I would have thought. Another thing, and this is something, Richard, you and I were talking about earlier, is having contact with people or institutions, which really do have that set of values which say that the calling is very important and it can’t easily be disrupted. In the case of broadcast journalism the shadow of Edward R. Murrow is a very powerful shadow and it continues to influence people even decades after he died. And that’s a notion that this story is not for sale, and you have to talk about things in as an objective way as you can. One surprising finding is that when people work for organizations where it’s connected with somebody’s name, because the family is very much involved with that organization … that’s often a sign of quality, where the bottom line is not the only determinant. Somehow, if this is the Heffner News Channel, or the Gardner Publishing Company, it serves as kind of a damper on unbridled speculation. That’s ironic because people used to say fifty years ago, “What’s wrong with newspapers that are owned by families? If they were publicly owned they’d be much more accountable.” In fact the best newspapers now are the ones where families have kept quite powerful control, often even have a majority of the stockholders so things can’t be done against their will. So a way to think about this is, you could be inoculated with a sense of responsibility either because of your home, and your community and your religious values, or because of your first experiences on the job. But if, through your professional training and your first experiences on the job, you never get any signal that anything is important except the bottom line, it’s very unlikely that you’re going to change that view. What I say is, “it’s not just the bottom line, it’s the line that you won’t cross even though you could,” which I think is the sign of responsibility.

HEFFNER: Why do you … and you may find this a strange question … why do you deal with the people who work in the field, rather than with their masters, with the media moguls, the media masters, the people who own the means of production if I need to become Marxist.

GARDNER; Well, we certainly don’t exclude those. In fact both formally and informally we have spoken to these individuals because we are looking at people in business. We also speak to what we call “gatekeepers”, people who often make judgments about what should be, what should happen in a particular profession. And it’s in fact very important to understand the different points of view of these different shareholders in the enterprise, if you will. What I find interesting is often when you talk to the people who are … what you’re calling “the media moguls”, you get a very impressive story of what they see themselves as doing. And then what you have to realize is that it’s often the signals that they give to the managers below them about what’s acceptable and what’s unacceptable, which is where the …the rubber really hits the road. I mean there are people who make salaries of seven figures who are not known … but the moguls are making eight or nine figures and they’re doing it from stock options. But there are people who make salaries in seven figures, who get fired if the ratings go down a point. And so, they’re the ones who really have to decide as for how much smut to put on an evening news show, or an evening magazine show in order to get people watching it.

HEFFNER: Now you’re in the middle of this study now.


HEFFNER: … it’s not fair to ask you to draw your conclusions, but are you happier …

GARDNER: [Laughter]

HEFFNER: … now … are you more sanguine about our future?

GARDNER: I think that would be hyperbole. But I feel very, very strongly that the future is in our hands, and our hands means everybody’s hands. That the more we become aware of these issues, the better, and that I think hypocrisy … and the detection of hypocrisy is a very, very powerful tool. So you have somebody who, for example, makes movies that are objectionable, or who sells cigarettes and you say, “well what do you do with your grandchildren? Let’s see, do you go to the movies with them, do you smoke with them?”. And I think that’s a very hard task for people to pass. And the … human beings have a good detector of individuals who say one thing, but who, but who do another. And when you’re making your fortune based on something which is, which is anti-human, or anti-social I think that that’s something where the spotlight can be very, very powerful.

HEFFNER: Well, of course, I wonder …

GARDNER: And, and that’s partially connected with having your name connected with something. If it’s the Sulzberger New York Times doing bad stuff, it’s Mr. Sulzberger and his family that’s on the line. Or the Bingham Louisville Courier Journal …

HEFFNER: But of course then you have the anonymous stock market … the stockholder, who’s dependent supposedly upon the dividend.

GARDNER: Yes, and I find that to be a very perilous situation for any sphere of society in which I, in which I care. That’s why I’m very interested in the idea of thinking over long periods of time. You and I were talking about the ten thousand year clock, a clock that lasts for ten thousand years. That really throws things in a different perspective, because ten thousand years is about as long as we’ve have civilization as a whole. But this is a part of education, and part of leadership. I admire those corporate leaders who say to their stockholders, “We could make more money in the short run, but if we invest in this, it’s going to be much better in the long run. Not just for us, but for the community in which we live. And for the world in which we live. And there are people who’ve managed to do this. I don’t want to go on television and name the names of people who I think have been able to do this because I haven’t investigated them thoroughly enough to know that they’re right. But certainly there are great differences in the messages which leaders of our corporations and of our universities and of our other great institutions do. Some of them really do seem to be strictly by the books, whatever makes the most money at the end of the day wins. Others are able to take a much longer view and I think that those stories need to get out and then people who enter in those professions realize they do have choices. And they need to understand that. If you’re only in an environment where everybody is operating by the bottom-line, how could you possibly think any differently?

HEFFNER: Well, I wonder if you frequently run into the pattern that I run into here at this very table with so many media people saying over the years essentially, “there’s no one in here but us chickens”. Essentially they’re saying, “why talk with me about that. I just reflect what the American people want. I don’t make decisions. If I entertain them in a low brow fashion I do so because in a democracy” … and they talk about cultural democracy … “we switch the dial. We want to vote for something else”, and you mentioned Eric Sevareid before, during the time we were talking between programs … Sevareid on CBS many, many years ago had a … I believe it was an annual program in which he … CBS devoted an hour for a discussion of Sevareid and Walter Lippmann. And it was magnificent … by my lights and by the lights of perhaps seven or eight million other Americans. But, on the other networks there were fifteen or twenty million other Americans watching and finally … out of respect for the shareholder … out of respect for the election, for cultural democracy … the fact that Americans in larger numbers turned the dial to the other networks … that went by the board.

GARDNER: Well, I have to say I totally reject that way of thinking.

HEFFNER: You’re not a democrat when it comes to culture?

GARDNER: I think that the people who are on television, the people behind television are in the position of influencing those choices by what they put forth and what they don’t put forth. And if the show is not getting good ratings, you have to think about ways in which to make it so compelling that people will demand to see it. You also can take the position that we’re going to do certain things even though the ratings aren’t high because we believe it’s right. And if the stockholders want to sell their shares … let them. And if you’re a Walter Lippmann and Eric Sevareid and you can’t do it on CBS, you find another place to do it, or you set up your own company. In other words, I refuse to take a passive “that’s what they want”. Because the truth is we know … unfortunately from the history of this century … that you can tremendously influence …for good or for bad … what people think through any kind of medium and any kind of propaganda. And I frankly have disdain for media people who say “we can’t help it, it’s what they want”. It’s a very cynical position. And again, if you ask them what they do with their own families, they don’t just let them sit in front of the television and watch the cheapest kind of thing.

HEFFNER: Oh, but …

GARDNER: So, I think … it … it’s cowardice and braggadocio and I certainly do not admire people at all who say that kind of thing.

HEFFNER: I love hearing that because I don’t hear it from many people on this, on this program, or read it anywhere. But I was fascinated, too, by … in an older book of yours, Extraordinary Minds, you write, “Role models are crucial, either directly or through some kind of symbolic object. Books, yesterday; films and television today, electronic networks tomorrow”. And you talk about what the aspiring youth will get from them. And then in The Disciplined Mind, you write, “It is safe to make one prediction. The media of communication will be a dominating, if sometimes unintentional, agency of education throughout the world. Radio, television, movies, magazines, advertising materials will continue to proliferate and to convey powerful messages about roles and values around the world.” Now that’s anathema, isn’t it, to most of the … or maybe it’s not fair to say to … certainly to the media moguls who have sat at this table, the notion that they really have that power, perhaps because they don’t want the responsibility that goes with great power.

GARDNER: I think, I think that they certainly know that they have that power. But, as you say if they were to admit it openly this would make them much more open to charges of hypocrisy. So it’s easy for them to take a low profile, so to speak. But I think also the … when you take a more cosmic view the notion of the number of people who watch something is really … it’s a very trivial measure of what has influence. We all know that there are certain newspapers, certain magazines, certain information outlets which are really quite small in the number of people who read it. I’m sure USA Today is read by many, many more people than read The New York Times or The Economist and yet if you want to have your positions have some influence, you would write in The New York Times or in The Economist rather than in USA Today. And the kind of point that I was trying to make with reference to the Sevareid/Lippmann exchanges that you refer to, is that it was important for them to find some place to do it because the people who want to hear them talk will find them. And that’s the wonderful thing now about the Internet … is, you know, if you and I want to have a conversation and they won’t put it on television, we can just put it on the Internet and have people read it. And I think people will find it, and if it’s worthwhile, they’ll talk about it. It’s unfortunate, it leads to a kind of division where individuals who, as it were in the couch potato category … and they sort of accept what is the line of least resistance … namely to watch what’s on the leading channels … are really, from my point of view are being mis-educated and missing out in lots of things. That’s why I would like to see more of the early William Paley, who I think saw CBS as a jewel, rather than as a pandering kind of mechanism in the media. But if the people who are running these mega-corporations want to go strictly by the bottom line, short of revoking their license, I think we just have to find other outlets for, for more serious kind of discussion. I was mentioning to Richard, without wanting to flatter you, that the fact that you’ve been doing these interviews for thirty or forty years provides a magnificent archive. Now it might well be the case that you couldn’t get a single cable television show to, to run them over the course of a year. I have no idea. But as long as they aren’t destroyed, as long as they’re available, someday people will find them and say, ‘My goodness, if I want to know what happened in the last half of the twentieth century, there’s no better way to start than to watch these programs”. So the important thing is to save them. And that’s why we need a ten thousand year library as well as a ten thousand year clock.

HEFFNER: Well, I think that the most important thing is for the younger Mr. Paleys of the future to guide what the older Mr. Paleys of the future …

GARDNER: And that’s where role models are so important. I was involved in a discussion of what should be done for kids six to twelve years of age in movies to combat the less desirable Terminator and worse kinds of movies and video games. And a number of us who are my age in their fifties, remembered that when we were young we read books called The Landmark Books, which were put out by Random House, a long series of books of biographies and histories about important people and events in the world. I would say they were “upbeat”, they were heroic, probably they weren’t too strong in undebunking. But they provided what, what I think was very important mental furniture for many of us. It’s sort of the way we think about the world. And I said, “There are so many people … famous and unknown … who’ve done admirable things. Why not make a series of movies for kids six to twelve? Why not set up a Saturday afternoon serial place where you can go with your family? You can watch these movies, you can talk about them afterwards … let’s build up some positive models of what you can do in the world, whether you’re in journalism, or in science, or art. They’re aren’t only negative models. But often …but often they get shouted down.

HEFFNER: Would you … would you embrace Gresham’s Law to the extent that you might believe that even in cultural matters the bad drives the good out of existence? Sissela Bok on this program, Newt Minow and what he writes … so many well intentioned people … I would include your group of fifty-year olds, want to figure out what good can we do. Let’s do the good things that might then be available to children. But isn’t the problem really, with Gresham’s Law, that the bad drives out the good and the real problem we face is not an absence of good role models alone, but so many, many, many, many bad role models that in their entertainment value push the good right off the screen?

GARDNER: I think there may be more folks who are driven by the market model and by personal aggrandizement than the reverse. But the wonderful thing about human experience is it’s not predictable. Who could have predicted Nelson Mandela? Who could have predicted a guy in jail for twenty seven years, he gets elected President, in the first row he puts his jailer. Plus how about a more trivial example. Who could have predicted Shakespeare In Love? You know, a movie about Shakespeare, people are lining up all over to see it. So just about when you’re ready to despair, you have to see that something obscure and unpredictable just carries everybody away. And that’s what I would like the young people … whatever pursuit of calling that they decide to follow is to know they don’t have to do the easiest thing. They don’t have to do the thing which makes the most money right away. They have to do the thing that in the long run they’re going to be proud of and other people will eventually see the value of.

HEFFNER: Which leads me to ask you a question that … can’t let the …

GARDNER: None of these extraordinary minds that I studied would ever have gotten anywhere if all they said is “My goodness, how is this going to be in the stock market tomorrow?”

HEFFNER: You know, you’re … I said in both of my introductions … referred to the multiple intelligences that you have put your emphases upon … what an incredible role that concept has played in American education. I wanted to ask you whether in addition to those intelligences you have looked into the matter of moral intelligence?

GARDNER: Yeah, I’ve actually written about whether I think there’s a moral intelligence. That’s a term that Robert Coles, a colleague of mine has used. He’s written a book on the moral intelligence of children in … so to speak in the … for the vernacular I have no objection to the term “moral intelligence”. I think that the effort to call attention to the importance of ethics and their relative lack of training is certainly meritorious. But from a technical, from a scientific point of view I don’t believe there’s a moral intelligence. The way I think about intelligence is, is that these are a set of biological potentials which we have as human beings, and we have them because of the kind of creature we are, and the kind of world in which we’ve lived in for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years. So we have a computer, as it were that deals with language, a computer that deals with other people, a computer that deals with music … we have eight or nine different intelligences. According to my analysis any intelligence can be used pro-socially or anti-socially. Both Goebbels and Goethe were masters of the German language. Goethe used it to write great poetry and drama. Goebbels used it to ferment hatred. He was very good at it. He was using his linguistic intelligence for what I think was a deeply immoral purpose. Machiavelli was a master of understanding other people. He had a very high inter-personal intelligence. But scholars still disagree four hundred years after him about whether he was a good guy or a bad guy. So I would rather think about morality as a sphere where cultures have values and people either adhere to them or they don’t. There may be some morality which is universal … I happen to think that there is. But I think it’s decisions that human beings make about how to use their intelligences and how not to use their intelligences which is the sphere of morality and I think the intelligences are just like computers. And any computer can be used, you know, to spy on people or to spread, spread the gospel.

HEFFNER: What has been done with this notion of the seven types … or as you suggest … more …

GARDNER: Well one thing that’s happened is they’ve increased.

HEFFNER: I gather.

GARDNER: I now think there are eight or nine different intelligences. So there’s been some modest inflation. And briefly language and logic are the intelligences of school, but I think there’s also musical, spatial, bodily, inter-personal, intra-personal, naturalist … the intelligence of Darwin and possibly what I call an existential intelligence … the intelligence that asks the really big questions. It’s one that I’m personally fond of. And I wrote about the intelligences as a scientist … as a psychologist. I thought it was a better description of the mind/brain than the standard “we have one intelligence and we can’t do anything about it”, the so-called bell curve view. I was very surprised to find that the principal interest in the theory came not from psychologists, but from educators. And I think it happened because most people who see lots of kids realize that the standard story of intelligence is too simple. There are kids who are very good in school, but who kind of flunk life. And Dan Goleman in his work in emotional intelligences has called our attention to that. But there are lots of people who don’t well in school, who are very strong intellectually in other things. Charles Schwab is an example that comes to mind … he can hardly read … he’s severely dyslexic … he was not a good student. Thomas Edison is another one and do you want to call these people stupid just because they don’t do well in school? That would be much too simple. So I think when educators saw this they said, “Gee, that’s right, Gardner’s called attention to something we knew intuitively. But he’s given it some names and he’s given it some legitimacy”. And so all over the country and indeed, in other countries as well, people have to try to devise curriculum or assessments or ways of teaching pedagogy and instructional methods which go beyond language and logic … teaching using works of arts, teaching using bodily demonstrations, examinations where students have to perform their understanding.

HEFFNER: In the one minute we have left, how do you fit standardized tests into that optimistic notion of yours.

GARDNER: Well, standardized tests are certainly the coin of the realm in this country, and they don’t show much sign of dying out. You have to realize that a standardized test is used in two different ways. The notion of having standards and seeing whether people meet them is perfectly fine with me, in fact I’m a person who’s a demon for standards, and a demon for discipline. On the other hand “standardized test” also means a short answer superficial kind of measure to see how much stuff you’ve run into, and to me that’s a very bad way to evaluate what’s known. I would like standardized tests much better, if they said “here’s ten topics, pick any one of them and we’ll ask you some questions about it”, thereby rewarding depth rather than superficial breadth.

HEFFNER: Howard Gardner, it took me two years to get you here. I hope it doesn’t take that long to get you back to The Open Mind.

GARDNER: Thank you, I’ve enjoyed it.

HEFFNER: Thanks so much for joining me today. And thanks, too, to you in the audience. I hope you join us again next time. And if you would like a transcript of today’s program, please send four dollars in check or money order to: The Open Mind, P. O. Box 7977, F.D.R. Station, New York, New York 10150

Meanwhile, as an old friend used to say, “Good night and good luck”

N.B. Every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this transcript. It may not, however, be a verbatim copy of the program.