Minds for the Future?

That balanced lifestyle I’ve been trying so hard to achieve? Definitely on the backburner this week!

Instead, I’ve been working flat out as part of a team developing a multi-million dollar proposal focused on province-wide strategies for ensuring active and more creative communities.

While it’s been fun, its complexity has been taxing.  I really miss the days when proposals were straightforward enough that if you kept your office door closed, it was actually possible to write one the day before it was due. 

Today that simply isn’t possible. As such, proposal writing just seems to symbolize how complicated our world has become as the result of accelerating change and information overload. And, just as our proposal has required a team able to demonstrate “out-of the box” and non-linear thinking to solve increasingly complex challenges, so too does our world in general. 

Additionally, our proposal has made it clear that the knowledge and tools from any one discipline aren’t enough for understanding and solving real world problems.  In our case, we’ve highlighted the need for interdisciplinary expertise and teams from recreation, culture, parks, education, social services and business to work together on common goals.

The ongoing exercise of developing our proposal is also a reminder that just as our communities need o respond to change, so too will educators. We will need educators willing to reevaluate the goals of education and the type of minds that need to be cultivated. 

Harvard professor, Howard Gardner, famous for his theories of multiple intelligences, is tackling this same subject in his new book entitled “Five Minds for the Future”.  In it he describes five kinds of minds, or ways of thinking and acting. They are not personality types, but ways of thinking available to anyone willing to invest the time and effort in cultivating them. Three of the five minds are related to intellect – the disciplined mind, the synthesizing mind, and the creative mind. The other two are more about character – the respectful mind, and the ethical mind.
Gardner, in speaking of the disciplined mind, is referring to our need to understand history, math, science, and art.  Since it’s understood these ways of thinking are challenging to learn and require practice, schools have focused a lot of energy here.

Even with knowledge of a discipline, there is a need to sort out what is important and what isn’t from the massive amount of available information. This is definitely the kind of mind I needed over the past week as I worked to distill the information required for our proposal. Gardner refers to this as the synthesizing mind.  With a synthesizing mind, we are able to make sense of what we have learned, and can convey it to others when needed.
Once we have learned and synthesized knowledge in a discipline, there is a need to think outside the box of that discipline - the creative mind.

Creativity allows for innovation or meaningful change in how problems are approached.  A creative person takes chances but also needs to be prepared for the negative feedback that, if used appropriately, will contribute to progress. Initial versions of our proposal received negative feedback however that knowledge was used to make the emerging proposal stronger and more relevant.

The two additional minds that Gardner feels we are too often failing to cultivate in school, emphasize the human sphere or personal character.

The first is the respectful mind which, for Gardner, is more than tolerance of differences. It is about cultivating respect and emotional and interpersonal intelligence for interacting with one another.

While respect is something even young children can practice in schools, ethics - the ethical mind requires more abstract and reflective thinking about one’s behavior.  Later in life as we enter the labour force, regardless of the type of work, each person needs to stand back and ask what needs to be done to ensure their work is excellent in quality and ethical in conduct and then follow through with those responsibilities.

There is a pressing need for all us to do more to cultivate the five minds – particularly the respectful and the responsible minds.  Nurturing each of these minds will help ensure that the next generation is willing and able to meet the unknown challenges of the future – including be able to write the proposals that will make a difference.

Posted on 11-11-07


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