The Importance of Education through Howard Gardner's Book

Education for the Future? A Gardner Review

Education for the future: A Gardner review

Have you ever heard anyone— a friend, family member, acquaintance, or other source—say that going to school, or even getting an MBA, was a waste of time? Or maybe a waste of money?

As crazy as it might sound for some, once in a while I hear that statement. And today was no different, with the exception that this time a close friend threw a philosophical, or even better, a financial, twist on the subject.

“But going back to school requires money. What does make a person with an MBA a better administrator than a person with an associate degree?”

The conversation started when a friend of this friend had to go back to school to get a master’s degree. As the Director of Radiology of a private and well-known hospital in Florida, she had no choice but to dive into the books and get an advanced degree in order to stay on her job.

The caveat: she’s been working in this hospital for more than 15 years.

Apparently, it didn’t matter. The upper management was not willing to give anybody a free pass. With the implementation of the new procedures, anyone hired for management positions must have an advanced degree to comply with the new requirements. For the current crew, they will all have to catch up with the changes and work to fulfill the criteria.

I can imagine some of you thinking:

Yeah, we all need to keep up with the demands of the job market, and she needs to do her part on the deal. If not, there are plenty of people waiting in line.

While the other side. . . .

This is nonsense. My uncle has been in business for over 40 years, is business savvy, and never finished high school. By the way, look at the examples of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.

Okay, I hear you! I get it! School is not for everybody, let alone graduate school. Been there, done that!

We are all made up of diverse sets of skills and talents that make us unique. Some people are book nerds (like me). Some individuals are logical by nature and love anything related to numbers. Others have strong handcraft abilities. Still, there are those who have strong technical skills which they mastered through experience or a few years of school but not necessarily a full-blown degree.

Howard Gardner, a psychologist and Harvard Education professor, explains that in his Theory of Multiple Intelligences (MI). According to Gardner, we have different ways to process the world around us, including information and experiences, and these intelligences can evolve if individuals are provided with different stimuli. While conducting studies in the area of psychology, he developed a framework based on eight domains or abilities individuals possess: visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, musical, logical-mathematical, naturalistic, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal.

Five Minds for the Future review/A Multiple Intelligence quote

Please, bear in mind that he didn’t mean to label anybody or put a person in a one-size-fits-all mold. Instead, Gardner wanted to go beyond the scope of evaluating students based on their logical and linguistic intelligences—which clearly doesn’t serve everyone—to a holistic approach to education where the individual’s talent(s) would be maximized. That explains why some people perform better in certain areas while others do not.

This approach has been largely used in early-childhood education, in which teachers foster children’s critical thinking through the development of activities that draw upon the different skill sets. In other words, it is teaching by nourishing children’s own talents. Although his theory is implemented more often in the context of teaching, in practical terms, it reaches well beyond that arena.

In one of his most recent books called Five Minds for the Future, Gardner goes beyond the scientific studies applied to his work of MI theory to a more holistic approach, which is also drawn from the study of the humanities. He does not talk specifically about intelligences (although he makes a few analogies) but instead, he dives into the idiosyncrasies of five types of minds (or views): disciplined, synthesizer, creative, respectful, and ethical.

According to his predictions, individuals who demonstrate those perspectives (or at least possess one of them) have a higher probability of being successful in the future. This is how he breaks it down:

Individuals ought to

  • excel in at least one discipline (disciplined),
  • absorb a variety of information, summarize or extract the essence in a way that helps the individuals and society (synthesizer)
  • be able to think outside of the box and have an edge (creative)
  • show respect for differences and diversity in a broad sense of the word (respectful)
  • think beyond their personal interest and act in an ethical way (ethical)

He brings valuable insights on the way those minds process information and how individuals who hold those mindsets can better utilize them for the overall well-being of the society—which makes complete sense, especially given the interconnected world we live in today.

The Five Minds chart

Source: Five Minds for the Future by Howard Gardner

For the purpose of this review, I wanted to go a little further and highlight the need for a disciplined mind. As Gardner explains,“Even though the mastery of a discipline seems old-fashioned and ‘left-brained,’ it’s vital. Those who do not have a discipline, as well as sense of discipline, either will be without work or will work for someone who does have a discipline.”

We all have different skill sets, and we learn in different ways. And while an advanced degree is not for everyone, education sure deserves its proper credits. The way universities form their students has long been debated, it is true. Interestingly enough, Gardner also discusses that. He goes on to explain that the function of education has come a long way in different parts of the globe. However, many strides still need to be made. The reason is that schools are failing to create well-rounded critical thinkers, and, instead are focusing on evaluating students using a one-sided approach based on few disciplines or one aspect of those (for instance, the STEM courses) while neglecting others.

On the other hand, students have a high expectation about having a job lined up once they graduate–an idea that is often unrealistic, especially in a world where the job market is more competitive than ever. We can barely catch up with the speed of information, and technology dictates everything that we do. As a matter of fact, technology allows us to improve or develop skills we didn’t even think possible before. Backtracking ten years ago (that seems far, but it’s actually not), who would have thought of building a website without being a designer or having prior knowledge of coding? What about shopping online or even scanning documents with a smart phone?

Moving forward to the 21st century reality, I go even further. What about developing proper skills? Having an edge? Finding a differentiator?

When it comes to vocational schools’ and universities’ role, they might show the path and provide the instruments. Nonetheless, their primary goal should be forming conscientious and well-rounded citizens who will be productive in society. It means one will get access to people and resources (career development, for instance) that will help them in developing skills, not only as a force in the job market, but most importantly, as a human being.

With that said, if you spent your time, money, and resources in school trying to get a career and better yourself, it is fair to say that you have an advantage. You sure have a differential, and that should be taken into consideration. What I don’t think is a fair evaluation, as I have heard people complain many times, is that an MBA didn’t serve them any better, or that maybe going to school was a waste of time.

5 Minds for the Future by Howard Gardner


The silver lining is that this is not the view of the majority.

Education has its crucial role in societies as a whole. I’m thankful for the chance to go to school, not only for the fact that I got a degree (sure, I accomplished what I wanted), but, above all, that it allowed me to meet many people who made a positive impact on my life. For me, this is priceless. Although it is true that not everyone has the same opportunity (which can bring us to a whole other discussion), the challenge is for the ones who have it and let it pass.

That is why education matters. It is important to be in tune with the new reality, adapt to the changes, and work for a better future.

What about you? Undertake a formal education, or not? I’d love to hear your thoughts below.