Howard Gardner Delivers Inaugural Dean’s Distinguished Speaker Series Lecture

Gardner spoke on his upcoming book, “The App Generation: Identity, Intimacy, and Imagination in Today’s Youth.”

Dean Marcelo Suárez-Orozco and the Graduate School of Education & Information Studies (GSE&IS) welcomed Dr. Howard Gardner as the inaugural keynote for the Dean’s Distinguished Speaker Series, which debuted in Schoenberg Hall on Feb. 12 to an audience of about 450 people.

The Dean’s Distinguished Speaker Series hosts leaders and innovators at the forefront of the education and information fields in order to share their expertise and insights with GSE&IS and the Los Angeles community at large in a free venue. Tickets to this free lecture were all reserved only two days after it was announced.

Gardner, the Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, spoke about his upcoming book, “The App Generation: Identity, Intimacy, and Imagination in Today’s Youth,” (with K. Davis) to be published this fall by Yale University Press. A Q&A session moderated by Suárez-Orozco followed Gardner’s talk, with topics ranging from how to monitor children’s use of media to academic honesty.

Gardner is the Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

An ebullient Suárez-Orozco introduced Gardner, his former Harvard colleague, by stating that, “Howard is a blend of Mick Jagger and Charles V. Like Mick, Howard is a rock star. Like Charles V, the sun never sets on Howard Gardner’s empire of ideas.

“There is arguably no person on Earth more appropriate than Howard Gardner to help us think through what is at stake as new information and communication and media technologies reshape the foundations of education, of identity, of freedom in the 21st Century,” said Suárez-Orozco.

Gardner’s talk, “App Generation: How Digital Youth Differ From Their Predecessors” focused on the differences between today’s technologically savvy youth and the generations before them. He said that today’s youth, ages 13-20, are the first generation that is defined by technology and innovation, and that in interviews of teachers, technology and media were given factors in how young children have changed over the last decades.

Gardner described the effects of technology and media on his “Three I’s” of Intimacy, Identity, and Imagination, as organized in the book. From interviews with 100 subjects, he and his co-author discovered that within the “Super App Life,” young people expect quick answers from both people and machines and are more tolerant of social, ethnic, and cultural differences. Conversely, they are averse to taking risks, are reluctant to make themselves vulnerable, have difficulty with feelings of empathy, and are hyperconnected to family members, particularly their parents.

Asked how much of media should supplant more traditional skills such as penmanship and creating handmade art rather than digital renderings, Gardner, who is best known for his theory of multiple intelligences, stated that, “As parents and teachers, it’s valuable to know how things were done in the past.” He also stated that while children should possess reference skills, they should not be prevented from using new methods to express themselves, and described the loss of free choice, citing the limitless possibilities of browsing an actual library as opposed to only choosing books from a curated selection on a digital reader.

Sharing an anecdote about asking his six-year-old grandson what he would do if he did not have his current access to media, Gardner said that the child replied that he would have more time to play and to go on more outings with his parents.

“He said, ‘Most people have technology – they don’t have the freedom to just live,’” said Gardner.

Gardner’s most current book, “Truth, Beauty, and Goodness Reframed: Education for the Virtues in the Ages of Truthiness and Twitter” (New York: Perseus Books, 2011) examines the challenges in education between the postmodern critique of the humanities and the disruptive potentials of new digital media.

GSE&IS Dean Suárez-Orozco knew Dr. Howard Gardner at Harvard, where the former served as a professor of human development and psychology from 1995 to 2001 and as the Victor S. Thomas Professor of Education and Culture from 2001 to 2004.

“If anyone can make any assertions all the time, what does it mean for the terms of truth, beauty, and goodness?” asked Gardner.” The question is do we [discard] these things, or do we devote all our energies to making them real and vivid so that people can differentiate them?”

Gardner assessed one of the greatest advantages of new media as a way to bridge the generation gap, with young people teaching their elders how to use unfamiliar technology and adults fulfilling the youthful need for guidance and mentorship.

“This is the time when young and old can truly learn together,” Gardner said. “One of the biggest regrets that young people have [now] is that they have no mentors. To me, it’s better than when kids rejected their parents completely. Young and old can help each other and our job is to help create those opportunities.”

Gardner is the author of 28 books translated into 32 languages and is a recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship. He was named one of the 100 most influential public intellectuals in the world by Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines. His theory of multiple intelligences is a critique of the notion that there exists but a single human intelligence.