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Pub Story 2014-10-9 Independent Schools and Students Leading the Way
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{HeadLines} October 2014, Vol. 2 
Independent Schools & Students Leading the Way: 2014 SAIS Annual Conference Keynote Speaker Introduction


Remarks given by Damian Kavanagh

We are in an interesting time in our nation’s education history where we are emphasizing both the content of learning and the skills needed to thrive in an interconnected future. Nearly thirty years ago, Howard Gardner gave us the term “multiple intelligences” and championed the idea of modalities of learning: verbal-linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial-visual, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, naturalist, and existential intelligence. While Gardner names nine intelligences, he argued that, “each individual possesses a unique blend of all the intelligences.”

Gardner wrote an article in The Atlantic in the late 90’s, fittingly called “Who Owns Intelligence,” where he traced the evolving understanding of the concept of intelligence, starting in Paris at the turn of the last century with the creation of the first IQ scale, he takes us through debates by psychometricians and psychologists about the validity of the tests that have been used and about whether intelligence is singular or multiple. He gets us closer to the present day by mentioning Emotional intelligence, Moral Intelligence, leadership intelligence, executive intelligence, and financial intelligence. Gardner says:

Owing to the accidents of heredity, environment, and their interactions, no two of us exhibit the same intelligences in precisely the same proportions. Our "profiles of intelligence" differ from one another. This fact poses intriguing challenges and opportunities for our education system. We can ignore these differences and pretend that we are all the same; historically, that is what most education systems have done. Or we can fashion an education system that tries to exploit these differences, individualizing instruction and assessment as much as possible.

According to Gardner, three challenges are laid before us: defining intelligence, assessing intelligence, and discovering the relationship between intelligence and the qualities we actually value. 

We have seen a shift in our thoughts in the last five years or so with Carol Dweck’s work on the fixed and growth mindset and neuroscience clearly demonstrating the elasticity of the brain. We have benefited from Pat Bassett’s descriptions of creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, communication, character, and cosmopolitanism. The Commission on Accreditation came up with a relatively similar list in its 2010 Guide to Becoming a School of the Future and in describing the value narrative, we at SAIS use a list derived from analysis of school mission statements: creativity, ethics, curiosity, resilience, teamwork, time management. 

Three years ago from this stage, Rush Kidder talked about the dilemmas of right vs. right and introduced many of us to the concept of the “trim tab” – that tiny little rudder on the end of a big rudder. Rush said, “the big rudder itself is too large to turn a big ocean liner – the trim tab turns the rudder that turns the whole ship.” His analogy was that independent schools are the trim tab of education. Innovation in the 21st century comes from us. He was thinking about pedagogy and facilities planning and use of space and interconnectedness. But what is emerging at the core of what we see in public schools today is a focus on the skills of the future that mission driven independent schools have been talking about and doing since our inception. Imitation is the highest form of flattery and perhaps we should feel very flattered to see our colleagues in public and in charter schools trying to replicate what we do so very well.  We move easily between operational and aspirational and we know the value of the summative and formative growth opportunities. 

We were drawn to this year’s keynote speakers because of their work asking a question: who owns water? There is a long ranging dispute about the answer to this question in this region that dates to 1940’s and 1950’s and to the creation of the Buford Dam by the US Army Corps of Engineers. At the time, the controversy was led on one side by then Mayor of Atlanta William Hartsfield – the same Hartsfield after whom the airport is named – and on the other side by then Congressman Gerald Ford of Michigan – the same Gerald Ford who would later go on to be President. The question that surfaced then is still with us today – who owns water? Lake Lanier, Lake Allatoona, the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint River basin, and the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa basin all provide water to municipalities, businesses, and residents throughout three states – each of which has a claim on the water. 

Our speakers, David and Michael Hanson, floated the length of the waterway capturing vignettes and stories of the people directly impacted by the water wars. The problems encapsulated in Who Owns Water? are multivariate and will require multivariate solutions. The long-term answers will require creativity, ethics, curiosity, resilience, patience and above all collaboration. 

If independent education is the trim tab of all education in this country, then perhaps the methods of arriving at solutions will be the trim tab of how we engage with each other and focus on listening to each other’s stories. 

To continue the conversation, connect with us on Twitter, @SAISnews

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