Back close

Time left
for the event

Biography of Speaker

Dr. Howard Gardner graduated from Harvard University in 1965 with a BA in social relations, and studied under the renowned Erik Erikson. After spending one year at the London School of Economics, he went on to obtain his PhD in developmental psychology at Harvard while working with psychologists Roger Brown and Jerome Bruner, and philosopher Nelson Goodman. For his postdoctoral fellowship, Gardner worked alongside Norman Geschwind at Boston Veterans Administration Hospital and continued his work there for another 20 years. In 1986, Gardner became a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Since 1995, much of the focus of his work has been on The Good Work Project, now part of a larger initiative known as The Good Project that encourages excellence, ethics, and engagement in work, digital life, and beyond. In 2000, Gardner, Kurt Fischer and their colleagues established the master’s degree program in Mind, Brain and Education. This program was thought to be the first of its kind around the world. Many universities in both the United States and abroad have since developed similar programs. Four years later in 2004, Gardner would continue writing about the mind and brain and would publish Changing Minds: The Art and Science of Changing Our Own and Other People’s Minds, a book about seven forms of mind-change. Among numerous honours, Gardner received a MacArthur Prize Fellowship (the “Genius Prize”) in 1981 and the University of Louisville’s Grawemeyer Award in Education in 2000. He has twice been selected by Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines as one of the 100 most influential public intellectuals in the world. In 2011, Gardner received the Prince of Asturias Award for Social Sciences, and in 2015, he was awarded the Brock International Prize in Education.

Event/Session Details/Discussions/Highlights

This session is about Dr. Howard Gardner Conversation with Sidney Strauss on the Good Project and Dr. Sidney started with a brief introduction about Dr. Howard.  So Howard it’s great that you’re here really so we wanted to have a conversation rather than you giving a talk and so I have a question for you and obviously feel free if you don’t want to answer it and then you should tell me what you want me to ask you and they’ll be happy to ask you that. It is mainly a conversation with Howard and Sid started asking some questions. 

Sid: So you’ve been around a long time and you’ve seen exchanges taking place in fields that you helped fashion and I was wondering if you could put on your future lenses and think about where is it you think that the work is going in the many fields that you’ve touched. 

Howard: Well that’s a very broad question and I will try to walk down the path with you. Let me first say to everybody that Sid is indeed a friend of many years and of many experiences and topics so when he talks about me as being polymathic and I think any of you who’ve spent time with him in person or virtually know that he also has wide curiosity and also has affected people both by his work and by his personality. I do from a distance monitor what’s happening in the world of scholarship though when you reach sit in my age, you’re more likely to know about the individuals who are your peers rather than the individuals who are one or two generations younger so that’s simply a fact, talking with peers like Sid and a man named bill Damon. We deplore the hyper specialization which is taking place in much of the academy, I know the united states the best and if you want to get a permanent position what we call tenure the route is to study one very narrow issue in great depth so you know more than anybody else about it and to publish a series of articles in high prestige journals and if you try to be broader and you try to write books rather than articles and this works very much against you. So we were like old people deploring this trend and bill Damon pointed out two facts which were reassuring. Number one is there’s always a pendulum and the pendulum swings from hyper-specialization to hyper-generalization and back and forth. So when you have a period where people are known more and more about then less and less there’s going to be reaction where people are rewarded for having a broader prospect. Second and very important the best work doesn’t necessarily take place in university departments. It can take place in NGOs, it can take place in professional school’s business schools, education schools, divinity schools and it can even take place by solitary scholars and so it’s a mistake to focus on who’s getting tenure at Stanford university in developmental psychology and to ignore what’s happening in a much broader prospect 

Sid: Earlier by the way Howard it’s Gwen YO, a south African woman who’s getting tenure at Stanford. 

Howard: Earlier this week I did a broadcast like this in England and in London now there’s a new school that’s opening up next year called the London interdisciplinary college. It’s interdisciplinary so it’s across disciplines and college which basically has the American connotation of college it’s not a secondary school, it’s not a university it’s a college but it’s focused on combining disciplines to solve real life problems whether they are climate change or poverty or ecology or the preservation of truth something I’m very interested in and you wouldn’t have needed to have a school like this when I went to college 60 years ago in the united states because there were many places doing interdisciplinary work that was my own training and there were many people who thought they were solving problems, so the problems they were solving we could discuss for a long time whether they were the right problems but the fact that in Britain which is every bit as insular in a literal as well as a poetic sense in its universities is opening up an interdisciplinary college that’s a very important message. Let me simply say one more word in context Sid did invite me to give a talk and at my age and I’m going to tell you something about my age and I’m bored with hearing myself talk and I’ve heard myself talk enough and everything I’ve said is available in YouTube. You don’t have to get me, so I like to have a conversation but I will tell you two factoids which if you remember nothing else from this talk from this conversation, you may remember and that is that I shared two items with president Biden joseph. Number one we’re the same age and number two we were both born and raised in a small city in Pennsylvania called Scranton so i we don’t know each other we’re both Scrantonians in our late 70s and one wonderful thing about having grown up in the united states in the 50s and this is very different than having grown up in most places in most of history so I insist it’s very unusual is both Biden whom I didn’t know and my friends who of course I didn’t know we all thought we could do everything we didn’t think that we would have difficulty getting a job we didn’t think we would have difficulty making a living we didn’t think we would have difficulty you know in the house and so on and that was a very special time it wasn’t special if you were not a white male I was Jewish as a Sid and I got away with it in the 1950s because being Jewish wasn’t a very high category in people’s consciousness but in the 1920s I wouldn’t have gotten into a college I wouldn’t have gotten into medical school so there’s a lot about luck and again Biden and I don’t share properties but we did show it share the property of possibility and to me it’s very tragic that that’s not true for so much of the world and that’s one of the reasons I’m very interested in good work which we’ll probably talk about presently. 

Sid: Maybe you could talk a little bit about the work you were doing on the humanities, large scale project maybe you could tell us a little bit about that. 

Howard: My college study but it’s not particularly about the humanities. we called it the study of liberal arts but then we discovered that even though many colleges and universities in the united states call themselves liberal arts most people didn’t know what that meant so we now just call it non-vocational higher education and again for those of you who are in India this is important because in India almost all post-secondary education is vocational it’s mostly engineering but it could be medicine or law or education there are other fields besides engineering, the united states and England and places influenced by England by the UK have a notion of non-vocational education and after secondary school and we call that liberal arts and the notion of liberal arts is that before you become a doctor or lawyer or accountant or engineer you should study across various fields. So in most united states colleges the ones you would have heard of when you go there you might focus on history or on biology or on literature but if you’re expected to take courses in writing you expected to take courses in humanities like art or music or literature you’re expected to take courses in social science like economics or political science or sociology and you’re expected to take science or maybe physics for poetry which is kind of people who aren’t very good in science take that course and my colleagues and I at Harvard were interested in what was going on in college education in the second decade of the century so roughly 2010 to 2020. Now academics like to talk we like to write and there are lots of books about college but we decided that before we wrote a book we would interview people so over six years from 2012 to 2018 we interviewed 2 000 people on 10 different campuses and each campus we spoke to 50 beginning students what we call freshmen, 50 completing students what we call seniors and then a smaller number of trustees the other ones that set policy senior administrators they manage the school parents of students ,alumni people who’d gone to the school before and job recruiters people who go to schools and colleges and hire people because we really wanted to understand what it is like to attend a post-secondary education in the united states in that period. Just this week my co-author my senior author Wendy fishman and I are doing the final manuscript for a book which is tentatively entitled the real world of college the real World of college and we like that name because we didn’t just write about what we thought we wrote about what we learned from speaking to 2 000 people. I spoke to a few hundred myself when he spoke to more, I read every single transcript and we did big data analysis of the words that were used and we have a very full understanding of what college is like in the united states today. To be honest with you when he and I do not yet have the elevator speech so if Sid said to me tell you in 50 words or less what we concluded we’d have to say read the book but not to be totally mysterious. First of all two depressing things we learned and this was between 2012 and 2018 so it wasn’t about covid it was to some extent about trump is the biggest problem on every American campus is mental health and associated to that a feeling of alienation a feeling that you don’t belong to your cohort, your fellow students, you don’t belong to the academic curriculum and you don’t feel like you belong to the institution so you don’t feel like you belong to duke university, which is one that we studied or queen’s college which is another one study. It was depressing to learn about these mental health problems and depressing to learn about the alienation problems but very important because you can’t get onto the major goal of higher education which is higher education if you have people that are mentally distraught stressed anxious and alienated and we don’t have any magic formula for making everybody healthy and feeling like they belong but in the absence of that, it’s very difficult to achieve higher education and two other problems, one is that from our point of view most students are entirely transactional that is they only ask what can college give for me and not what can I learn or how can I contribute which gets us to good work issues and second of all this has nothing to do with colleges with students it has to do with colleges and universities college and universities suffer what we nicknamed project Titus which is a disease of having too many projects so if you’ve ever gone to an American campus or simply google any school you’ve heard of yale, Princeton, duke, Stanford, Berkeley, you’ll see thousands of different extracurricular activities gyms, theaters, clubs, Harvard college for 1600 students, in the class has 400 clubs which means one out of every four people can become the president of some club and what that means is that the reason that we have higher education namely to educate the mind is getting lost. So maybe that’s what the elevator speech is going to be it’s going to be about helping colleges find their way for what they’re designed to do, which is educate the mind.

Sid: If you were to have a meeting with the president of Harvard and he would want to know what it is that you learned and what you think could be done to partially at least or to address the issues that you talked about, even though you said that you don’t know how to do this okay well he’s has to do things what would you advise him 

Howard: I have been at Harvard since 1961 I’ve known all the presidents, the current president Larry bakau helped us to design the study because he was president of tufts university at that time and we studied tufts university so maybe we should make the question somewhat more general because this is like asking what would you say to your grandfather or what would you say to your grandson it’s a rather personal question I guess I would say that the pressures of the 21st century which are positive and negative and the unexpected pandemic which may well continue indefinitely nobody knows make every should make every institution and every enterprise meaning every profession say what is really essential, what is the one thing that we can do that there aren’t other institutions can do and there aren’t other professions that can do can do and that one should focus like a laser on that particular thing which is special in this case institutions of higher learning right after secondary school not professional law schools but what we call college and clear the deck to make a poem get rid of the dreck which is a word for the dirt the Schmutz, and this is going to be the difficult things to swallow compete with other colleges and universities to do that better and more demonstrable than any other school in your sector, don’t try to be a vocational training place don’t even try to be a civics training place, don’t try to be a collection of clubs and I’ll give you now we’ll switch the president of Harvard for a minute and I will let you this is a thought experiment but we can do it in our mind Harvard college has elite 1600 elite students each year are admitted, take a guess when last year for the graduating students how many of them went into what percentage went into teaching and what percentage went into finance or management consultants take a guess about what percentage become teachers which is what school is about teaching and what percentage became management consultants or went to wall street I won’t ask Sid to stick his neck out but I hope each of you are playing that thought experiment two percent go into teaching so you can do the math about 30 people go into teaching and 45 percent go into management consultants or to wall street, should Harvard be a college where all we do is train people to go to wall street or to work for Mckinsey neither which I have particularly good things to say about why have a department of Ukrainian history or of classics or the greatest poetry teachers or the greatest music faculty if you’re just going to train people for wall street, you know what you should do you should go to secondary school get the people who score the best on the test and make them in training at Goldman sachs that wouldn’t make the president of Harvard very happy but he knows that statistic because we see it every day and when people say to me and I’m basically at a school of education, how can we make American k-12 education better because it’s terrible for the most part , I say triple the salaries of the teachers give them a professional track and leave them alone because if you go to the best secondary schools whether they’re private or public they pay teachers a decent salary and they leave them alone.

Sid: Let me people in the audience so Howard’s talking about the united states in the 1950s and now what Howard said about the 1950s I felt the same thing in Chicago not in Scranton, you had the sense of no barriers although you knew there were barriers but most depended on yourself on you how talented you were and how hard you were willing to work the second being extremely important, So and then the way that Howard described what’s happening these days in colleges and undergraduate studies, does this resonate with anything in India, does it sound familiar. I am not asking a rhetorical question anybody want to as Howard said. 

Bhavani Chechi: The concept I think in India, if you look at I don’t know about the British influence the Indian education system quite drastically and I think in India what Howard said about us being really not like we’re all vocational education and that kind of a focus has always been quite strong but I think and I don’t know but this is not my area I’m just making a guess I would think that maybe that the culture of the Indian education the other kinds of education that used to come traditionally probably rounded off that education a little bit and that is missing right now so if we did the same study in India in the same timelines that he’s look at that Howard looked at in think and you’ll find the same problem over here also that it’s very siloed and very narrow and I think the same problems that Howard found in the U.S can be found in India too right now and I think that’s the reason why we’ve really tried to very hard to be a very different university in the sense that we’re very interdisciplinary and we really work on grassroots problem and what he said was very natural this is also very natural to us because we feel this is the only way to actually study narrow ourselves down this way I don’t know if that makes sense but yeah in India it’s very siloed extremely 

Howard: I am thinking about India and Israel like 60 years ago, 70 years ago very much into nation building and then 30 years ago very much into neoliberalism and the neoliberalism which is a big word for at the end of the day what matters is how much money you have and nothing else and we’re going to basically organize our institutions around people who either can make money or trade money, there are a lot of casualties and you know the topic that Sid asked me to talk about which we’ll probably get to is what does it mean to be a good worker and a good citizen. I will tell you what may be the one finding from our higher education study that you’ll remember with big data we simply looked at the American students a thousand students from 10 different campuses and saw how many times they used the word I and somebody how many times they used the word WE simple count you guess in your own mind eleven times as many I as WE, the WE were tiny the I were huge. I bet you if you went to India in 1940 and that maybe not 1947 but 1952 or he went to Israel in 1958 you would hear a lot more WEs about a growing country there was free basically both cases of imperial British rule though it was very different than Palestine mandate than it was in colonial India and now if you looked especially at colleges and universities we would be very small and eyes would be very big. In a planet of seven or eight billion people if we’re all out for ourselves it’s not going to survive even if at the end of the day there are more billionaires in India and in Israel in the united states than there are people in a small Latin American country 

Sid: Yet the united states has its history it’s antecedents. European and British empiricist philosophy and you have Israel deeply rooted in thousands of years of Jewish philosophy and understanding about the world. In India also thousands of years and yet with all these differences, profound differences there seems to be a convergence at a high at a more specific level. How can that be or how do your account for them? 

Howard: I will give you two different thoughts prompted by your questions, when the iron curtain fell down in 1989, the berlin walls and the consequential decline and fall of communism in a strict sense in eastern Europe and Russia, it looked like to use a famous phrase history had ended and it was going to be a world of globalization, democracy and capitalism and any kinds of constraints on that were disbanded, alleviated, destroyed. I think it was very naive and we’re paying the consequences for it now but that’s where you had what came to be called the Davos or global consensus that there was one best way to do things it was sort of Anglo-American with some of the rework thrown in and maybe a touch of the tigers from Asia. The other thing which you all know a great deal about is the arise of autocracy and authoritarianism all over the world. In Israel, India and in Israel certainly in trump’s the united states brazil Philippines, turkey, Hungary this like Bhavani wrote about collectivism this is the people who felt that they were the country and are now being left out because of the people who are the winners in the neoliberal world. The 45 of the Harvard graduates and if I were at Harvard college today that’s where I would be probably going to would be for mckinsey or bain or one of those companies because that’s what the signals are in in the colleges and universities. There are a lot of casualties and the casualties are speaking up by becoming conservative that’s a mild word but to becoming racist autocratic authoritarian those are more accurate descriptions and certainly under no illusion whatsoever that I can do anything about this but as a scholar in a country where so if I’m allowed to say what I could at least speak truthfully to you and the collectivism in India when it involves a feeling of solidarity with your neighbor is good but when it means there’s an in group and an out group that’s bad and all of your tensions within the country and on your borders are between in groups and out groups so defined by each group. 

Sid: Maybe you can talk a little bit about good works, the counterpoint to what it is that you’re decrying correctly accurately, 

Howard: Let me give a bit of background but then I’m going to restrict myself to no more than five minutes because I had like to love 15 minutes for anything that people want to raise but 25 years ago two colleagues who Sid knows well bill Damon and mike chiksen and I went to a research center in California to work together and the quick interview the question we were interested in was whether you could be creative on the one hand but also be humane and generous and kind on the other or whether these were independent or even inconsistent with one another you couldn’t both be a kind of a highly creative person but also care about other things and we had useful discussions and we finally designed something that we originally called humane creativity then we called good work and now we just called the good project and if you want to know more about the good project it’s very easy just remember the title the good and you can find out about it but let me give you the elevator speech because here I have the elevator speech good work is work that has three properties and in English they all begin with the letter E good work is excellent it’s engaging and it’s carried out in an ethical way so excellence means whether you’re a plumber a doctor a salesman a marketer a professor a lawyer you know what you’re doing you have the excellent skills and knowledge engage is something you can’t make somebody but you hope that you care about what you’re doing you know you like going to work, you like being with your colleagues you believe in the mission of what you’re doing and then ethics which is what I’ve focused on for decades now is when there are difficult situations you think a lot about what’s the right thing to do and then you try to do it nobody succeeds all the time in ethics because ethical issues are difficult but you’re certainly not going to succeed if you’re sure you know what the right thing to do is you don’t consult anybody else and you don’t reflect on it afterwards so ethics is a kind of dialectic of when you’re in in a tough spot really work very hard to try to do the right thing, so good work is people know what they’re doing excellent , they care about it they’re engaged and they try to do it in an ethical way, what’s a good citizen, a good citizen is parallel, a good citizen knows the laws, knows the rule, knows the constitution or whatever the governing principles are cares, you could memorize the us constitution but you might not care about it and ethics you try to do the right thing when people who are very wealthy as we have in all three of our countries just vote so there’s no taxes that’s not being ethical that’s being selfish uh if they say I have enough or I have more than enough I’m going to be generous I’m going to give away I’m going to try to help then they’re being ethical and I said it’s not a good thing to just think you know all the right answers so we have something which we call the several d’s usually five but sometimes there’s four there sometimes six is when an ethical situation is a dilemma that’s you’re not sure what to do dilemma Greek two different options, so when you have a dilemma you define the dilemma, you discuss it, you debate it both sides you make a decision because it’s you have to decide then afterwards you brief what went wrong, what went right, if I had to do it again, what would I do, so you have dilemmas you described about discuss, debate, decide and debrief and if you do that continuously you’re likely to be much more ethical than if you don’t incidentally and this does apply to our three countries Israel, India and the united states at least for this moment is that these only work in a democratic society where you can actually talk about these things and argue about them once you turn into a dictatorship, you can’t do this because the right answer is told and if you don’t do it as we’re learning in Russia now you just end up in jail or you live in the wrong Chinese province or you you’re in in the form of Burma Myanmar when you get rid of democracy you get rid of discussion and debate, so those are the things we’ve talked about in the good project as I say there are over 100 articles and many blogs i will say because since I have been about to shut up and hear your questions that i still write books but mostly I blog and over the last five years I have probably written four or five hundred blogs most of them are not read by anybody I had rather that they would be read but there may not be but it’s where I put out what it is I am thinking about things and it’s for me to have a conversation with myself a debate with myself over to you. 



Nanditha: In very beginning and you were referring to it by your study by this large study which you interviewed so many people and you said in this higher educational institutions and especially in colleges there is this missing piece of education of the mind and this reminded me a lot of the work actually we are doing here inspired also through the institutional culture here at Amrita and inspired by Amma, she defines or amrita defines education as two wings of a bird so we have the education for living which ensures you to be a professional and have at the end of the day a full plate and a roof over your head and education for life which helps you to live really a life in dignity empowered and learn the art of living so what is a successful life, how it is defined and is success just having a good position and a full bank account or is it to be simply happy and I am really very fortunate because I am coming from Germany I miss that a lot this aspect of education this education for life and we have the luxury here that we can dedicate really in each of the seminars aspects of education for life so that we strengthen ethics, that that we strengthen um also connectedness and this leads me to the second thing you have mentioned this feeling of loneliness in the colleges and interestingly research also shows I am not mistaken it is from a researcher from the max Planck society her name is if I am not mistaken and she could show that actually the subjective feeling of connectedness and not the quantity of friends leads to mental well-being in general and this aspect is really very much covered in the part of education for life and if you still want also an education of the mind you have mentioned and it was really very wonderful to see that and that results also through this large study, you have done over the years and it’s really very exciting, so in a way we talk the same language that’s why I am really very excited to have this conversation. 

Howard: I would just comment that as a parent and grandparent I like the saying children never pay any attention to what you say but they never miss anything that you do and I think the best teachers and mentors and personnel at a college or university or in a preschool they teach by how they behave how they act how they interact how they relate to other people and so on the role models and even though I study ethics I think a course in ethics is much less important than seeing what happens when there’s a problematic situation that arises in class or on campus or indeed in the real world and see how people deal with it so I think we teach by example by mentoring of course it’s helpful to have vocabulary and as a scholar I try to give vocabulary but when my students through a party for me I think civil was there when I was a certain age and I was kind of touched by how many students didn’t write about articles about my me but read about how I behaved and if I misbehaved they slapped my hand but I think that’s one of the ways, that we get we get things we get things across but we do have a more narrow definition of higher education we talk about what it means to attend and analyze, debate, reflect and communicate and I think higher education has failed if at the end of whatever the higher education unit is called school college, university and students can’t better analyze reflect debate, discuss analyze and communicate that’s what I think we’re teaching and that’s what scholars know how to teach because that’s what we do every day and we call this higher educational capital and in our book we have a whole chapter on how to measure and develop higher education capital and it doesn’t depend upon a particular curriculum you can get higher education capital from a range of different curricula but it’s how you approach the readings and the projects that convey that thinking 

Rondine: When Dr. Howard mentioned about how many times I appeared in the interviews, I was recalling something that’s been on my mind it’s not, it’s also the way I is pronounced it’s not just I’m happier I am happy there’s so much focus on I and also with that it’s the my opinion that I associate with and whoever speaks out against this position that I hold they’re wrong and that’s part of the authoritarian culture that was being discussed so I was wondering what do we do if the movement is going towards that, where no one can challenge that popular side no one can speak out, how do we change that, how do we go back to allowing people to express their opinions without being the bad guys because they’re different and they have different opinions and they support a side that the popular side doesn’t support how do we change that is my question. 

Howard: That’s a very good it has an answer that’s a very good sorry and many people are thinking a lot about that question I think that the way I would think about it is to develop norms for conversation and for debate and ask people to honor those and one of them would be to avoid prejudgment another would be to listen carefully another to ask questions for information not for judgment and even though I don’t think people should have to swear that they’re going to honor those conversational norms in the absence of it we have the problem where you describe where people are just pointing fingers at one another and we’re just talking now about small groups but of course the same thing happens in political entities whether it’s a city or state or country or the united nations and unless we learn to listen and to respect and to take the other people’s position as much as we can we’re going to absolutely just have a clash and when you ask the question about I and we actually have the conversations all recorded and there now exists technology where you could look at the emotional underpinnings of I versus we it would take a doctoral student to do that but it’s we could actually see because they’re different ways of saying I and even we but thanks for that good question 

Comment from Dr. Bhavani: I understand ethics as a debate between what is the right apt right, why do we have laws that talk about the absolute grounds without defining the absolute rights, if we have a framework that establishes that should not be done should we not also have something that establishes what should be done maybe we only have ethics 

List of Participants

Attendance /No. of participants: 35
Male: 14 Female: 19
List of the participants
Kripa Gressel
Howard Gardner
Sidney Strauss
Abhijit Dhillon
Balu Menon
Bhavani Rao
Claire Moleon
Debasish Bhrama
Deepu DS
Kala Sudheesh
Karthika C
Malini Frey
Meenu Prakash
Mukil MV
Nihal Kaur
Preetha Menon
Reshma Ramesh
Rondine Twist
Siva Prasad JV
Sophia von Lieres
Srividya Sheshadri
Tzur Sayag
Veena Suresh
Vishnu Jayan
Yamuna Sandrine Bonin
Christopher Coley
Divya Vishnu
Amrita Sadanand
Zoom User
Source of Funding: Organized by AL & CWEGE Flyer

Admissions Apply Now