How to Educate Youth in the 21st Century

Want to raise children who will be successful in the 21st century? Give them an education that emphasizes discipline, creativity, respectfulness, ethics and the ability to synthesize complex information, according to Howard Gardner, the renowned Harvard Graduate School of Education professor.

On Oct. 29 and 30, Gardner spoke with more than 1,200 North Shore parents, educators and community leaders at New Trier High School about his pioneering work to improve education for youth.

Gardner developed the landmark concept that people do not have just one single intelligence—like the much used Intelligence Quotient (IQ). Instead, they possess multiple types of intelligences, including, but not limited to emotional and musical intelligences.

His 20 books have been translated into 27 different languages, and his ideas have influenced business, education, medicine and government in many countries. Last year the Wall Street Journal cited Gardner as one of the 5 most influential thinkers for business.

Gardner’s principle concern, though, is improving the way the world educates its youth. His work in recent years has focused on this goal, including his book “Five Minds For The Future,” the GoodWork Project and the GoodWork Toolkit.

Although all 5 attributes—or “minds”—are important, Gardner is particularly concerned about developing respectfulness and ethics. “The survival of the world depends on using human capacity in moral and respectful ways,” he explains.

He is also concerned about reversing an unsettling trend. Gardner studied education trends globally for several years with a particular emphasis on what he described as “the cutting edge kids—those who everyone would consider to be the most talented students.” His findings disturbed him.

“They all knew what was ‘right,’ but they questioned why they should be ethical and fall behind their peers who aren’t choosing ethical behaviors.”

Gardner offered as an analogy a tongue-in-cheek prayer from St. Augustine: “Oh Lord, make me chaste, but just not yet.”

Gardner’s work is already being used by Harvard, Amherst, Colby and NYU. It is also available online at:


However, Gardner believes that parents are still the greatest influence on students’ development. He offers the following suggestions for them:

• Show your kids that you care and that you are there for them unconditionally.
• Don’t commit positive or negative narcissism: “I did this in my life, so my child should do or not do this, too.”
• Try to understand your child’s strengths and weaknesses. Nurture the strengths.
• Remember that character is more important than intellect.

Gardner closed with the “elevator talk” that he would like to give to President Obama. “We need to change our country’s emphasis on the 3 Ms—money, markets and me—to the 3 Es—excellence, ethics and engagement—and ultimately to 1 W—We.”

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