Gardner '65 Calls For Education in in Ethics

Channeling the ideas of his newly-released book, Graduate School of Education professor Howard E. Gardner ’65 stressed that modern education must incorporate “truth, beauty, and goodness.”

Gardner, who published his book “Truth, Beauty, and Goodness Reframed” this spring, spoke Thursday night at a packed Askwith Forum at the Ed School.

“We have to somehow knit together enlightenment for the 21st century,” he said.

Gardner, who is known for his theory of multiple intelligences that describes the different methods in which people process information, applied his theory to teaching in a K-12 setting. He said schools must teach students three primary skills: to discern fact from fiction, hold convictions about beauty, and become moral citizens.

“He said that the world is going to be saved by good people, not smart people,” Ed School Dean Kathleen McCartney said. “I think that’s a very provocative thought that is sure to spur a lot of conversation.”

Gardner said that academics today are concerned that younger generations value morality less than in the past.

“Over and over again we heard a litany that was very troubling,” Gardner said. “What we heard from so-called best and the brightest was, ‘We want to succeed ... and we’re in competition with other people.’”

Gardner added that, in a world in which every career holds ethical dilemmas, answers cannot always be found in books. Instead, he said, answers are best found through shared experiences. Educators today must “help young people develop ethical muscles,” he said.

Gardner also stressed the importance of determining truth. Making his point, he invoked comedian Stephen Colbert’s sarcastic notion of “truthiness” that exists in society today: if an idea is stated with enough conviction or popularity, it becomes truth regardless of the facts.

Instead, Gardner said that each field of study must teach the correct methodology of determining what is truth. In journalism, specifically, he said that students must be taught that certain forms of media, such as blogs, cannot be assumed to be factual.

“More and more of education needs to focus on the methods people use in order to make the assertions that they do,” he said.

McCartney said that she hopes Gardner’s ideas are implemented in the Ed School’s curriculum.

“We work really hard to create a moral community,” she said.

—Staff writer Michelle M. Hu can be reached at michellehu@college.harvard.edu.

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