Preface: A Magical Transformation
by Clyde Coreil

This book started life as the planned digest of proceedings of the 5th Urban Mission Conference, held on October 26, 2001, at New Jersey City University. The theme was “Innovative Teaching in Higher Education,” and the keynote speaker was Dr. Howard Gardner of Harvard University. Those of us who organized the Urban Mission Conference were initially interested mainly in contemporary reflections on college teaching. In our invitations to some 35 presenters, we informed them—almost in passing—that Dr. Gardner would be delivering the keynote and that their presentations would be published if they were later written as papers. We had not anticipated that Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory (MI) would prove to be a rich, unifying central theme. It has. Neither had we anticipated that 30 of the presenters would put pen to paper. They did. And we thank them deeply for it.

All of the contributors were concerned that their professional expressions meet the highest standards. In an effort to render their texts fully comprehensible to readers from different areas, however, I sometimes suggested simplifications that caused them to wince. Wherever possible, they agreed. For that and for their generous and enthusiastic spirit of cooperation, I am truly grateful. In my opinion, our joint effort has matured from a “digest of proceedings” into a full and careful consideration of college teaching at its best.

Most of the following articles make specific and pointed reference to MI as constituting the direction of pedagogical change in higher education. As you go through the 30 pieces, you will see that they are not simply predictions of possible movement, but descriptions of changes that are well underway. So that one more unintended feature of this book is that it serves as a cross-section of new and different teaching techniques in Canada and the USA at the beginning of the new millennium.

Gardner is best known for his theory that intelligence is not limited to the skills in mathematics and language that are measured by the traditional IQ test, but is much broader and includes reference to art, music, space, physical movement, interpersonal and intrapersonal relations, and the ability to perceive and evaluate differences between things. These ideas seem to have had far more influence on Kindergarten through secondary education (K-12) than those of any other researcher or writer of the 20th century.

It seems probable that because the teachers of K-12 seized upon MI as a valuable way forward, and because of a certain reluctance of professors to discuss teaching methods, Gardner’s influence has remained centered in pre-college education. It is time, however, to acknowledge that Ml also provides important approaches to problems faced by higher education at the turn of the millennium. It is with critical issues such as the following that the essays in this volume deal, either explicitly or indirectly:

Are there levels of education past which Gardner’s notions do not apply?

Why have so few college teachers been taught how to teach?

Has the role of the professor changed over the past 30 years?

Can students actually be expected to learn from other students?

Has education moved past the idea of a physical classroom shared by a professor and students in a specific location?

Why is teaching for tests considered so profoundly pathetic and hopelessly misguided by so many teachers?

Should professors in higher education look to elementary and secondary teachers for help in classroom methodology?

It may come to pass that K-12 will become K-16, in which pre-school, elementary, secondary and higher education will be conceived as a single continuum. If so, one would expect that each sector will examine the methods and directions of the others. The dubious assumption that value trickles from top to bottom—that is, from college to pre-school—might well be replaced by one of mutual sharing at all levels. That is a possibility that is within our grasp as we begin the new millennium. In such an attitude of open receptiveness, professors would be as eager to use new methods as they are to share discoveries and approaches introduced in the university.

Gardner not only holds that intelligences are multiple in nature, but that in each individual person, they are combined in a different fashion. As a result, students would seem to construct their own knowledge through unique configurations of intelligences. These theories tend to objectively affirm the integrity of diversity. It is, however, not primarily the diversity of cultures. Instead, the focus shifts to the individual person and to the way in which consciousness—and presumably, conscience—develop. In my opinion, it is in contexts such as these that Gardner’s contribution can be contemplated quite meaningfully.

Editing these writings has been ever so slightly like peeking under the thick canvas of the Big Top and seeing the circus performers as they begin their magical transformation. I trust that at some point in your reading, you will pause and say, “You know, in a way, he was right. The show is a grand one, and we’ve got ringside tickets.”