Education Theorist Howard Gardner Tackles Issues in Digital Era; Presents Groovy Lecture Series at MoMA

Howard Gardner has been taking the Internet to task for quite awhile now. He is best known for revolutionizing education in the ’80s with his theory of multiple intelligences, which challenged the idea of a single human intelligence that could be measured by an IQ test. As a psychology and education professor at Harvard, he has been studying the ethical questions posed by the Web through his GoodWork Project and its Developing Minds and Digital Media arm, which examines how today’s youth think differently based on their obsessive use of digital media.

In 2007, he released his book, Five Minds for the Future, in which he discerned “intellectual approaches” for the Web-focused 21st Century. Instead of developing a hierarchy, as Bloom and Bereiter did, he divided the mind into different categories that anyone can develop. The “disciplined mind,” includes the ability to focus and master a major school of thought such as mathematics, science, or history; the “synthesizing mind” integrates diverse ideas into a whole; the “creating mind” uncovers new issues and questions, and then attempts to solve them; the “respectful mind” develops and maintains good relationships with people; and the “ethical mind” fulfills responsibilities as a citizen and works with with fellow human beings.

Now, for the first time in 47 years, he’s teaching outside the Harvard campus as a visiting professor at New York University. While he’s in the city, he’s giving a series of three lectures at the Museum of Modern Art titled “The True, the Beautiful, and the Good: Reconsiderations in a Postmodern, Digital Era.”

Mr. Gardner serves on MoMA’s board of trustees and was on the museum’s education committee for 20 years.

He already spoke about “the true” last Tuesday. Tonight, on Dec. 2, he’ll speak about “the beautiful,” at 6:30 p.m. in The Roy and Niuta Titus 1 Theater.

He says the “beautiful” and the “good” are the hardest for people to grapple with in the age of YouTube and Twitter, but he’ll have lots of slides and music examples to help us out.

“These virtues have become what I’ll call problematized,” Mr. Gardner said in a phone interview last week. “Post-modern theory tells us truth is about power and beauty is a vacuous term and goodness is completely irrelevant to the culture. So how do we as thinkers and educators deal with the post-modern critique?”

“The digital critique is, yeah you can do almost anything on the internet, you can change anything at any time,” he said. Think of Wikipedia “where everyday people change who Sarah Palin is and every day they change who I am,” Mr. Gardner explained. So how can we know what’s true?

“Truth turns out to do the best because there are truths in different disciplines and crafts and over time we can get truer pictures of the world, so there is directionality there.”

But beauty and goodness? Nobody thinks about these terms in relation to the digital era, Mr. Gardner says, although they are just as important as ethics.

Mr. Gardner said “beauty” has been stretched and distorted. What is beauty, when anyone can experiment endlessly with any format? he asks. What is the value of a remix when that is a just scrambled up version of an older form of beautiful music? “Beauty has been downgraded, but not denied boarding, which I hope is not a completely cliche thing to say,” Mr. Garder said. “There’s still a place for beauty, but it takes its place among these three, what I call, symptoms of the arts—which are interestingness, memorability of form, or awfulness, or awe-inspiring, in the 18th Century sense.” He’ll examine how digital media is altering traditional notions of beauty and the relationships among art, science, invention and design.

For his lecture on goodness, which will take place next Tuesday, Dec. 9, he’ll discuss how new media affects our senses of privacy, authorship and membership in a community. We, as humans, have identified ourselves as good citizens through “neighborhood morality” and roles as professionals. “If you were to take what I said and either pervert it or call someone who is really vicious about me and not give me the chance to respond, that would be against the craft of journalism,” Mr. Gardner said, about professional roles.

But there are ethics for people as citizens, too, and the digital era confuses them. Neighborhood morality doesn’t work anymore because borders have been broken down through the Internet. “Citizens do not only have rights to push for whatever they want for themselves, they have to think of the broader politi,” Mr. Gardner said. “Now we’re so global that unless we develop ethics that transcend national borders the species will not survive. We must engage with these dilemmas.”

Education Theorist Howard Gardner Tackles Issues in Digital Era; Presents Groovy Lecture Series at MoMA