Monday, 2 September 2013 00:00
I read the fascinating book titled ‘Five Minds for the Future’ with enthusiasm. It was informational and insightful alike in prompting me to devote a column on its possible relevance to Sri Lanka. This attempt is all about that.
Howard Gardner earned much reputation for his work on multiple intelligences. He is the Professor of Cognition and Education at Harvard University. Being an author of 25 books translated into 28 languages, and several 100 articles, this is another feather in his cap.
In this book, Prof Gardner concerns himself with the kinds of minds that people will need if we are to thrive in the world during the eras to come. Also, in the inter-connected world in which the majority of human beings now live we need to identify the kinds of minds that should be developed in the future for the greater good of our society as a whole.
The five minds for the future identified by Gardner essentially refer to five characteristics of the mind that he suggests each person should aim to develop. While each person will not be able to develop them all in equal measure, we should aim to develop aspects of them all for the balance of mind needed for the future, as he advocates.
Each mind has been important historically, but will become even more crucial in the future. With these minds, a person will be well equipped to deal with what is expected, as well as what cannot be anticipated, in the future. While without these minds, a person will be at the mercy of forces that he or she can’t understand, let alone control. I see both global and local significance here.
Five minds in detail
Gardner named the five minds as follows:
1.The Disciplined Mind
2.The Synthesising Mind
3.The Creating Mind
4.The Respectful Mind
5.The Ethical Mind
Let’s look at them one by one.
The Disciplined Mind
The disciplined mind refers to the ability to think in ways associated with major scholarly disciplines such as history and science, and major professions like law, medicine, management, finance as well as the ability to apply oneself diligently, improving steadily and continuing beyond formal education.
As Gardener observes, recent scientific research into student’s intellectual understanding, including those who attend the best schools, has revealed that despite accumulating plenty of factual or subject matter knowledge, most students have not learned to think in a disciplined manner.
Sri Lankan educators have to reflect on how we make our learners more disciplined in terms of clarity and commitment.
The Synthesising Mind
The synthesising mind is able to select crucial information from the copious amounts available, arraying that information in ways that make sense to self and others.
The ability to knit together information from different sources into a coherent whole is vital today. The amount of accumulated knowledge is reportedly doubling every two to three years. Sources of information are vast and disparate and individuals crave coherence and integration. Nobel Prize-winning physicist Murray Gell-Mann has asserted that the mind most at a premium in the twenty-first century will be the mind that can synthesise well.
According to Gardner, some common examples of synthesis could take the form of narratives, taxonomies, complex concepts and powerful metaphors.
Rather than having narrow compartmentalisation, what is required is a holistic view with appropriately accommodating the essential components. Sri Lankan managers need to improve on this in tackling increasingly complex issues.
The Creating Mind
The creating mind is able to go beyond existing knowledge and synthesis to pose new questions, offer new solutions, fashion works that stretch existing genres or configure new ones.
As Gardner observes, in our globally wired society, creativity is sought after, cultivated and praised. But it was not always so. In most human societies, throughout most of human history, creativity was neither sought after nor rewarded. In the past, creative individuals in society were at best a mixed blessing, often disdained, discouraged and even destroyed at the time of their breakthroughs. Our time is different. Almost every task that can be routinely carried out will be sooner or later taken over by computers.
Virtually all innovation can be communicated almost instantly the world over, available to be built on by another with the requisite disciplinary skills, understanding and motivation. Until recently, creativity was seen as the trait of certain individuals who could use this talent across various performance domains. However, in recent years this viewpoint has changed as we recognise a variety of relatively independent creative endeavours that do not stretch over to other areas.
Gardner is of the view that most creativity is the result of the interaction of three elements:
1. The individual who has mastered some discipline or domain of practice and is steadily issuing variation in that domain.
2. The cultural domain in which an individual is working, with its models, prescriptions and proscriptions.
3. The social field – those individuals and institutions that provide access to relevant educational experiences as well as opportunities to perform.
Creativity occurs when an individual or group product, generated in a particular domain, is recognised by the relevant field as innovative and exerts a genuine, detectable influence on subsequent work in that domain. Quite simply, has the domain in which you operate been significantly altered by your contribution?
In education, an individual on a strict disciplinary track masters the key literacies and then begins a study of disciplines like mathematics, science and history on the way to becoming an expert. But too strict an adherence to a disciplinary track operates against the more open stances of the synthesiser or creator, and therefore options need to be kept open in order to not stifle the development of these freer minds.
Are we adequately encouraging the formation of a creative mind among our student community? My answer is no. A lot has to be done in this front.
The Respectful Mind
The respectful mind responds sympathetically and constructively to differences among individuals and among groups, seeking to understand and work with those who are different, extending beyond mere tolerance and political correctness.
According to Gardner, humans exhibit a deep-seated tendency to create groups, to provide distinctive marks for these collectives and to adopt clearly positive or negative attitudes towards neighbouring groups. We are inclined to delineate groups, to identify with and value members of our own group and to adopt caution when dealing with other groups. However, even if biological bases can be found for division between groups, every generation must attempt to deal with these stereotypes and prejudices and to overcome them for peace and unity.
A truly respectful individual offers the benefit of the doubt to all human beings. They avoid thinking in group terms and remain open to the possibility that their past judgement of others may have been wrong. They are alert for a change in behaviour that will reinstate a feeling of respect towards others.
Sri Lankan culture encourages us to have an edge in this respect. Yet, we need to sustain it amidst a variety of pressures.
The Ethical Mind
The Ethical mind is able to merge roles at work and as a citizen and act consistently with those conceptualisations, striving towards good work and good citizenship.
As Gardner opines, we all want to live in a world characterised by good work that is excellent, ethical and engaging. Many people might look the picture of professionalism in an expensive suit with impeccable manners, but if they are executing compromised work they are not ethical members of society. We all need to be committed individuals who embody an ethical orientation in our work. This ethical manner should also include civic roles where each of us should have the commitment to personally work towards the realisation of a virtuous community that one can be proud of.
An ethical orientation begins at home where children observe their parents at their work and play and in civic responsibilities, observes Gardner. In contemporary society, peers and colleagues also assume importance from an early age, and the quality of one’s peers proves especially critical during adolescence in the development of ethical training. We are blessed with the presence of all great religions but practicing what is preached is the crucial need. A clear conscience that identifies what is good and what is bad is the starting point.
While each person may have strengths in one or more area, we should all endeavour to develop a balance of all five minds, recommends Gardner. As he puts it, “whatever their importance in times past, these five minds are likely to be crucial in a world marked by the hegemony of science and technology, global transmission of information, handling of routine tasks by computers and increasing contact between diverse populations.”
In essence, cultivating the above five minds is one sure-fire way of confidently confronting the unpredictable future. Whatever the role we play a lot more can be done in this respect, in making our education system better in producing higher quality human beings.
(Dr. Ajantha Dharmasiri works at the Postgraduate Institute of Management. He can be reached on [email protected] or www.ajanthadharmasiri.info.)