Howard Gardner, in his talk on the teaching of virtues, observes things from the perception of truth, beauty and goodness
Howard Gardner is well known as the one who put forth the idea of multiple intelligence. In this talk he speaks of how to educate for virtues in the 21st Century. The talk is titled “Truth, Beauty and Goodness Reframed”. He “frames” his talk with two questions: What should we teach and what should students learn? Should this be different in the 21st century and, if so, how?
Says Gardner, “The purpose of education should be to help us decide what is true and what is false; the study of various disciplines helps us do that. What is beautiful and what is ugly or kitsch: how do we appreciate arts, literature and nature? How do we know what is good and bad, and how do we act in moral/ ethical spheres? I used three examples in my book: Darwinian evolution to illustrate truth, Mozart’s music to talk of beauty, and the Holocaust to talk of the good and the bad. In my naiveté I thought people would agree that we have to study scientific theories to get to the truth, works of maestros to understand beauty and study unambiguous examples like the Holocaust to learn about good and evil.”
These were “naive” thoughts that he penned down 15 years ago in his book, “The Disciplined Mind”. Subsequently he has had to revisit these questions on two fronts: the philosophical post modernistic thought posed the questions: Whose story? Who decides what is true? Who decides what is good? Beauty is a thing of the past.
Technological challenges with video games, Facebook and Twitter have changed our position in every situation. How do we reckon with that? What does it mean to be a global citizen?
Here Gardner gives us touchstones to understand/ define truth, beauty and goodness; the three pillars on which life is precariously perched. Truth, he says, is about the accuracy of statements and propositions. Beauty is about experiences, primarily about the arts. Good is about the quality of our relationships with other people.
Now making these definitions relevant to school education, Gardner says, “What we really need to convey is the methodology... how do we try to get to the truth? When so much information is available, we need to focus on methods with rich examples. The chances,” says Gardner as one of his best thoughts, “of figuring out what is true is greater than it ever was in history. Truth is convergent.”
“On the contrary,” continues Gardner, “beauty is divergent. That which is interesting, memorable, leaves you with the disposition to revisit again and, finally, brings a pleasant tingle is beauty.” Showing many examples of art on screen, Gardner says we have to help students develop their own sense of beauty, their own portfolio by studying oneself and what one values over time.
Goodness is more complicated. He says, “There are three flavours of goodness: good person, good worker, good citizen.” Here he draws a distinction between the neighbourly morality evolved from the likes of the Ten Commandments and the ethics of roles when he defines a good person.
The first one involves the morals you need to keep in place for day-to-day interactions with your near ones and friends. The second one is more complex; “... it involves responsible behaviour in different realms of citizenship needed in complex societies where much contact is intermittent or virtual; evolution essentially no help. Good work involves three E’s: technically Excellent, personally Engaging and carried out in an Ethical manner...”
The fourth dimension that technological change has thrown up is good play: the moral and ethics in cyberspace where the essential issues revolve around a sense of identity, the role of privacy, authorship/ ownership, trustworthiness/ credibility and participation in the community.
Gardner says he and his colleagues undertook a study amongst youngsters and found that they said something to the effect, “O Lord! Make me chaste, but not yet.” In the world of competition, values do not get priority. So now Gardner is on a mission to help young people develop ethical muscles; to move beyond greed and fear, and, that, he says, should be the backbone of all educational ventures.