"Correspondents Peter Jennings and Bill Blakemore attempted to
reveal how educators, administrators, communities and parents can help students realize
their unique talents and learning abilities in an ABC News Special entitled "Common
Miracles: The New American Revolution in Learning. The documentary features interviews
with instructors, principals, psychologists, parents and students and focuses on methods
and schools which provide their students with freedom and options through education.
Jennings and Blakemore go on location to schools across the nation. They find that
traditional education - including tracking, factory model schools, and IQ-based
assessment-is being replaced with cooperative learning, the use of computers,
apprenticeships, parent and community involvement, and the philosophy that every child is
gifted and all children will learn. "Common Miracles" "exposes" the
ultimate goal of educational revolution: to "liberate the human potential in all
Americans." "- Academic
According to the documentary "Common Miracles" as we learn our brains
are continually changing, expanding dendrite connections and increasing our innate
potential and ability to acquire new knowledge. Hence the acquisition of knowledge and
mental skills itself is a key factor in the development of our innate intelligence
throughout our life.
The "concept" of IQ (Intelligence Quotient) is rejected in favor of a more
"holistic" view of intelligence that addresses skills or "multiple intelligences" in the
The ability to perceive and make distinctions in the moods, intentions, motivations
and feelings of other people. The ability to interact with others, understand them and
interpret their behavior. Interpersonal intelligence and intrapersonal intelligence are
"inextricably" interconnected since true self knowledge requires a sensitivity
to others and vice versa. Interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences are often found
strongly developed in politicians, religious leaders, therapists, shamans, etc.
ability to comprehend shapes and images in three dimensions. Spatial intelligence is often
relied upon by designers, architects, sculptors, engineers, etc.. It is also the
"more abstract intelligence of a chess master, a battlefield commander or a
theoretical physicist", as well as the familiar ability to recognize objects, faces
and details. A sharp distinction can be seen between visual acuity and spatial ability.
For example, a blind person may feel and identify a shape with ease, but be unable to see
it. Males typically score more highly than females in this category of intelligence.
Expertise in using ones body to express ideas and feelings as well as the
facility to handle objects skillfully. Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence involves the
control of movement to exhibit fine motor control and characteristics such as grace,
balance and agility. It involves a natural sense of how ones body should act and
react in a demanding physical situation, including a sense of timing, a clear sense of
goal and the ability to train responses so they become "automatic". Often
dancers and actors will talk about a "feeling in their bodies"- an intelligence
unto itself yet integrated with ones entire being.
capacity to perceive, compose, discriminate, transform and express musical forms (rhythm,
pitch, harmony, timbre, etc.). Musical ability functions according to Gardner like an
intelligence- what composers call logical musical thinking- thinking involving both left
and right hemispheres.
capacity to use words effectively, either orally or in writing. A well developed
linguistic intelligence shows itself in attention to word, syntax and style. Linguistic
intelligence embodies both left and right hemispheric processing of language- both
language in a linear sense and language in the enfolded, holistic sense. Students with a
high degree of linguistic intelligence think in words, learn by listening, reading and
verbalizing. They enjoy writing, reading, telling stories, poetry, books, records, tapes,
etc. They learn best by saying, hearing and seeing words.
The ability to mentally process logical problems and mathematical equations. Examples
of such reasoning might include a mathematician working through the implications of a
theorem or a reader unraveling a mystery story. According to Gardner, the most successful
application of logical-mathematical intelligence is the scientific method as applied for
example, in the work of Newton, Einstein and other great scientists. Logical /mathematical
intelligence often does not require verbal articulation. However, mathematicians, for
example, must be able to not only reason precisely, but also write down their proofs with
precision. Piaget stages of mental development- from handling objects, thinking concretely
about objects and then understanding formal abstract relations and operations- document
the growth of this intelligence in children. Whatever their walk of life and academic
background, people gifted with this intelligence will enjoy intellectual puzzles and
intellectual discovery- whether they are chess players, mechanics, CPAs or
scientists at the frontiers of new knowledge.
Intelligence: It recognizes those who thrive on identifying
1999) and classifying things in nature. Naturalists identify and
classify birds, plants, stars. Kids who love dinosaurs know all the long
names and descriptions. This is the intelligence that helped our ancestors
decide what to eat and what to run away from, and led Charles Darwin to
envision The Origin of Species (Meyer,
In the past schools have placed emphasis on
the verbal/analytical/mathematical aspects of intelligence and have either ignored,
denigrated or simply placed greatly reduced emphasis on the other aspects of intelligence.
By teaching to multiple intelligences, students should show, among other things:
||Increased independence, responsibility and self
||Reduced behavioral problems at school and home. |
||Improved cooperative skills. |
||Increased ability to work "multimodally"
(use multiple intelligences), when doing school reports, multimedia projects, etc. |
||Improved leadership skills. |
||Retain information better. |
By ignoring the full potential of the human
brain, schools have denied students the ability to utilize all of their aptitudes and
innate abilities, often resulting in reduced student satisfaction, learning frustration
and even discipline problems. In addition, failing to recognize a students full
potential may result in an escalating cycle of sub-par student performance and lessened
The documentary spends some time examining the Key School, a school where every
child is recognized as being gifted. This school emphasizes learning how to learn
and think (metacognition), development of concentration skills (flow) and a
multi-disciplinary approach to learning where skills learned in one area are readily
transferred to another area. All aspects of human intelligence, as outlined above, are
emphasized and all are tapped into in the learning experience. Children, for example, with
skills in music and art are actively encouraged to develop those skills further and
transfer their success approaches in music to other areas. Children with spatial abilities
are similarly encouraged and challenged. Games are made an active part of the learning
process and students are encouraged to use the skills acquired in mastering games to more
"traditional" academic areas. High student expectations and standards are
considered critical to student success.
The Daniel Webster School is an example of a school for economically disadvantaged
students that uses the techniques found in the so-called gifted/accelerated programs.
Results have been extremely encouraging and belie the approach that tracks students,
especially disadvantaged youth in programs that set low expectations and limit their
potential to grow and learn.
The emphasis of schools should be in the development of HOT skills (Higher Order Thinking
Skills). Teaching should be "incomplete" and in some sense
"Socratic"-allowing the students to discover their own truths and actively
participate in the learning experience. Students should be allowed to fail- controlled
floundering if you will. Cooperative problem solving and joint learning experiences should
be encouraged in the classroom. Computer based instruction, while by no means replacing
the teacher, can be a valuable tool in individualized, controlled instruction.
In todays rapidly changing world, "learning how to learn" is one of the
key skills schools can impart to students. Instruction in core moral and ethnic values are
still important in school and include integrity, respect for cultural and ethnic
differences, the desire to act wisely and feel deeply, good citizenship, etc. Teachers and
parents as role models instill values as much by their day to day actions and words than
by direct instruction in what is right and wrong.
Great teachers, principals and involved communities are important to creating successful
school environments. Parent Power is important if students are to succeed in the
classroom. Studies have shown that involved parents make a big difference in their
childs performance in the classroom. Increasingly, as in Lowell, Mass., parents are
being offered the choice of which public school their children may attend. Schools can be
selected based on their childs abilities and interest. Businesses that offer
apprenticeship programs and "real life" business experiences can be invaluable
to students for acquiring new skills and motivation to complete their education.
To revamp American schools and free them from traditional, outdated models that do not
reflect how children really learn will require persistence, the willingness to explore new
ideas and community involvement. The pay off, greatly improving our childrens life
chances and options is more than worth the fight.
The views expressed below are my own, and do
not necessarily reflect those of the producers or writers of the
"Common Miracles" documentary. My views are shaped by my
teaching experiences, both in regular and special education.
Practical Reform. Four other reforms are critical if American education
is to be truly revamped. First, the number of Charter Schools must be significantly
increased and allowed greater independence from the school bureaucracies. Second, parents
should be given a free choice on how their education tax monies are spent. This will bring
competition to what is now a "protected monopoly." Finally, further efforts will
be needed to dismantle tenured school system bureaucracies at all levels- bureaucracies that stifle innovation
and all to often crush students and teachers alike. Attendant with these reforms should be
teacher salaries comparable to other professionals, schools that become healthy
communities that serve as models for the larger society, better funded schools that are
permeated with applied technology and true student centered learning. It is also important
that elementary, middle and high schools attract professionals, both male and female, from
teaching and other fields- proven professionals who can awaken young minds and
help children imagine what they CAN do, not what they CAN'T.
Further, we must not forget the needs of our children with learning disabilities
and severe handicaps. Their needs demand: (1) Significantly higher teacher to student
ratios; (2) State of the art computer, voice and information technology; (3) A strong team
of allied professionals, including speech pathologists, school psychologists,
educational therapists, occupational therapists and mental health professionals who have a
holistic view of the child; (4) Comfortable, creative and stimulating learning environments and (5)
Caring volunteers that provide individualized support and care. Strong parent support and
interest is crucial if the child is to retain his or her self esteem in the classroom and
Finally, quality education does require adequate
funding and strong community support. Decaying physical plants, grossly overworked and
underpaid teachers, overcrowded classrooms, outdated technology, parent and community
indifference, poor school health and nutrition programs, etc. do not make happy or
productive schools. All of these adverse conditions are particularly hard on
our learning disabled students, see: "Silence
is Not Golden."
There has been much local, state and federal
discussion of accountability in education. I strongly disagree
with the mindset that de-emphasizes the importance of raising
standardized test scores in schools with poorer students (Title 1
Schools). However, we must strenuously avoid "teaching to the
test," thereby diminishing its' validity and disturbing the
balance in a child's education. Further, when assessing the academic
progress of a child with a learning disability, the effect of that
disability on his or her standardized test results must carefully
weighed along with other factors. Yet, for any learner- a positive,
creative and academically challenging classroom environment coupled
with strong parental support and meaningful efforts to bolster
self-esteem can produce significant improvements, not only in test
scores, but, far more importantly, in their self-worth and
confidence as a lifetime learner.