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Howard Gardner ’65 Discusses Career at Harvard, New Memoir at Brattle Theater Event

Harvard Graduate School professor Howard Gardner '65 delivered the Mind Brain Behavior initiative's distinguished lecture on Wednesday.
Harvard Graduate School professor Howard Gardner '65 delivered the Mind Brain Behavior initiative's distinguished lecture on Wednesday. By Addison Y. Liu
By Jamie A. Herfort and Aisling A. McLaughlin, Contributing Writers

Howard E. Gardner ’65, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, discussed his career and recent memoir during an Wednesday event at the Brattle Theater.

Harvard Psychology professor Steven A. Pinker moderated the conversation with Gardner in front of a crowd of Harvard affiliates and local Cambridge residents. Gardner published his memoir in 2020, one year after he retired from teaching.

Throughout the hourlong discussion, Pinker mentioned several of Gardner’s mentors and colleagues by name, prompting Gardner to speak at length about how each person left an impact on his career.

Pinker started the event by mentioning Roger W. Brown, a longtime professor of social psychology at Harvard who served as an adviser to both Gardner and Pinker.

“Roger sort of adopted me as a graduate student,” Gardner said.

Gardner said Brown’s mentorship helped him come up with one of his most well-known academic accomplishments, the theory of multiple intelligences.

Gardner’s theory significantly changed how psychologists measured overall intelligence. While the field previously used only one single measure of overall intelligence, Gardner argued that there are several categories under which a person’s intelligence can fall.

The second mentor Gardner discussed was Jerome S. Bruner, who also taught at Harvard as a professor of psychology. Gardner said he met Bruner after someone advised him to ask Bruner for a summer job developing a curriculum for middle school students in Newton, Mass.

Gardner said his meeting with Bruner did not last very long.

“He said, ‘You’re hired. Go talk to my assistant,’” Gardner recalled.

The third mentor Pinker and Gardner talked about was Harvard philosophy professor H. Nelson Goodman, Class of 1928. In 1967, Goodman founded Project Zero, a project that conducts research in education. As a founding member, Gardner was involved with Project Zero since its inception and later spent several decades as the project’s co-director.

During the event, Gardner said he was pushed to “the extremes of what it’s like to learn” by Goodman’s leadership of Project Zero.

“In my memoir, I talk about how I tried to take the better aspects of both Bruner and Goodman and other people, as I tried to run a research project that is now 56 years old,” Gardner said.

Gardner concluded the event by discussing some of his more recent scholarship on what constitutes “good work” and how people can maintain their ethics in the professional workplace.

“A lot of my work now with my colleagues is trying to understand the nature of ‘good work’ for citizenship and how to nurture it,” Gardner said. “Anybody who reads the newspapers or looks at any kind of news feed knows the world needs more thinking and more action about what it is to be good.”

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