The learned ancient Greeks were fascinated by what an ideal education would involve. Why? They hoped to apply that education to the kings of the era and to create a better society through the leadership of the kings. That ambition came closest to being fulfilled through Alexander the Great, who became a highly effective conqueror and spreader of Greek ideas and values.
Professor Gardner takes up this challenge once again in perceiving new challenges for modern people that will be more difficult to meet in the future. I suspect that his vision is, in part, aimed at the same goal as the ancient Greeks except as executed through the leaders and most prominent citizens of a republic employing democratic principles.
In a break from his prior focus on multiple intelligences, Five Minds for the Future emphasizes five methods of thinking that he hopes to see integrated into individuals. These methods of thinking are based on:
1. Mastering an important subject matter (such as history, math, or science) and staying up to date through application of the discipline's method of thinking. This is quite different from knowing the facts of the discipline.
2. Being able to integrate large quantities multidisciplinary facts and apply them into one's work.
3. Posing new questions, developing new solutions to existing questions, stretching disciplines and genres in new directions, or building new disciplines.
4. Being open to understanding and appreciating the perspectives and experiences of those who are different from the individual.
5. Doing one's work in an ethical way that reflects responsibilities to others and society.
What does this boil down to as a problem? Basically, most people never get as far as mastering one important discipline. They just memorize whatever is needed to pass tests. Professor Gardner's own work documents this problem. As a result, we face a hollowing out of our civilization as most people lack the ability, education, or interest to do more than function in an everyday living fashion. Beyond that, some of those who can perform a discipline are tempted by treasure or fame to stretch the rules and not honestly perform.
If we step back another few feet, there's an implicit vision of a future that's led by a smaller and smaller number of people as a percentage of the world's population. It will be easier for rot to set in at the top. In addition, the rewards for those people will grow exponentially . . . tempting those of limited ethics to falter.
I think the risk is a genuine one, and I applaud Professor Gardner for penning this book. I hope he will follow it with more books that spell out more about how to educate others and ourselves (after we leave school as students) so that these goals are achieved.
I have a few quibbles that I mention only in the spirit of sparking an awareness of what's needed. Peter Drucker taught me that the educated person should learn enough about a new subject each year to appreciate and be able the discipline involved. I found that suggestion missing from this book. Without that bridging method, I suspect we'll just end up compartmentalized from one another.
In addition, I think that some areas of public responsibility lend themselves to combined perspectives that encompass these minds more efficiently than by keeping them separate. For example, the advanced leader who is good at accomplishing continuing business model innovation will be able to cross these five boundaries and many others . . . simply by knowing one discipline. I suspect that other fields also lend themselves to such new integrating disciplines.
I also found that Professor Gardner mischaracterized the meanings of many of the business examples he cited. He does, however, do a fine job of summarizing what academics have written about business. I suggest that he have someone who is more familiar with business than he is help with checking such examples in future books. I realize that this book is published by Harvard Business School Press, but editors of books don't necessary have mastery of the facts within the subjects they edit.
Bravo, Professor Gardner!