Hargreaves and Gardner Discuss Education, Social Mobility

Research professor Andy Hargreaves and developmental psychologist Howard Gardner spoke about issues relating to education, social mobility, class, and more at an event hosted by the Lynch School of Education and Human Development at Boston College on Nov. 17 over Zoom. 

The event, entitled “The Making of Two Exemplary Thinkers,” highlighted the aspects of Hargreaves’ life and research that inspired his book, Moving, A Memoir of Education and Social Mobility, and divulged aspects of Gardner’s life and research that inspired his book A Synthesizing Mind: A Memoir from the Creator of Multiple Intelligences Theory

Valerie Strauss, the moderator, asked Hargreaves and Gardner why they chose to write their memoirs in 2020 and what they wanted to share with the world.

“[My mother] had been a working class woman all her life, living in the same small mill town [and] working three jobs while raising her kids … and was on welfare or social security after my dad died,” Hargreaves said. “At the age of 93 she was in her last days, and I sat beside her bed and thought, ‘What can I do?’ And I thought, ‘Well I need to write something’ … I knew people like me were worth writing about.”

Gardner said that he wrote his book to share aspects of his life, discuss his theory of multiple intelligences, and explain the importance of synthesizing multiple disciplines. 

“Understanding human affairs, human beings, human thinking, human social relations … you really can’t do it from a single discipline,” Gardner said. “You can’t just talk about the mind and the brain or the relationship to other people near you or different cultures, so I got seduced by the idea that our understanding of human beings is much better if we try to combine the lenses.” 

When asked about their sense of belonging between ordinary people and the intellectual community, both speakers said that they feel as though they live in two different worlds.

“My son once said something to me,” Hargreaves said. “He said when he was a teenager, ‘I know what it is with you, dad. Your problem is you’re too intellectual for ordinary people, and you’re too ordinary for intellectuals,’ and it was absolutely right in a way… It permeates in all kinds of ways.”

When asked how much education can influence a person’s fundamental values, Gardner said that although he sees education as a tool of utmost importance, other influences such as family, peers, church communities, and social media tend to have the greatest impact on people’s values. 

Hargreaves and Gardner also brought up the relationship between class, social mobility, and the opportunity for education. 

“One of the first things we need to consider about social mobility is actually social immobility for those who don’t have the opportunity and the chances,” Hargreaves said.

On the topic of COVID-19 and its effects on education, Hargreaves said that the pandemic has led him to realize that it is important for students to be able to physically attend school so that parents can go to work, kids can make friends and develop identities, and people can be taught and cared for in person by professionals. He also said that internet access has been crucial for remote learning during the pandemic.

“Estonia made internet access a human right in 2001,” Hargreaves said. “It is public, it is universal, it is free to anybody who needs it. We need to think of internet access and devices for learning as being like water.”

The speakers then shared their thoughts on the overarching purpose of education.

“Education is fundamentally about possibility,” Gardner said. “If you think it’s only about getting a job … then what happens if after three years, the job disappears?”

Featured Image by Maggie DiPatri / Heights Editor

November 30, 2020