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A Tribute to Howard Gardner

The prominent psychologist and originator of the theory of multiple intelligences will retire at the end of this academic year.
Howard Gardner

An eminent scholar, psychologist, and educator, Professor Howard Gardner is best known for his theory of multiple intelligences, which suggests that human intelligence should be differentiated into modalities, rather than be accepted as a general ability. Part of the original team of researchers at Project Zero when it was established by Nelson Goodman in 1967, Gardner went on to become co-director, then senior director, a position he continues to hold today. His research with Project Zero includes The Good Project, which promotes "excellence, engagement, and ethics in education, preparing students to become good workers and good citizens who contribute to the overall well-being of society," and Higher Education in the 20th Century, a large-scale national study of college today.

Gardner will be retiring from teaching at the end of this academic year. To mark the occasion, his Project Zero colleagues, Mindy Kornhaber, Ed.M.'88, Ed.M.'90, Ed.D.'97, and Mara Krechevsky, pay tribute:

On Howard Gardner's Retirement

By Mindy Kornhaber, Ed.M.'88, Ed.M.'90, Ed.D.'97

In 1987, I entered HGSE intending to override my prior studies in music and creative writing with a quick credential for the field that employed me: higher ed administration. But something went terribly right. Thanks to a new shuffle of fall courses, I could take Creativity, taught by somebody named Howard Gardner.

From the podium of 100 Longfellow Hall (now Askwith), Howard launched a fleet of mind-opening questions: In what ways might creativity be an attribute of individuals or result from an interplay of individuals within larger social systems? How might we compare the creative orchestration of a Mozart symphony with that of an enjoyable dinner party? What is a creative product? A creative process? How do creativity and intelligence intersect? That first class sparked what Howard calls a crystallizing moment: My trajectory was reset. Instead of returning to higher ed administration, I soon launched my scholarly career under Howard’s aegis.

Because Howard stands far to the fox side of the fox-hedgehog divide, his research portfolio is packed with illuminating responses (e.g., 30 solo-authored books, 496 scholarly articles) to questions about human cognition and its development, ideally toward pro-social ends: How do symbolic capacities develop across domains of human problem solving? What happens to symbolic capacities after brain injury? What is intelligence? What is disciplinary understanding, and how can it be fostered? What forms of assessment best advance understanding? What characteristics mark the minds of leaders? How is technology influencing young people’s thinking about themselves and others? How is liberal arts education functioning in higher education, and how might it function better? How can the essential qualities of good work — excellence, engagement, and ethics — be instilled?

Howard’s answers to such questions have enlightened so many minds that he was chosen for the inaugural cohort of MacArthur Fellows, has received 30 honorary degrees, and has been honored by two eponymous schools. He’s also been named one of the most influential thinkers in U.S. education, one of the world’s leading public intellectuals, and a “global guru” of business management.

Howard’s many accomplishments are partly attributable to his self-described synthesizing mind, one that forges insights by bridging disciplines: psychology, the arts, education, neuroscience, philosophy, history, and business. In addition, he operates at “Howard’s speed” (page turning is reading), with a peerless work ethic (every day is a writing day) and planning prowess (aided by a folded list he continually consults and his assistants who regularly retool his schedule). He has also hired and trained junior researchers, positioning them to contribute to big questions. Along the way, Howard has proven his case to 49 funders — from the Andy Warhol Foundation to the Veterans Administration — who’ve provided 98 awards, totaling 367 years of support, or nearly seven-times the length of his 52-year career.

Yet, Howard has exceeded expectations by fulfilling at least eight professional roles. He is a gifted researcher and writer; a teacher dedicated to generating students’ understanding; an unparalleled mentor, who guides younger researchers, students, and staff with specific feedback and advice (“These reviewers’ comments aren’t unusually horrible. Focus on what’s useful in them.”); a leader who models the highest standards for productivity, quality, and ethics; an organization builder, who, with David Perkins, grew Project Zero from a team of three in 1967 to scores of teams whose work has worldwide influence on education writ large; a strong collaborator, whose engagement sustains productive research relationships over many years; and a local, national, and global citizen, who has given time and ideas to numerous educational institutions, scholarly societies, and arts organizations.

Howard, in all his many roles, was celebrated in a collective labor of love by 116 contributors to a Festchrift for his 70th birthday, which his wife, Ellen Winner, and I co-edited. The contributors spanned four continents and four generations, including two of Howard’s Harvard teachers and several of his youngest collaborators. Their essays reflected on Howard’s life and scholarship, how these have inspired their own endeavors and, in turn, influenced their colleagues, students, and families.  And so, Howard’s legacy of extraordinarily good work will continue around the world and far into the future.

A Limerick in Honor of Howard Gardner’s Retirement

By Mara Krechevsky

For Howard at HGSE  
A soon-to-be retiree.  
Do we think he’ll slow down?  
This scholar of renown  
When a lifelong learner he be?

I doubt he will come to “full stop”  
Unless we remove his desktop.  
This MacArthur Fellow  
Not well-known for mellow  
A “global guru” at the top.

Eight smarts, five minds, and three E’s  
Plus 30 honorary degrees.  
Thirty books he has penned  
But that’s hardly the end  
Now he blogs to share his theories.

A truth, beauty, and goodness fan  
He connects dots wherever he can.  
Guides grad students and staff,  
Shows he cares, makes them laugh  
He’s a word-playing, quip-saying man.

To Harvard and GSE too  
Howard often gives more than his due.  
With Dave Perkins he led  
Project Zero ahead  
To link theory and practice anew.

Higher ed is now his concern  
From diverse voices he’s eager to learn.  
Do goals and values align?  
Shall we redesign?  
What insights are still to discern?   

To schools his wisdom he’ll lend  
To museums an eternal friend.  
To science and art  
He gives mind and heart  
The perfect Renaissance blend.


1972–present  Becomes co-director, then senior director, of Project Zero

1981  Awarded the MacArthur Prize fellowship

1983  Proposed his theory of multiple intelligences in the seminal work, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences

1986  Joins the faculty of Harvard Graduate School of Education

1990  First American to receive the University of Louisville's Grawemeyer Award in Education

1991  Becomes adjunct professor of psychology at Harvard University

1992  Receives honorary doctorate — the first of 31 honorary degrees — from Curry College

1996  Co-founded the GoodWork Project — now the Good Project — with psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and William Damon

1998  Named the John H. and Elisabeth A. Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at HGSE

2000  Awarded a fellowship from the John S. Guggenheim Memorial Foundation

2005  Selected by Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines as one of 100 most influential public intellectuals in the world. (Named for a second time in 2008.)

2011  Receives the Prince of Asturias Award for Social Sciences

2015  Awarded the Brock International Prize in Education

2019  Presents initial findings from study, Higher Education in the 21st Century, during a three-part lecture series at the Ed School


  • The App Generation: How Today's Youth Navigate Identity, Intimacy, and Imagination in a Digital World (2013)
  • Truth, Beauty, and Goodness Reframed: Educating for the Virtues in the Era of Truthiness and Twitter (2011)
  • Responsibility at Work: How Leading Professionals Act (or Don't Act) Responsibly (2007)
  • Five Minds for the Future (2007)
  • Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons (2006)
  • Development and Education of the Mind (2006)
  • Changing Minds (2006)
  • Making Good: How Young People Cope with Moral Dilemmas at Work (2004)
  • GoodWork: Theory and Practice (2001)
  • Good Work: When Excellence and Ethics Meet (2001)
  • The Disciplined Mind: Beyond Facts and Standardized Tests, the K-12 Education that Every Child Deserves (1999)
  • Intelligence Reframed: Multiple Intelligences for the 21st Century (1999)
  • Extraordinary Minds: Portraits of Four Exceptional Individuals and an Examination of Our Own Extraordinariness (1997)
  • Practical Intelligence for School (1997)
  • Leading Minds: An Anatomy of Leadership (1995)
  • Intelligence: Multiple Perspectives (1995)
  • Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice (1993)
  • Creating Minds: An Anatomy of Creativity (1993)
  • The Unschooled Mind: How Children Think and How Schools Should Teach (1991)
  • Art Education and Human Development (1990)
  • To Open Minds (1989)
  • The Mind’s New Science: A History of the Cognitive Revolution (1985)
  • Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (1983)
  • Art, Mind, & Brain: A Cognitive Approach to Creativity (1982)
  • Artful Scribbles: The Significance of Children’s Drawings (1980)
  • Developmental Psychology: An Introduction (1979)
  • The Shattered Mind: Person After Brain Damage (1975)
  • The Arts and Human Development (1973)
  • The Quest for Mind: Piaget, Levi-Strauss, and the Structuralist Movement (1973)
  • Man and Men: Social Psychology as Social Science (1970)

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