Friday, April 21, 2006

Subject: From Howard Gardner

----- Original Message -----

From: "hgasst"
Sent: Thursday, April 20, 2006 11:37 AM
Subject: From Howard Gardner

> April 21, 2006
> To Dean Lawrence Velvel
>>From Howard Gardner
> [ ]
> Hi and thanks for your recent message. My recollection of the modest
> origins of the Swedish welfare state comes from conversations with Sissela
> Bok, daughter of Gunnar and Alma Myrdal. I am scheduled to see her in a
> few weeks and will ask her about sources then.
> I have reviewed my April 14 note, made minimal changes, and am forwarding
> a post-able version to you. I'm flattered to think that others might
> find our exchanges of interest. I do appreciate your checking with me,
> because I would not want to feel that our candid exchanges (e.g. re
> Summers) would need to be muted because of the possibility of reaching a
> wider audience.
> With best wishes.
> Encl. Revised version of April 14 notes

l. I agree that it will be much more difficult to introduce (or, to reintroduce, let’s not forget Aristotle) ethical and good work considerations into politics than into other spheres. In our GoodWork Project, we have looked at nine different professional spheres. The only one where I remained skeptical about the value of the interviews was in the area of business—I felt that the CEOs whom we interviewed were so slick that I did not find many of them credible. I would not say the same about the bulk of the physicians, journalists, educators, etc. in our study.

We’ve been encouraged to expand our study to include athletics, the media, and politics. I have hesitated in all three spheres, because of my skepticism about candor on the part of participants—a necessary component of our studies. I note, with some embarrassment, that these are three of the most powerful areas in our society, and three about which my own knowledge is meager and my intuitions are inadequate. Note that Arnold Schwarzenegger belongs to all three spheres, which probably accounts for his prominence.

2. As you probably remember, I started out as a supporter of President Summers, but eventually became a critic, including (to my considerable discomfort) a public one. I have an analysis of his tenure, in terms of the framework developed by the GoodWork project. Summers came in, declaring that Harvard was misaligned, and that he was going to align it better. (No doubt he received this impression from the Corporation and did not hesitate to amplify it himself; as he stated publicly, innumerable times, Harvard had not changed since the time of Charles William Eliot (sic) a century ago). In fact, Harvard has been pretty well aligned for a long time, for better and worse. In the process of his chosen mission, Summers introduced so much genuine mis-alignment that in the end, he had to be eased out. Dean Harry Lewis’ analysis, both in the CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION and in his forthcoming book, EXCELLENCE WITHOUT SOUL seems on the mark to me.

3.On trustees: I agree that it is an error to romanticize the trustees. They came from a narrow gamut of society and were, in various ways, parochial and prejudiced. Of course, I can’t defend their position on college admissions—neither I nor many of my closest friends would have been admitted to Harvard College in 1961, were it not for the beginnings of the thaw. Still there was a certain ‘disinterest’ and ‘concern for the public good’ with which the best of the ‘wise men’ were identified, and its loss is a detriment for all. To Karabell’s painstaking and painful study, we must add Kabaservice’s convincing portrait of The Guardians, who in admirable fashion elected to weaken their own class hegemony and to open up the ranks to you, me, and our compatriots.

In Alan Wolfe’s forthcoming book on democracy, he talks about the importance for democracy of ‘disinterestedness’ and I agree with him. If no one thinks beyond his/her selfish interests, one can’t have a viable society. A colleague whom you may know, Russell Pearce at Fordham Law, argues that the big change in law in the past fifty years has been the steady diminution of concern with the public sphere and the public good.

And so, I am speaking more and more about ‘trustworthiness’—who earns trust, and how can that be affirmed, lost, regained.

4. You may well be right that Progressivism occurred on the heels of the work of Grangers, William Jenninigs Bryan, etc. It is odd how the middle West Plains State are at the heart of what is best and worst about our society (see Thomas Frank on What’s the Matter with Kansas? Or the issues that led to the Civil War). In Scandinavia, poor and freezing 100 years ago, barely literate farmers met at night to talk about politics, to read and debate Rousseau, Marx, Saint-Simon, etc., and from these modest beginnings the modern welfare state emerged—as I understand it.
> Howard Gardner
> Hobbs Professor of Education and Cognition
> Harvard Graduate School of Education
> 14 Appian Way
> Larsen Hall 201
> Cambridge, MA 02138

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