Howard Gardner on Truth and Cheating

In the Internet age and in the wake of Harvard’s largest cheating scandal in history, teaching our children to be ethical is a job parents could use a little help in tackling.

Renowned Harvard psychologist, educator and MacArthur Genius, Howard Gardner, will speak on why and how to teach young people to do work that is ethical, excellent and engaging at New Trier High School on Tuesday, October 30 from 7-9 p.m.

Why should you listen to Gardner? His long affiliation with Harvard and decades-long study of what constitutes “good work,” makes him the go-to authority on excellence and what happens when the desire for economic success at all costs becomes the social norm. In his lectures, a recent Washington Post Op-Ed and his 2011 book, “Truth, Beauty and Goodness Reframed: Educating for the Virtues in the Age of Truthiness and Twitter” Gardner argues against a prevailing notion that these virtues—truth, beauty and goodness—are now quaint, having outlived their usefulness. Instead, Gardner finds it imperative to revisit and preserve these classic core virtues through a modern and digitally savvy lens.

Gardner’s observations offer educators, parents and students a road map to more meaningful and successful lives.

In a recent interview with Make It Better, Gardner defines truth, beauty and goodness, and offers suggestions for parents interested in the ethical education of their children.

Gardner on Truth: “With the emergence of digital media, no sources are authoritative any more. Everything is available online. This is good and bad. It’s good that we live in a time when we are more likely than ever to find everything online, but we have to work harder to unravel information and learn the basis of claims being made. We need to train our children to ask: Who said what? Are they credible? What research did they do?”

Gardner on Beauty: “Everyone can and should have their own portfolio on what is beautiful. And it will change as they grow, just as palettes evolve from a 10-year-old’s love of cheeseburgers and milkshakes to broader and more sophisticated tastes.

“Most people talk about beauty in terms of the arts and nature. But I think that it’s about experiences too—like walks, talks and trips. Unlike truth, we don’t have to all agree on what is beautiful. Each person should keep a portfolio of what they like. This portfolio can be virtual, actual or just in their heads. And we should help teach our children about beauty by exposing them to new kinds of experiences, discussing it with them and keeping a record of what they cherish and why.”

Gardner on Goodness: “We originally evolved as a species to know about 150 people, which would constitute the community in which we lived. Neighborly morality—a communitarian approach—including the 10 Commandments and the Golden Rule, represented goodness. But now we live in a more complex world, and goodness needs to apply to our work role too. This is why the concept of ‘good work’ is so important.

“People need to talk about what’s good for the community, too. Nowadays, this can be done for institutions by creating a ‘commons’—both face-to-face and virtual. This is best done for families at family dinner, which is why our research group has been involved from the start in the ‘Family Dinner Project.’

“Good is about being human. We need a lot of help to do it well in a complex world.”

Gardner on cheating: “Our biggest mistake is that we don’t take enough time to examine—to think about—why it’s not good to live in a society where people cheat. People shouldn’t believe that the worst possible consequence of cheating is getting caught and punished. Rather, they should prefer to live and work in a community where they give each other common respect and avoid cheating because of their regard for others and for the health of the community. School is the first place where children develop work and citizenship. Good work should be taught there. The second most influential time is the first real job. Encourage your children to start working at a place where people are scrupulous, rather than where they routinely cut corners or cheat.”


Tuesday, October 30, 2012, Truth, Beauty and Goodness Refram ed: Educating for the Virtues in the Age of Truthiness and Twitter 7:00-9:00 p.m., New Trier High School/Northfield Campus, Cornog Auditorium, 7 Happ Rd., Northfield, 60093.


You might also be interested in:

“Talking to Your Kids About Religion”

  Who We Are       NFP Support       Magazine       Programs       Donate