U.S. Innovations that U.S. Education Reformers Ignore

In a Washington Post blog by Finnish scholar Pasi Sahlberg, five educational innovations developed in the United States, but which are in large part ignored by American schools and reformers, are outlined. Sahlberg counts among these innovations Howard Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences. He provides strong examples of how work that is done by US researchers so often benefits other countries who are willing to implement changes in their education systems and how these same ideas end up going to waste in America as a whole.

Sahlberg’s blog can be read in it’s entirety via the Washington Post here.

In response to this piece, Gardner responded with his own thoughts about the argument Sahlberg has made. Below are Gardner’s comments to Sahlberg:

You have written a thought-provoking piece, noting that the United States may produce promising ideas in education but lags in the implementation of those ideas—except perhaps the proliferation of standardized, high stake testing.

A few comments:

1. In the US, experimentation has too often occurred in so-called “junk works,” which are separate from the funding source. The most dramatic example is Xerox PARC—a research setting that developed many important ideas and practices in the digital world, only to have them scooped up by rival Apple.

2. The ideas you mentioned can all be found somewhere in the U.S. but our public system is so scattered that it’s hard to make changes that have wider impact. Independent schools and charter schools have more space to experiment, but again, the changes do not spread easily—the ‘lone cowboy’ phenomenon.

3. An even more dramatic example of the phenomenon that you describe is chronicled in Loren Graham’s recent book LONELY IDEAS: CAN RUSSIA COMPETE? Graham chronicles how so many wonderful ideas emerged in Russia in the last century or two, but they were almost all monetized elsewhere… except the Kalashnikov rifle!

4. Thanks for the mention of multiple intelligences (MI) theory. You might find of interest a just published book, FROM THE IVORY TOWER TO THE SCHOOLHOUSE. Jack Schneider traces four ideas that became well known by American educators, including MI theory, and compares those ideas to others that superficially seem similar—in the MI case, Robert Sternberg’s ‘triarchic theory of intelligence.’ The other ideas are Bloom’s taxonomy, the project method, and direct instruction.

5. Finally, I would add that while ideas like the ones that you mentioned may have come from American scholars, none of us worked in a vacuum. (I was greatly influenced by Piaget, Levi-Strauss, Vygotsky, Luria, and many others.) Both the amount of money available for research (from both public and private sources) and the freedom for research at the major colleges and universities enabled the emergence of interesting ideas in the social sciences, with implications for education. I worry that period is over—accordingly my current research is designed to help invigorate ‘liberal arts and sciences in the 21st century.’

These comments are also visible on Pasi Sahlberg’s website.

From the Ivory Tower to the Schoolhouse

Jack Schneider’s 2014 book From the Ivory Tower to the Schoolhouse: How Scholarship Becomes Common Knowledge in Education devotes an entire chapter to Howard Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences. Detailing the reasons why MI became a significant educational force, the text is a useful tool for anyone seeking insight into the process by which ideas are adopted (or not adopted) by a wide public audience. An excerpt from the relevant chapter is below:

Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences has been a blockbuster in American education – what one set of backers called “contemporary education’s most popular idea.” A search of the federal government’s Education Resources Information Center (ERIC), for instance, returns over twelve hundred articles on “multiple intelligences” – twice as many results as a search for “Bloom’s taxonomy,” and a few hundred more than a search for “progressive education,” though not nearly as many as for “state standards.” It is extensively, and positively, covered in textbooks for aspiring teachers. Those curious about multiple intelligences conduct hundreds of thousands of Internet searches for it each year. And there are at least six schools in the United States named for Howard Gardner. Despite its critics, the idea has taken hold in schools large and small, public and private, across disciplines, and at all grade levels.”

For further information, and to purchase a copy of the book, please visit Amazon by clicking here.

Beware of Bogus Claims on Educational Products

The English edition of the Korean media outlet The Hankyoreh has published an exchange between Howard Gardner and the civic group “World Without Worries About Private Education” in which Gardner cautions consumers not to trust in products that claim to incorporate his theory of Multiple Intelligences and/or develop specific intelligences in users.

Visit The Hankyoreh to read the article in it’s entirety.

MI Theory in Japan

In Japan, colleagues of Howard Gardner are currently working on research and a course related to Multiple Intelligences theory.

In the summer of 2014, Dr. Itsuro Ikeuchi has published a text with the English title A Cognitive Approach to Education by Harvard Project Zero: Utilizing Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences to Foster Creativity and Human Potential (Tokyo: Toshindo Publishing Co.). This volume (pictured below) is a useful resource for Japanese speakers who would like to learn more about MI theory and the work that is done at Project Zero.

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Additionally, the Japanese MI Society is offering a course this academic year at the Tokyo Art Institute on the Impact of Art and Design Thinking. As a greeting to the students enrolled in this course, which will cover MI Theory in depth, Gardner composed the following message to the class:

“I am very pleased to learn about this new course. My interest in psychology and education actually began because of my own interest in the arts. As a young person I was a serious student of piano, a sometime piano teacher, and a fan of several art forms. My doctoral thesis was a study of how young persons perceive style in paintings. It was as a result of this long time interest in the arts , as well as my research in artistic cognition, that I began to develop a criticism of the standard view of intelligence (IQ) and to propose instead a more pluralistic view of the mind, as captured in Multiple Intelligences (MI) theory. And so, from what I know, your course spans two areas that are of great and long-standing interest to me—intelligences and the arts. I hope that you have a wonderful experience and that you’ll let me and others know about how you have benefited.”

We are excited to announce these developments from Japan and look forward to continuing to work with colleagues in that country in the future.