Wednesday, October 28, 2015
Presidential Candidate Ben Carsen and Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences
I have been thinking lately about the paradoxes that are emerging from the 2016 presidential debate and the implications for us as educators. Presidential candidate Ben Carson and his political remarks have been receiving much criticism along with some admiration of a certain segment of the public that appears to be mesmerized by his inexplicably naïve statements – Obamacare is the moral equivalent of slavery, Jews could have prevented the holocaust if only they had the right to bear arms, etc., etc. (By the way, we are talking about a public who largely went through our schools on the way to “enlightened adulthood.”)
Despite his much acclaimed (at least from what I read) skills as a neurosurgeon, his political acumen sinks to a rather low level given his offhand and often ill-conceived and ill-formed remarks on political issues. Perhaps, there are many types of intelligences and proficiency in stem education does not assure wisdom in social, political, personal and historical understanding. But simply limiting our discussion to departmentalization might actually do us a disservice if it moves us away from a more fundamental question we should be asking about the purposes of public education in a liberal democratic society and the development of "enlightened adulthood.” Over the last decade, this nation has been consumed in debates on how to achieve better test scores in reading, mathematics, stem education, etc., along with outcomes and standards that can be explicitly formulated. (Ok, for those who reflexively respond that these are important things to know, let’s just concede that point so it doesn’t distract us.) What is important, is that it has been a distraction from the kind of conversation we should have been having about the purposes of education.
There is an ancient philosophical, religious and political goal that never enters into these discussions. How do we help the next generation grow in “wisdom” and enlightened adulthood? This ancient concept, from both a secular and religious perspective, encapsulates the kind of holistic pursuit that allows us to see the world from a larger, more empathic, vantage point. It is one that Socrates saw containing a certain humility to exercise. And Proverbs 4:7 reminds us that “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.” It cannot be easily operationalized and tested on some standardized test. And, as a result, it can be easily dismissed. And so to our peril, we have a certain blindness when it comes to raising questions about what it means to live a life fully and the knowledge and virtues that such a life entails, and instead continue with the same diatribe that has dominated our national discourse.
I just throw out this idea as a seed to plant and perhaps as a community to reflect upon, explore, and “evolve” in our thinking. Perhaps, we should have a special issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy on the topic so we can start to probe more deeply on exactly what we mean and whether it is worthy of our attention.