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.”