Five Minds for the Status Quo


I just finished reading Howard Gardner’s latest book Five Minds for the Future, and found it both interesting and disappointing. Interesting in that the father of multiple intelligences came up with a holistic approach to living out our lives utilizing–and in some cases, going beyond–these intelligences with the disciplined mind, the synthesizing mind, the creative mind, the respectful mind and the ethical mind. Disappointing in that his examples and his book were both geared to White male executives, the minds of the past (and to a great extent, the present) as opposed to the future.

I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised. I’ve been reading books on leadership and innovation for years, finding that almost all are attempting to preach to the converted, to folks who already are leaders and (presumably) innovative. But given my love for Gardner’s multiple intelligences work, I decided to give Five Minds for the Future a shot. Only to find example after example of Western culture’s exclusive claims on the disciplined mind, the synthesizing mind, and the creative mind as the embedded message throughout the first chapters. Marie Curie was mentioned a couple of times, along with medieval China. Only when we move into the chapters on the respectful and ethical mind did folks of color or other cultures show up, and those were the usual suspects like Jesse Jackson, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and The Dalai Lama. It’s with a bit of irony and significant contradiction on Gardner’s part that in his attempt to proclaim the need for tolerance and even the embracing of diversity he didn’t practice what he preached.

I don’t necessarily expect Gardner to spend more time discussing Imhotep or Mayan mathematics or the ancient Indus valley’s number system than Aristotle or Leonardo or Isaac Newton. What I did expect, though, was a more well-rounded understanding that in his discussion of the contents of each of these “five minds” that Gardner would’ve included more diverse (by age [and Age], race, ethnicity and gender) examples to make the point that in the future the leaders who’ve integrated these five minds wouldn’t consistently be White males.

What does any of this have to do with Boy At The Window or Fear of a “Black” America? Both books and much of my career as a writer and educator has been in response to a sense of exclusion. Not racial exclusion per se, but the idea that it was all right to ignore the existence or contributions of others to an organization or class. I went into an exclusionary gifted/talented track program when I went to middle school in ’81. I felt excluded by many of my teachers when I was in high school. I saw how others felt when being excluded from a college or an activity. Although exclusion in life is often necessary (“not everyone can go to Harvard or Yale, right?”), it doesn’t help when folks like Gardner are unnecessarily exclusive in their descriptions of concepts that are allegedly universal and inclusive. It’s okay to applaud Gardner’s book for its potential in explaining how to live successful and ethical lives as lifelong learners. But it’s equally all right to criticize him for writing to an audience that is more focused on themselves and their present rather than those most apt to be the “five minds of the future.”

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