Many of us interested in efforts at educational reform have focused on the learner or student, be she a young child in preschool or an adult bent on acquiring a new skill. It is clarifying to have such a focus and, indeed, any efforts at reform are doomed to fail unless they concentrate on the properties and potentials of the individual learner. My own work on multiple intelligences has partaken of this general focus; colleagues and I have sought to foster a range of intellectual strengths in our students.
But after several years of active involvement in efforts at educational reform, I am convinced that success depends upon the active involvement of at least four factors:
Assessment * Unless one is able to assess the learning that takes place in different domains, and by different cognitive processes, even superior curricular innovations are destined to remain unutilized. In this country, assessment drives instruction. We must devise procedures and instruments which are “intelligence-fair” and which allow us to look directly at the kinds of learning in which we are interested.
Curriculum * Far too much of what is taught today is included primarily for historical reasons. Even teachers, not to mention students, often cannot explain why a certain topic needs to be covered in school. We need to reconfigure curricula so that they focus on skills, knowledge, and above all, understandings that are truly desirable in out country today. And we need to adapt those curricula as much as possible to the particular learning styles and strengths of students.
Teacher Education * While most teacher education institutions make an honest effort to produce teaching candidates of high quality, these institutions have not been at the forefront of efforts at educational improvement. Too often they are weighted down by students of indifferent quality and by excessive – and often counterproductive – requirements which surround training and certification. We need to attract stronger individuals into teaching, improve conditions so that they will remain in teaching, and use our master teachers to help train the next generation of students and teachers.
Community Participation * In the past, Americans have been content to place most educational burdens on the schools. This is no longer a viable option. The increasing cognitive demands of schooling, the severe problems in our society today, and the need for support of students which extends well beyond the 9-3 period each day, all make it essential that other individuals and institutions contribute to the educational process. In addition to support from family members and other mentoring adults, such institutions as business, the professions, and especially museums need to be involved much more intimately in the educational process.
Too often, Americans have responded to educational needs only in times of crisis. This is an unacceptable approach. Education works effectively only when responsibility is assumed over the long run. We have made significant progress in this regard over the past decade. There is reason to be optimistic for students of the future, as dedicated individuals continue to collaborate in solving the challenging educational problems of our time.
Dr. Howard Gardner is a Professor of Education and Co-chair of Project Zero at Harvard University. He is the author of nine books, including Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (1983), and To Open Minds: Chinese Clues to the Dilemma of Comtemporary Education (1989).