Suzanne E D’Amato. 21st Century Anthropology: A Reference Handbook. Editor: H James Birx. Volume 2. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Reference, 2010.
In the 1970s, education became an academic subfield of applied anthropology as it applies to different communities and cultures existing within education systems. From that perspective, students, parents, faculties, and school administrators represent different communities, and, by using anthropological theories, these groups can understand current conditions of education and conceive applications for the future. The importance of applied anthropology to education is spotlighted as we gain understanding of classroom dynamics with respect to increases in student diversity, in numbers of special needs students, and in the use of technology in the classroom. Concepts of race, gender, ethnicity, and nationality are especially relevant as students develop their sense of identity as members of groups. More than ever, these concepts are critical, as schools look to deal with conflict and promote positive intergroup relations.
As Charles Darwin cut across disciplinary boundaries and questioned conventional wisdom, teachers also cut across curricular boundaries to make cogent connections that enable students to achieve an understanding of and an appreciation for the human experience. One goal of today’s teacher is to both understand and influence individuals so that they may become whole, rational, and productive citizens. An overall goal of education is to assist learners to construct meaning. Negotiating meaning requires an understanding of the prevailing culture, whether the subject is literature, music, social studies, science, or religion. Effective education is based upon positive social interaction among all those involved in the school community. Teachers who build their practice on anthropological understandings and methodologies will leverage knowledge to improve student attitude and achievement.
Using this perspective, education and anthropology will work together to alleviate behavioral difficulties, drop-out rates, violence, and other negative influences that have the potential to impact the school and, ultimately, the individual. With Darwin-like insight, teachers assist learners to recognize the “internal logic” of classroom society. They foster a cooperative environment where students’ similarities and differences are accepted and their interdependence is recognized. They encourage the sharing of ideas, experiences, theories, discoveries, and expertise. Teachers arm students with global information and thinking skills critical to following various career paths to success in 21st-century business, research, government, agriculture, advocacy, and public service.
While reflecting on the influence of Darwin on education, key skills that originated with Darwin are apparent. These include seeking multiple perspectives, rational speculation, observation, dialogue, analytical reading, data collection, comparing and contrasting information, testing hypotheses, drawing conclusions, and applying theories. Other pedagogies derived from Darwin include research methodology, logic and reasoning, detailed record keeping, clear thinking, and scientific inquiry.
The complexity of humanity directs anthropologists and educators to work in concert. Equipped with a satchel of scientific armaments initiated by Darwin, professionals are prepared to crack the smallest kernel of misinformation. Together, anthropologists and enlightened educators deploy such devices as scientific inquiry and logic to go about “solving” the problems that we face in our lives, studies, and classrooms. A huge mutual goal is to determine how we can consistently and successfully manipulate such tools, challenging America’s youth and changing how American youth process their inherent positions and perceptions. A typical U.S. public school classroom houses many nationalities. It is of utmost importance to educate all students to understand differences: cultural, socioeconomic, psychographic, and demographic. By expanding the horizons of our students, we are likely to invest in the notion that we are all similar despite being different in appearance, ability, or wealth.
Prejudice and ethnocentrism are the products of fear caused by a historic lack of both knowledge and understanding of differences. These conditions have shaped society. Throughout the ages, an attitude of “banish or perish” has launched attacks of humanity upon humanity. In the middle of the 20th century, the development of third world countries was seen as hopeful, a precursor to positive interethnic relations. Melting pot theorists predicted that as poor nations advanced in their development, ethnicity would become less important and peace would follow. This view was challenged by the conflictual modernization theory, and development was seen for a time as a cause of conflict. However, as the world approached the 21st century, development was more strongly considered to be a precondition for peace. To this day, bias, prejudice, bigotry, conflict, marginalization, and ethnocentrism continue to contaminate society, and these hazards trickle down into the schools.
The teaching of scientific inquiry, therefore, is significant when students learn to question circumstances and problems as they arise. Students need be taught to question and respond profoundly—beyond transactional or procedural questions or the typical short answers to teachers’ questions. It is suggested that a learner’s questions can identify whether the learner’s thinking is naive or whether it is complex, depending on whether the questions focus on conceptualizations or minutiae and detail. Helping children to question situations may help a student achieve, but bringing students to understand that different people think of different ways to question is the greater lesson. This lesson brings with it an appreciation that people of other ethnicities and cultures may bring drastically different questions to bear on a given situation. Situations of small or large consequence may be solved collaboratively and skillfully when teachers accept and appreciate the contributions of others.
Why is there so strong a resemblance between anthropological methodology and educational methodology? Was it coincidental that educational practice underwent a revolution after the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species in 1859? Is it probable that Darwin’s evolutionary framework had an intense and powerful impact upon scholars throughout time—scholars who influenced their protégés who, in turn, influenced others?
It is possible to put forth the premise that Darwin was the originator, indeed, the true father of educational pedagogy and methodology throughout the world in the late 1800s and throughout the 1900s. Furthermore, one may contend that his effect upon education has been extended well into the 21st century. An evidentiary trail may be blazed from Darwin directly to John Dewey, and from Dewey to Tao Xingzhi from China, Maria Montessori from Italy, Lev Semenovich Vygotsky from Russia, and Howard Gardner, who is presently teaching at Harvard University in the United States. Each of these giants in the field of education and psychology has made his or her theories felt by others. For example, Vygotsky impressed the world-famous Jean Piaget, his contemporary from Switzerland, as well as Arthur Appleby, born in 1946 in the United States. Gardner brought his influence to bear on Spencer Kagan, who in turn influenced David Johnson and Roger Johnson (all from the United States, and all of whom we credit with extensive research into cooperative learning). The line does not, of course, ever end. All of these people have gone on to shape the thinking of scores of others worldwide who define education as a profession. Several will be discussed in this chapter, and it all began with Darwin!
In the Beginning
To understand the impact of Darwin upon the global educational community, it is necessary to understand the man. Known today as England’s greatest naturalist, Darwin— geologist, biologist, anthropologist—had a unique and replicable approach to learning. His joy in discovery and attention to observation, notation, comparison, and evaluation underlie his greatest discoveries and serve as an overarching model for educational pedagogy and methodology. With Darwin in mind, the connections between anthropological and educational procedures become apparent, and the fields of anthropology and education reflect more in common than might be realized at first glance. Key skills and dispositions that were used and refined by Darwin have been integrated into what is termed educational best practice. Darwin himself was open to change; the analytical categories and processes that he employed are useful in understanding the culture of today’s school children, for example, how teachers teach and how students learn.
The application of anthropology to education dates back more than a century, to when Hewitt published his thoughts on education in the American Anthropologist. However, it is here theorized that the connection between education and anthropology preceded Hewitt, originated with Darwin, and moved in succession to Dewey, Vygotsky, and others down through the years. To some degree, historically, the education profession revised old programs and practices, renewed and renamed them, and implemented them in what was hoped to be a better way. A more Darwin-like approach to change is to study the old programs and practices in light of their relative success, break old molds, design innovations, and implement new and revolutionary practices, all based on research. Clearly, this approach indicates that it is the responsibility of the educator to teach social skills and to interact with cultural and ethnic groups other than their own. In turn, this allows students to study in collaborative situations leading to social acceptance, self-discovery, and the ability to take risks within the learning environment. Through the example of Darwin, education and anthropology aspire to similar goals and to utilize similar methods of research and discovery.
Charles Darwin (1809-1882) recalled his father once telling him, “You care for nothing but shooting dogs and rat-catching, and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family” (Barlow, 1958, p. 28). It was an inauspicious indictment of one of history’s greatest thinkers. Born in Shrewsbury, England, Darwin did poorly in traditional school settings and preferred to collect specimens of animals, plants, and minerals that he would experiment upon in his brother’s chemistry laboratory. He was, by today’s definition, a hands-on, tactile-kinesthetic learner. At age 16, with urging from his father, Darwin entered the School of Medicine at Edinburgh University, where he found lectures boring, cadaver dissections horrible, and surgeries, without the benefit of anesthesia, gruesome. After graduation, Darwin reluctantly enrolled in the University of Cambridge with the idea of becoming a clergyman. While at Cambridge, Darwin was inspired by the Personal Narrative of Alexander von Humboldt, the German naturalist, who wrote about his travels in South America and his discoveries in geology, geography, and mineralogy.
Having been invited to set sail on the HMS Beagle, a frigate designed for scientific research, Darwin embarked on a five-year expedition to chart the coastlines of South America. On board ship, he read intently and was influenced greatly by the geological ideas and perspectives presented by Charles Lyell. The Beagle reached Brazil in February 1832, and Darwin began to answer destiny’s call. He spent months observing and collecting plants, animals, minerals, and fossils and keeping careful and detailed records of his discoveries. He was astounded to find marine fossils high in the Andes Mountains and hypothesized that the land had once been covered by water. Darwin satisfied his belief that the earth’s topography is always changing when he lived through earthquakes in Chile. Arriving in the Galapagos Islands, he discovered many life forms that were not found anywhere else in the world. Darwin was intrigued by the numerous species of birds found there and noticed how various species of finch had developed specialized beaks that aided them in gathering and consuming food. He further noted that organisms on the island seemed similar to, yet different from, those organisms on the mainland.
From his experiences on HMS Beagle, Darwin began to question the idea of creationism and the belief that a supreme god created immutable organisms to populate an unchanging world. He used the now-very-popular comparative method to challenge concepts and to introduce new facts and values. His constructivist methodology resulted in a most extraordinary evolutionary framework. To brief: All living things compete for space and sustenance while being constantly challenged by threats from their changing environment. Later, in On the Origin of Species (1859), Darwin explained his theory of natural selection as “grounded in the belief that each new variety, and ultimately each new species is produced and maintained by having some advantage over those with which it comes into competition; and the consequent extinction of the less-favored forms almost inevitably follows” (p. 93). Essentially, he implied that all life on earth, including the human species, is the result of evolution over millions of years of adaptations to changing environments. Darwin concluded as follows:
Having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one, and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed laws of gravity, from a simple beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved. (1859, p. 114)
As Darwin looked with awe upon Creation, the convergence of his evolutionary framework pointed ominously to the precarious position of our species and the essential need for mutual respect, global understanding, and planetary interdependence. As a species, humans are constantly competing for space and support. Opposing forces such as insurrection, disease, poverty, ethnocentrism, and racism threaten us. Shifts in the environment, climatic changes, depletion of natural resources, and pollution challenge us. For these reasons, educators have been influenced profoundly by Darwin, his research, his methods, and his theory of evolution. Far from being the disgrace his father predicted, in the 200 years since his birth, Darwin has become a model of optimism, unification, and hope for the future. He saw the magnificence of all living things, including humankind, and his theory of evolution impels us to respect one another despite any or all differences. For these reasons, we must come together as one diversified but unified species, evolved from a common ancestor, and aware of the interconnectiveness of our global society. Darwin told us the following:
It is a world of wonderful similarity and change among all living things; where the tiniest flea is directly, organically related to the most massive elephant; where struggle and even death make for progressive evolution in which good useful characteristics develop to benefit every species. (1859, p. 115)
Thanks to Darwin, present-day educators respect both the similarities and differences among their students and view them as an “evolving species,” which will grow and develop into productive adults. Teachers also consider themselves to be an “evolving species,” capable of adapting teaching styles and strategies to meet the diverse needs and wants of their students. Through the intersection of education and anthropology, humanity has its greatest hope of survival as we advance scientifically, morally, philosophically, technologically, and academically.
Education is a social process; education is growth; education is not a preparation for life, but is life itself. — John Dewey (Boydston, 1972, p. 50)
In the same year that Darwin published his seminal work, On the Origin of Species (1859), John Dewey was born into a Burlington, Vermont, family. Son of a Civil War veteran and an evangelical Congregationalist mother, Dewey grew to become the most influential philosopher of modern times. His influence is most viable in political and educational forums. The founder and renowned “father of progressive education,” Dewey built his philosophy around his own life experiences as well as the emerging philosophy and scientific thought of the times.
Upon graduation from the University of Vermont in 1879, and unsure of his future, Dewey was tutored in philosophy for three years while he earned his living as a high school teacher. He then applied to and matriculated at Johns Hopkins University for graduate work. Studying under George Sylvester Morris, who followed Hegelian philosophy, Dewey wrote his dissertation on Hegelian idealism and earned his doctoral degree in 1884. In time, Dewey rejected absolute idealism, which suggested that fact and thought are connected in that facts develop from thoughts. However, he evolved a more naturalistic and pragmatic philosophy that was refined and supremely influenced by the works of Darwin. His theory of natural selection provided form for Dewey’s naturalistic approach to the theory of knowledge. On the Origin of Species(1859) introduced Dewey to a mode of thinking that would ultimately transform the logic of knowledge and hence his treatment of morals, politics, religion, and education. Rejecting supernatural explanations for the origin of species, Dewey adopted Darwin’s naturalistic account and then considered the development of knowledge as an adaptive response, that is, as the product of the interaction between humankind and its environment. Dewey saw knowledge as having a practical instrumentality in the dominion and administration of that interaction. He termed his new philosophical approach instrumentalism. Clearly stated, if problems are constantly changing, then the instruments for dealing with problems must change. It follows, then, that if truth is evolutionary in nature, it does not have an eternal reality. In a collection of essays by Dewey (1910), the longest essay is titled “The Influence of Darwin on Philosophy”; it is an in-depth discussion of the impact that Darwin had on modern thought.
The influence of Darwin on Dewey’s philosophy of education was immeasurable. In his own practice, Dewey taught at the University of Minnesota and then at the University of Michigan. He achieved greatness as chairman of the Department of Philosophy, Psychology, and Pedagogy at the University of Chicago. He became president of the American Psychological Association in 1889, and he was the president of the Philosophical Association at Columbia University from 1905 until his retirement in 1930.
Dewey’s Darwinian philosophy of education has had far-reaching effects on other philosophers, on teaching, and on learning. He maintained a pragmatist stance that schools should prepare individuals for participation in community life and overcome barriers between school and community in order to provide education that satisfies the needs of a truly participatory democracy. Dewey favored practice over theory, based on his belief that learning best occurs when students are free to generate their own experiments, experiences, questions, and creations. He believed that under the direction and guidance of a good teacher, children could learn ways to cope with situations and conditions that may occur in the unfathomable future. Dewey believed strongly that schools should take on societal responsibilities. He was convinced that the acculturation of immigrants was the responsibility of the schools. Therefore, like Darwin, Dewey showed respect for diversity and saw individuals as valuable contributors to society.
In 1896, Dewey established laboratory schools where he highlighted the scientific method for problem solving and where students, in workshop settings, took ownership of their own learning. The role of the teacher was that of a facilitator, not director or instructor. An advocate of “the child-centered school and the school that gave full emphasis to real interests and to learning through doing” (Dewey, 1956, p. viii), Dewey believed that teachers were the designers of educational experiences. His pedagogy contrasted sharply with traditional teacher-centered methods of isolation, study, and recitation.
Dewey’s theories became very popular. However, progressive education began to take on tangential forms. Dewey’s Laboratory School in Chicago and Manhattan’s The Lincoln School both closed, primarily because progressive education was misinterpreted and secondarily because the Cold War advanced conservatism and the rigorous and rote study of math and science. Today, applications of the progressive movement are flourishing in many American schools, as well as international schools, and action research, open classrooms, schools without walls, multiage groupings, looping, block scheduling, and cooperative learning are integrated forms of this movement. Emphases on multiculturalism, hands-on learning, and participation in authentic learning experiences with real-world audiences reflect the pedagogical contributions of Dewey. Notably, as Darwin inspired Dewey, so have Dewey’s contributions inspired other movements of import to education, for example, contextualism, empiricism, humanism, and naturalism. A study of Darwinian methodology is especially relevant in the postmodern age, as we come to terms with immigration, globalization, and extensive cultural diversity. Clearly, Dewey stands with Darwin as one of the greatest intellects of our time. It is not surprising, then, that they had direct and intense impact on Xingzhi, Montessori, Vygotsky, and Gardner.
Primary education is the base of a nation’s education, and so the quality of primary teachers can decide a nation’s future. —Tao Xingzhi
In 1914, at the age of 23, Tao Xingzhi, then known as Tao Wen Tsing, left the family farm in Anhui, China, to study political science at the University of Illinois. Upon earning his master’s degree, he enrolled in Teachers College, Columbia University. There, he studied under the auspices of William Kilpatrick and Paul Monroe. However, the professor with the greatest influence on the young scholar was none other than John Dewey, a strong proponent of Darwinian methodology and pedagogy.
Armed with a substantial Western education, Xingzhi returned to his homeland to reform and restructure the educational and social systems in China. Like Dewey, Xingzhi saw education as an agent of change. Having achieved a teaching position at the prestigious Nanjing Teachers College, he taught his students that school must be intrinsically connected to society in order to play a meaningful role in social reform. He encouraged students to be constructivists and activists, and he related his instruction to prior knowledge and hands-on, real-world experiences. Unfortunately, when Xingzhi applied his principles in the traditional Chinese university, he was limited by what little the school had to offer his students in terms of reinforcement. Disillusioned, Xingzhi alternatively rejected his Westernized perspective, resigned his post, and retreated to the countryside to live the simple life.
It is noteworthy that at the very time Dewey visited China in 1919 on his world lecture tour, Tao Xingzhi simultaneously became more acutely aware of the poverty and illiteracy that plagued China. Over 80% of the Chinese population was poor; 77% was illiterate. What followed for Xingzhi was a great deal of experimentation integrating Dewey’s theories with then-modern Chinese history, specifically issues of importance in the 1920s. After much thought, Xingzhi reversed Dewey’s notion of “school as society” to “society as school.” The thought of “education as life” became “life as education.” Xingzhi’s “unity of teaching, learning and reflective acting” was directly precipitated by Dewey’s theory about “learning by doing” (Dewey, 1956).
The outcome of this experimentation was the founding of the Morning Village Normal School. Basic elementary education was taught at the school, but the doors were open to adults as well as children. Rural teachers were trained in Xingzhi’s philosophies, and school became the hub for all social, political, economic, and educational activity within the community. Self-defense classes and health care services were provided. Educational opportunities were made available to the masses. At last, the school and the community were interconnected.
As successful as this first “experiment” was in improving education, economic production, and living standards, the school was forced to close by the Chinese Nationalist Army. Nonetheless, “the school had gained national recognition as a significant force in teacher education and rural education reform and this was a great beginning to China’s modern and contemporary history of education” (Anhui Provincial Society for the Study of Tao Xingzhi, 1993, p. 4). The Morning Village Normal School was reopened in 1949 upon the formation of the People’s Republic of China. Its founder did not live to celebrate the occasion. But the man originally named Tao Wen Tsing, meaning “the hopes and dreams of his parents,” renamed himself to reflect changes in his philosophy over time. Tao Wen Tsing became Tao Zhixing, “knowing by doing,” and finally, Tao Xingzhi, “doing, then knowing.” A true disciple of Dewey, Xingzhi will be remembered as the man who introduced both progressive, child-centered, experiential pedagogy and a democratic educational system into Chinese schools.
Scientific observation has established that education is not what the teacher gives; education is a natural process spontaneously carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not only by listening to words but by experiences upon the environment. The task of the teacher becomes that of preparing a series of motives of cultural activity, spread over a specially prepared environment, and then refraining from obtrusive interference. Human teachers can only help the great work that is being done, as servants help the master. Doing so, they will be witness to the unfolding of the human soul and to the rising of a New Man who will not be a victim of events, but will have the clarity of vision to direct and shape the future of human society. — Maria Montessori (1946, pp. 3-4)
If John Dewey was the father of progressive education, Dottoressa Maria Montessori was the mother. Montessori was born on August 31, 1870, in Chiaravalle, Italy, to well-educated and prosperous parents. A precocious child, at age 13 she began a seven-year study of science and engineering at Regia Scuola Tecnica Michelangelo Buonarroti. Uninspired by the curriculum or the instruction there, Montessori determined to study medicine at the University of Rome. Initially she was denied entrance because she was a woman, but eventually she was allowed to enroll, and finally, in 1896, she received her degree and became the first female physician in Italy. After postdoctoral study of psychology and philosophy, Montessori went on to become a professor of anthropology at the University of Rome in 1904.
In 1906, Montessori began to study and teach mentally and emotionally retarded students in Rome. Her interest in what we now term special education lured her from higher education. She said, “I felt that mental deficiency presented chiefly a pedagogical problem rather than a medical one” (1946, p. 4). As director of the state-run Scuola Ortofrenica (School of the Disabled), Montessori’s effectiveness with special needs children was termed the “Montessori Miracle.” Montessori soon founded Casa de Bambini (Children’s House) in Rome, where the Montessori method developed (Shepard, 1996). Simplified, the method is progressive: The teacher pays attention to the child, not the child to the teacher; imaginative and authentic teaching materials and student-sized furniture are used; activities are generated to develop children’s social skills, emotional growth, physical coordination, and cognitive acuity; and baric, chromatic, motor, and other sensory exercises promote the “self-creating” process. Moreover, the child proceeds at his own pace in this controlled environment, and materials are self-correcting, so that students check and revise their own work.
Montessori’s popularity brought her to the Netherlands, where she founded the AMI—Association Montessori Internationale in Amsterdam, and to England, where she met Mahatma Gandhi, who asked her to “Indianize” her method of “controlled chaos!” It is interesting that Montessori was invited to share her methods with over 1,000 teachers in Madras, Ahmedabad, Karachi, and Bombay, all in India, during World War II. Montessori Schools multiplied, and Montessori’s lecture tours found her in Europe, South America, and Africa. Early on, she brought her vision to the United States, where she was awarded celebrity status. Montessori lectured twice at Carnegie Hall in New York City. None other than John Dewey made the introductions to standing-room-only audiences.
Montessori was a disciple of Dewey. They both believed that learning is best achieved by doing, and growth is achieved through purposeful interaction with the environment. Montessori wrote, “We especially need imagination in science. It is not all mathematics, nor all logic, but is somewhat beauty and poetry” (Mitchell, 1896, p. 205). In the same vein, Dewey wrote, “Every great advance in science has issued from a new audacity of Imagination” (Dewey, 1929, p. 310).
Yet, despite their similarities, Dewey and Montessori had differences that put a cloud over her theories. He criticized her methods as being too rigorous and urged that children not be taught to read before age eight. He was concerned that homework was not regularly assigned in Montessori Schools and that, if it were given, it would be hard to design, as students’ homes might not have the apparatuses available at their schools. Arguments on either side may be drawn, but today Montessori Schools exist all over the world. She retired to Noordwijk Aan Zee in Holland and died in her garden, at age 82, from a vascular incident. It is ironic that Montessori and Dewey both died in 1952.
Lev Semenovich Vygotsky
Learning awakens a variety of internal developmental processes that are able to operate only when the child is interacting with people in his environment and in cooperation with his peers. — Lev Semenovich Vygotsky (1978, p. 90)
In 1896, when Dewey was opening the laboratory schools where group work was fostered as a meaningful way to learn, another teacher was born in present-day Belarus, a place that would later become part of the USSR. A Russian educational psychologist, Lev Semenovich Vygotsky was recognized early on to be a brilliant and original thinker, and his novel ideas about teaching and learning were respected by the intelligentsia within the Soviet Union. At that time, progressive educators were attempting to reform education in prerevolutionary Russia. School and Society, Dewey’s masterpiece, had been translated into Russian and was widely read by progressives, who drew on him for inspiration. This, in itself, provides a foundation for a Dewey-Vygotsky connection. Further, in 1928, Dewey visited Second Moscow University, where Vygotsky was a highly respected young psychologist. Prawatt (2004) made a strong circumstantial case that both Vygotsky and his compatriot, Blonsky, actually met with Dewey at the university. To strengthen the connection, we may take into consideration that Dewey posited that humans are only human through their social interconnectedness, and Vygotsky and Dewey concur that the human condition is based in social interactions. Moreover, their combined major works are Darwinian in research methodology and pedagogy.
Vygotsky spent his short life in Marxist Russia, but his theories did not conform to the Communist ideology. The Soviet government banned the publication of Vygotsky’s work after his untimely death from tuberculosis in 1934. Unfortunately, Vygotsky’s work remained in obscurity until his books were discovered at Harvard University and printed in the West during the 1960s.
Vygotsky’s views on teaching and learning are founded on the Darwinian premise that human intelligence is not a fixed characteristic but, instead, a dynamic entity that can be enhanced by social interaction and collaborative work. Central to Vygotsky’s views on learning is the belief that knowledge is not directly transferable from teacher to learner. Rather, through social interaction, the learner constructs his own meaning. This constitutes the theoretical basis for cooperative learning, a method that has now found favor throughout the United States, Canada, and many other countries around the world.
To comprehend Vygotsky’s views as they relate to cooperative learning, it is necessary to understand his concept of the zone of proximal development (ZPD) (Lee & Smagorinsky, 2000). The ZPD may be described as the dynamic range of intelligence that characterizes any individual. If we were to envision two concentric circles, or double rings, then the large space in the center of the inner ring would represent an individual’s current developmental ability to solve a problem while working alone. This area or zone may be likened to what would be measured by an intelligence test. The space between the first and second rings represents where an individual solves a problem when being guided or coached by a more capable peer or a teacher. This, according to Vygotsky, represents the ZPD. As individuals solve problems with assistance, this zone is expanded, and another ring encircles and defines a new ZPD. What did lie within the original ZPD has been subsumed into the center, and now the expanded, current developmental level of abilities (the widened center of the circle) is encircled by a new and enlarged ZPD. Naturally, there are problems that cannot be solved despite the best help from others, and some tasks lie outside of the individual’s current zone of development. However, those tasks remain proximal and may or may not be completed with more assistance.
My mind was really opened when I went to Harvard College and had the opportunity to study under individuals… who were creating knowledge about human beings. —Howard Gardner (Schaerer, 1999, p. 6)
A prominent leader in the field of education and brain research, Howard Gardner has investigated extensively and documented cross-cultural studies on human intelligence. Gardner employs anthropological methods, and his research reflects a respect for scientific inquiry, the value of experience, and an acceptance of change that was intrinsic in the work of Darwin and Dewey. Considered to be a “new” progressive, Gardner has revealed, “My universe was framed by Dewey” (1991, p. 314). Currently a psychologist and professor at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, Gardner developed the theory of multiple intelligences. In Frames of Mind, published in 1983, Gardner theorized that there were seven equally important components of intelligence. In 1999, an additional component of intelligence was introduced, and recently Gardner revealed a ninth intelligence.
Traditionally, intelligence has been seen as cognitive capacity, established at birth, fixed and uniform across a lifetime. Like Darwin, Dewey, Vygotsky, and others, Gardner disputes that intelligence is fixed, and his research illustrates that individuals exhibit unique variations of intelligence. If we were asked who is most intelligent— William Shakespeare, Albert Einstein, Salvador Dali, Barack Obama, Jesse Owens, Igor Stravinsky, or H. James Birx—we would be prone to name Shakespeare or Einstein. Our own thinking, however, tells us that all of the individuals listed are gifted in their respective fields, and they exhibit superior mental abilities in the areas of language, mathematics, art, leadership, athletics, music, and philosophical anthropology. Inappropriately, intelligence was and continues to be measured in terms of verbal-linguistic and logical-mathematical concepts. Most schools test students’ competencies through the administration of short-answer standardized tests. Often, students qualify or fail to qualify for gifted programs on the basis of these largely verbal and mathematical scores. However, Gardner suggests that educators broaden their traditional and narrow conception of giftedness.
Gardner conducted his research through intensive interviews and in-depth analyses of the brain function of hundreds of subjects, including stroke victims, prodigies, autistic individuals, and individuals who are classified under the heading of “autistic savant.” While involved in Harvard University’s Project Zero, Gardner studied the cognitive development of average, gifted, and braindamaged children. As a result, Gardner views intelligence as consisting of three specific components: (1) ability to invent a useful product or offer a service that is valued within a culture, (2) skill to solve real-life problems, and (3) potential to find or postulate new problems for consideration in the light of new knowledge.
Gardner delineates his theory of pluralistic intelligence into ways of knowing. Criteria for identifying the existence of intelligence are grounded in neuroanatomy, developmental psychology, cognitive psychology, anthropology, and education. An intelligence, therefore, has a developmental pattern and a base in the physiology of the brain; it is ignited by stimuli native to the particular intelligence, and it depicts ideas in a universally symbolic manner, as with music, words, or formulas. To date, Gardner has revealed nine intelligences, of which two, intrapersonal intelligence and interpersonal intelligence, are person-related. Four others—mathematical-logical, visual-spatial, naturalist, and bodily-kinesthetic intelligences—are object-related in that they are activated by objects in the environment. Three others, verbal-linguistic, musical-rhythmic, and existentialist intelligences are not connected to objects or persons.
Gardner hypothesized that individuals are born with and possess a unique compilation of all nine intelligences that may be enhanced through experience and effort. Realistically, students learn more readily when instruction is geared to their strongest intelligences. Gardner’s understandings have had an immediate and dramatic effect on how curriculum is designed and delivered. Educators are internalizing a more flexible and progressive perception of intellectual development, and they are striving to incorporate some of the intelligences into each of their lessons as entry points to facilitate learning. Teachers who construct brain-compatible classrooms anticipate making future contributions resulting from the research of Gardner, who theorized that intelligence is definitely not fixed at birth.
According to Gardner (1983) himself, “Much of what I write about can be identified with the educational tradition of John Dewey—with what has been called progressive or neo-progressive tradition” (p. 3). Simply stated, where Dewey argued that problem solving is the essentia of thought, Gardner frames intelligence around solving real-world problems and creative production.
A believer in cooperative learning as a mechanism for understanding, Gardner would agree that, when assigning problems for cooperative learning groups to solve, it is essential that they be at the outermost area of Vygotsky’s ZPD for the most capable students in the group, thus allowing everyone on the team to be challenged to devise a solution. The newly discovered knowledge is shared within the group by a process that is often termed scaffolding. Scaffolding involves reaching out and sometimes down to assist another member of the group. Cooperative learning groups are progressive, and students are encouraged to share experiences and participate in their own learning. In effective cooperative learning settings, thought is continually being expressed through language, and students are engaged in a social-constructivist process, creating concepts through conversation. Teachers fill the role of facilitator, circulating among the learners to provide assistance as needed. Cooperative learning classes minimize the time that students spend sitting passively and taking notes while their teacher solves problems for them. Conversely, cooperative learning classes maximize the time that students spend interacting to solve problems for themselves. Gardner would concur that a sense of optimism, hope, and power is infused in us when we realize that what children can do with assistance today, they can do independently tomorrow.
We might ask again, why is there so strong a resemblance between anthropological methodology and educational methodology? Was it coincidental that educational practice underwent a revolution after the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species in 1859? No, it was not a coincidence. It is evident that Darwin’s evolutionary framework had intense and powerful impact upon scholars throughout time, scholars who influenced their protégés who, in turn, influenced others. “The influence of Darwin upon philosophy resides in his having conquered the phenomena of life for the principle of transition, and thereby freed the new logic for application to mind and morals and life” (Dewey, 1910, pp. 8-9). The new logic inspired John Dewey to invest in schools as centers for social responsibility and interaction, thus providing the intersection of education and anthropology. Darwin’s understanding of the earth and its populations as ever evolving and never fixed in nature underlie the philosophies of Dewey, Xingzhi, Montessori, Vygotsky, and Gardner. Darwin’s philosophies are found at the heart of anthropological and educational thought and practice. Both anthropologists and educators enthusiastically welcome change. Instead of debating the legitimacy of their theories, they progress. As researchers, they are task specific, and they anticipate the further evolution of science and technology, as well as psychology and neuropsychology. Educators are cognizant of the impact that Darwin has had upon their methodology and pedagogy down through the generations.
It stands to reason that if humankind evolves, then its intelligence will evolve and expand through experience. Anthropology is both a mirror and a window for education. The mirror reflects our common humanity: our wants, our needs, our desires, our conflicts, and our resolutions. As such, anthropology reflects the human condition and offers the tools to ensure our survival as a species. The window opens to the future. And it all began with Darwin!