book review-educating for the virtues in the 21st century

Howard Gardner has got me thinking! That is what I love most about the book I chose. Gardner gives his personal insights and observations on three important virtues; which he beautifully separates in different chapters: truth, beauty, and goodness. These virtues are not interchangeable…something that Gardner wastes no time pointing out. In the first chapter, he draws intriguing attention to the definitions of truth, beauty, and goodness in such a way that questions the way we think we know them and can identify them in the world. This book is based off of a series of lectures Gardner made in 2008.

Gardner draws attention to the challenges these virtues face in our post-modern world and the potentials of the quickly evolving digital media. For me, he had me doing some self-reflecting. I think anyone who reads this book would be drawn to think and reflect. I don’t know that everyone would agree with his opinions and definitions of the three virtues, but his smooth, fluent and even articulate writing makes it an enjoyable read.

“…our technologically saturated era poses profound challenges to once relatively uncontroversial assertions of what is good, moral, ethical, and what is not. How, in a digital era, do we think about a sense of privacy, the rights of authorship, the trustworthiness of an electronic correspondent whom one cannot look in the eye and who may reappear at any moment under a wholly different guise in a social network or on a blog? What is “goodness” in the virtual reality of Second Life? In multiple-user games like World of War Craft, is it okay to bully and cheat because, after all, such a game is not really real? Are the plausible but unconfirmed rumors that circulate at warp speed on the Internet welcome wake-up calls, spurs to further investigation, or pernicious lies? In our fragmented, polyphonic digital age, the ideal of shared moral standards seems even more elusive.”

Thought provoking, right? The entire book was filled with “moments” for me. It makes me appreciate, actually, the value of e21. Not just in how great it is that we are moving forward into the digital age in a place where we are blessed with the funds and support to get there, but also in a place with people who truly care about the process. There is a lot to think about in this transition, rather evolution.

It is hard to not quote the entire book, but I want to attempt to give a glimpse of each virtue.

Truth:

“the search for truth must become more ‘metacognitive.’ That is, we can no longer just trust our eyes, or the spoken words of the nightly news…there is no substitute for our understanding the ways in which our senses are faithful and the ways in which they deceive…we must try to understand the truths about truth. Not a single truth any more, but a plurality truths, each appropriate to its realm…”

“When it came to truth, I reached a reassuring conclusion. While there is no single truth, various disciplines and professions have allowed us to delineate different spheres of truth, with some confidence; and, overtime should be able to establish truth, and to distinguish it…”

Beauty:
Such a common adjective beauty is…and so subjective. We do not all agree on what is beautiful, or what the term really means. Then again, do we believe in the same truths about it? Can there be any truth about beauty?

Gardner’s approach on beauty was good and thought provoking; however, I would have liked a little more of something. His descriptions were a little narrow. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the direction my mind went.

“Truth and beauty are fundamentally different: Whereas truth is a property of statements, beauty reveals itself in the course of an experience…” Gardner focuses on beauty with art, and naturally so. Many forms of art have been admired and critiqued for hundreds of years. When one artist’s masterpiece is declared beautiful, it may be critiqued overtime quite differently. Gardner distinguishes “traditional beauty on one hand, and an individualized sense of beauty, on the other.”

Goodness:

The final virtue of the fundamental trio is good-“or to be more precise, the Fate of the Concept of the Good in a Postmodern, Digital Era.” Gardner not only writes in a way that keeps me reflecting on concepts, but he is great about sharing how is own mind has shifted, and how his mind has traveled to these conclusions.

What drew my attention to this topic is the fact that we need to think, or perhaps in some cases, re-think our perception or sense of “good”. For example, in the new era of digital communities, identities, resources, and possibilities—we need to think of ways to hold on to our sense of good in a way to maintain its relevance and need in the postmodern era. How can we all agree though or at least communicate on what good is anymore?

Gardner appropriately quotes the golden rules of the era in which we’ve developed our sense of truth, beauty, and goodness…such as “Do unto others…”. He explores many ways of seeing or doing “good”, but how will we educate this for the 21st Century?

To get there, atleast speaking in my own connection to Heritage Hall, I would say we do just what we have begun. I think we have done a great job finding people who care about the future and appreciate the opportunities we have to get there…who will in turn continue to research and reflect on how we are preparing our students has 21st century learners, and our teachers as 21st century teachers. How are we going to facilitate teaching and learning in such a way that when they leave Heritage Hall, they will have the skills they need for being good citizens, marketable, and employable in a world of jobs that may not have been developed yet. Moreover, how can we move forward with the “times” and technology without fast-forwarding passed precious virtues like the three in which Gardner emphasized.

I like how Gardner titled his book: Truth, Beauty, and Goodness Reframed: Educating for the virtues in the twenty-first century. He didn’t say change them, pick new ones, only to reframe it—like altering picture frames in your house to go with new paint color…doesn’t change the value of the photo, it allows it to fit better in its environment. We are to be educating for the virtues so that we can best use our environment and our technology for the best interest of our students.

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Posted on 22 January 2012, in Books and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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