Howard Gardner and I Should Be Friends

I realize that everyone and their mother has to read Gardner for education grad school. Or at least learns about his multiple intelligence theory. But I am currently reading a book about something different, his book “The Unschooled Mind” (1991). Why am I telling you this? Because Gardner is fairly radical in ways beyond the multiple intelligences and I’m enjoying reading him, despite the fact that it’s going at a snail’s pace. (If he also was problematic, feel free to let me know!)

His basic idea in this text (at least so far) is that when we are small, we are able to learn lots of things (language! walking! sneezing!). We also build ourselves a schema for understanding the world that mostly works. Then we go to school where people try to teach us things and for most … none of it sticks. Or very little. And so we often, out of the classroom, revert to our pre-school intuitions, most of which are incomplete, inaccurate, or unsophisticated. (His example: What forces are acting on a ball that someone has tossed in the air? Most people imagine a force besides gravity/friction.)


A few people will, Gardner argues, reach “disciplinary understanding” where we can apply our deep conceptual and skill knowledge to novel situations. But that’s just because of their own interest/motivation. School doesn’t really foster this “disciplinary understanding.”

Perhaps, knowing me as you do, you can see why reading about Gardner’s premise had me jumping up and down. Plus, he’s snarky and dry.

  • Explaining how entrenched our young-selves’ understandings are, “in nearly every student there is a five-year-old “unschooled” mind struggling to get out.” (p. 5)
  • Defining school learning, “students simply respond, in the desired symbol system, by spewing back the particular facts, concepts, or problem sets they have been taught.” (p. 9)

I am totally looking forward to reading more about how to bridge intuitive learning and school learning (or even better, turn most of school learning into intuitive learning where students revise their thinking and lose the naive parts of understanding). This past week, Kogut and I spent the week holed up in a cottage, working on curriculum. Here’s hoping that my work during that time (Unit 1: Linear and Non-Linear Patterns) encourages students to discover and add to their intuitive schema rather than regurgitate meaningless symbols.



2 thoughts on “Howard Gardner and I Should Be Friends

  1. Good read and good points. Mixes well with what I am reading, Daniel Pink’s Drive and Sir Ken’s The Element, mix that in with Jo Boaler’s How To Learn Math” and there is tons to feel excited about and tons to think about. How fortunate that you have a like minded colleague to investigate with!

    • I really loved both Drive and another of Jo Boaler’s books (“What’s Math Got to Do With It?” – I think). I’ll have to look up Sir Ken!

      And yes, I’m super super lucky to work with Kogut!

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