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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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Rethinking How Students Learn: Howard Gardner

One mind is not enough. It takes five minds to be successful.

This according to Howard Gardner, author of many books, including Five Minds for the Future. Gardner was selected to write the first chapter of 21st Century Skills: Rethinking How Students Learn. I found his comments very interesting, and look forward to reading his books in the not-to-distant future. Here are some of the stand-out points I gathered from this selection.

How can we create well-rounded citizens of the future? Howard Gardner says we can give them Five Minds.

Gardner says that there are five minds that educators should strive to cultivate in the future:

  1. The Disciplined Mind
  2. The Synthesizing Mind
  3. The Creating Mind
  4. The Respectful Mind
  5. The Ethical Mind

The Disciplined Mind. Gardner states that there are two connotations in play regarding this mind. There is discipline, as in art, craft, scholarly pursuit, or profession. And then there is discipline, referring to a continuation of practice and hard work to remain at the top of one’s game. Interestingly, he stresses four disciplines for precollegiate institutions to focus on: math, science, history, and at least one art form. It’s not about mastering the content of these disciplines, but rather the skills. Can you think like a scientist? Do you analyze like a historian? Can you appreciate fine art? Gardner says that in previous times, mastery and refinement of a single discipline may have sufficed; however, in today’s world, “mastery of more than one discipline is at a premium.” Bottom line: We must help our students learn to think in different ways.

The Synthesizing Mind. In the Age of Info-whelm, our students are bombarded by information 24/7. As Gardner says, “Shrewd triage becomes an imperative.” Those who develop a synthesizing mind will rise to the top. Synthesizing is not a one-time process according to Gardner; “new information must be acquired, probed, evaluated, followed up with, or sidelined…there is constant reflection and tinkering.” Good synthesizers always keep an eye on the big picture while securing and arranging the smaller details in useful ways; “one must know what works for himself and for those who make use of his synthesis.” Bottom line: We must help our students learn to make use of information and media in meaningful ways.

The Creating Mind. In order to truly acquire a creating mind, one must first develop an adequate level of disciplinary mastery and some capacity to synthesize. Gardner states, “You can’t think outside the box unless you have a box.” Creators must take risks, tackle the unknown, fail, and then fearlessly try again. Creators are motivated by, and keep their eyes on, the prize. Educators must pose challenges, obstacles, and boulders to their students. According to Gardner, if the Disciplined Mind involves depth and the Synthesizing Mind entails breadth, the Creating Mind features stretch. Bottom line: We must help our students learn constructively and in innovative ways, to solve never before seen problems.

The Respectful Mind. Gardner says, this mind “starts with an assumption that diversity is positive and the world would be a better place if individuals sought to respect one another.” Bottom line: We must help our students appreciate the ideas, methods, culture, and values of others in the world.

The Ethical Mind. According to Gardner, a person who has an ethical mind can think of himself or herself abstractly and ask questions about their own quality of life. What kind of worker do I want to be? What kind of citizen am I? What would the world be like if everyone too the stance I do? What happens as a result of my decisions or actions? Bottom line: We need to teach our kids to think abstractly, make predictions about outcomes, and weigh their options against what they know is right or wrong.

In conclusion, Gardner names the Synthesizing Mind as the most important for the 21st century. He goes on to states that integration of all five minds is more likely to occur, and more quickly, when role models – parents, teachers, coaches – regularly display aspects of discipline, synthesis, creation, respect, and ethics.

The (Ultimate) Bottom Line: Show your students how you use all five of your minds.

Rethinking How Students Learn: Ken Kay

With a plethora of options, it wasn’t easy to select just one title for my book study. In a way I cheated…I chose a book with 23 contributing authors and clearly divided chapters. Some of them I was familiar with: Howard Gardner, Cheryl Lemke, Alan November, Bob Pearlman, Douglas Reeves, and Will Richardson. Many I wasn’t. One thing is for sure, I’m going to get exposure to lots of different viewpoints and ideas relating to 21st century skills with this book.

I’m going to discuss some of the highlights as I read the book, one author (or chapter) per post. I’m starting with Ken Kay, president of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills – the nation’s leading advocacy organization for the cause of educational evolution.

Doing well in school no longer guarantees a lifelong job or career as it did for previous generations of Americans. Today, people can expect to have many jobs in multiple fields during their careers…The new social contract is different: only people who have the knowledge and skills to negotiate constant change and reinvent themselves for new situations will succeed…Proficiency in 21st century skills is the new civil right for our times.

I believe Kay is simply stating that we, as a school, can no longer focus our efforts on imparting massive amounts of knowledge on our students. We have to add two more goals to our agenda: they must be able to adapt to change and they must be able to cast themselves in new roles with the same skill set. School is now about knowledge AND adaptability.

Any employee who needs to be managed is no longer employable.

Kay indicates that a manager at Apple made this strong statement to him. Obviously, Apple is a company founded on innovation; one that has probably always expected its employees to take initiative while granting them autonomy to do their job in creative ways. But in the 21st century, it won’t just be science and tech companies that expect this of their employees. It will become the norm.

Global awareness is a new essential in the global economy…Financial, economic, business, and entrepreneurial literacy are new imperatives…Creativity and innovation, flexibility and adaptability, leadership and cross-cultural skills…These are the kinds of skills that set people apart.

Wow! That hits the nail right on the head. If I were to try painting a vision in your of the 21st Century Charger, tossing his or her cap in the air about to embark on life after “The Hall,” I couldn’t have selected the descriptive terms any better. If our students matriculate to college with the skills Kay mentions above, watch out world!

Rigor traditionally is equated with mastery of content alone, and that’s simply not good enough anymore…However, in the 21st century, the true test of rigor is for students to be able to look at material they’ve never seen before and know what to do with it. Infusing 21st century skills into core subjects actually rachets up the rigor.

Chameleon-like adaptability is a skill that will ensure our students survival in the 21st century

In a nutshell, in the quest to ensure rigorous curriculum, we must now include the 21st century skills mentioned in the previous statement. Kay drives home the point again…knowledge isn’t enough…it takes the right skill set and adaptability to prepare our students for success in the 21st century. I am so excited to be teaching at a school that gets that, during a time when this important shift is taking place. We are ahead of the game, my friends. And the future is bright. Put on your shades and let’s get to work.

Up next: Howard Gardner.

Heritage Hall Reframed

I’m so intrigued by the book I chose, yes a hard copy.  In Truth, Beauty, and Goodness: Reframed, Howard Gardner hopes to show how we can maintain traditional virtues of truth, beauty, and goodness in the not-so-traditional environment of today.  He encourages us to continually confront and reflect on new examples of truth, beauty, and goodness and seek to align them with long-standing values.

I felt this was appropriate in a few ways.  Right now I am mostly thinking about how well this goes with our goal of obtaining to ways of teaching and learning without losing the values of traditional education, which has worked for many years.  It is all about adjusting our attitude and continue to do what teachers have always done…be life-long learners!

I’m so excited to try and fail new things…just as quickly as I get tired of my furniture, I get tired of the same ‘ol, same ‘ol in the classroom.  It’s all in the best interest of the kids and let’s not forget, for us as well!  I am a young teacher, so I started my career with a Smartboard, so I am not just necessarily talking about integrating technology, but the best practices of 21st Century fluencies.  I just hope that all the teachers who have been educating for so long will maintain a positive, open attitude about the potential with moving into the 21st century!  Great things are ahead!