Human beings are curious by nature. In that way, we are all anthropologists in the sense that we possess the universal trait of “curiosity.” From the time that a child asks his mother, “Where did I come from?” human beings question why we were made, why we were born, and where we will go. We exhibit curiosity about the origin of humankind and how our early ancestors communicated, interacted, and survived. We reach out to learn from whence we have come and how life has changed and evolved over time.
Originating from the Greek words, anthropos, meaning “human or man,” and logia, meaning “study,” the term anthropology defines itself. Anthropology, then, can be understood as the study of humankind from the dawn of man to the present day. It explores early and modern human beings and their cultures, comparing their ways of living and their ways of learning. Anthropology allows us to uncover the roots of our common existence and the sources of our differences. Essentially, anthropology seeks to understand the total premise of human existence from the study of culture and social relations, to human biology and evolution, to languages, to music, to art, to architecture, and to the vestiges of human habitation.
Imagine, for a moment, living in a vanilla world. Surrounded by vanilla flavors and colors, we would be at a loss to understand vanilla in that we would have no grasp of the color or the flavor, nor would we have any means to compare vanilla with chocolate. For the anthropologist, the diversity of humankind provides a colorful basis for understanding any single facet of life or learning in any given individual or community. Among other variables, anthropologists note diversifications in size, shape, language, culture and customs, garb, religion, and worldview.
The Link Between Education and Anthropology
Consider the close link between education and anthropology. Both fields share common roots in their desire to decipher the human experience and our history as a species. Our common interests include, among other things, time, change, creativity, and diversity. Time is a precious commodity. Man is subject to the passing of time. He has attempted to harness time, recording it, and giving it shape and meaning. Time is the tooth that gnaws. Today’s educators create curriculum guidelines, and, working against the clock, parcel out time for instruction to prepare for testing and assessment, certification and graduation. How much time is necessary for learning to take place remains a key question. Similarly, change or evolution is key to the anthropologist and to the educator in terms of history, immediacy, and destiny. Jean Baptiste Monet de Lamarck noted that traits are acquired through use and disuse. Simply stated, traits that are not used fall away, and traits that are used develop, thrive, and evolve. In education, effective teaching strategies are preserved, while less effective strategies are discarded. Over time, change and evolution are apparent in physical traits as well as in knowledge and educational processes.
Creativity has its origin in our primate ancestors. They were the ones who began using and later fashioning crude implements in order to simplify their lives. As an emergent species, man retained this ability and through our enhanced brain, imagined and designed better and more useful tools. Education is furthered as a result of imagination and creativity on even the most basic classroom level. At the classroom level, teachers are challenged to work with diverse populations, thus necessitating creative and imaginative approaches to delivering curriculum. New and innovative ideas for presenting information not only keep the course of study interesting for the student but also refresh the material for the educator. As each child comes to the classroom with his own history, belief system, and learning issues, it is inherent in the responsibilities of the teacher to diagnose and prescribe programming ranging from remediation to acceleration. Educating the public is a daunting task. While externally, it may seem that education and anthropology diverge, in application, they function in the same way; to better understand the human condition. Understanding our beginnings in both the anthropological and educational sense is an effective way to enrich our lives. Anthropologists have alerted us as to how our own culture has shaped our lives. To exclude others’ cultures from our lives, or the lives of the students being taught, is a detriment to our society. Because our culture is changing and will continue to change, a cross-cultural environment open to curiosity, creativity, diversity, and tolerance is needed in American schools.
Areas of Anthropology
Traditionally, anthropology explores four main areas or branches that focus on how our species evolved and revealed the differing strata of the human experience. The four areas may be classified as: (1) physical or biological, (2) archaeological, (3) cultural or social, and (4) linguistic. With the exception of physical anthropology, anthropology centers on self-initiated human characteristics. A fifth area, (5) is termed applied anthropology. Education is one aspect of applied anthropology that delves into the teaching/learning dynamic and is of paramount importance in the schools.
Physical and Biological Anthropology
Physical and biological anthropology supplement one another and assist in the study of our animal origins, evolutionary development, and genetic diversity. It is concerned with understanding the way humans have evolved from their hominid ancestors as well as the extent to which we share genetic characteristics with primates such as the great apes (gorillas and chimpanzees). This branch of anthropology extends to a study of human variations, human nature, and how people adapt to different environments. Of great interest to educators is the attempt to understand the evolution of the brain and the nervous system and how it impacts teaching and learning.
Archaeologists have been able to unearth human artifacts that go back almost 3 million years. From cave dwellers, to ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt, to 21st-century America, archaeologists analyze, interpret, and evaluate small pieces or fragments of objects to determine their origins and their history. These researchers study cave paintings, pictographs, discarded stone tools, earthenware vessels, religious figurines, and baskets from long ago, many in tatters, remnants of ancient societies. Information gathered is evidence of our past, preceding and complementing the human record written in alphabets and books. Archaeology is of critical importance in the field of resource management and to governments interested in preserving architectural, historical, cultural, and thus, our educational heritage.
Cultural and Social Anthropology
Considered the largest branch of anthropology, cultural and social anthropology, simply stated, seeks to describe and analyze human knowledge, values, and learned traditions that have been passed on from generation to generation by way of words, concepts and symbols. A subdiscipline, termed ethnography, is practiced by anthropologists who venture out to observe, compare, and interpret what they see and hear as they study various cultures and societies, resulting in an understanding of behaviors that, on the surface, may seem bizarre or without meaning. Ethnology, a comparative and theoretical branch of anthropology, is concerned with cultures in their traditional forms and in their adaptations to ever-changing conditions in modern society. Dimension is given to hypotheses and theories concerning causes of past and present cultural similarities and differences. Ethnology attempts to describe culture, custom, language, and structures of people and their products. A holistic approach to understanding, ethnology impacts significantly upon education by examining all aspects of the school community as a whole in order to have a global understanding of students’ institutional and instructional needs and desires. Moreover, by understanding each culture in its uniqueness, educators may ascertain students’ different learning styles based upon their cultural back-grounds. Educators who desire to avoid the tendency to relate foreign customs to preconceptions embedded in their own cultures employ the holistic, multivariable collective process used by cultural and social anthropologists to understand their diverse school populations. As anthropologists analyze groups in distant settings in terms of material and economic conditions, social organization, intellectual life, and expressive traditions, so do teachers view students in these terms in order to address educational issues that relate to their students. Educators, like anthropologists, view learning in terms of individual process and collective behavior. It can be said that educators and anthropologists have very similar mind-sets. The perspective of anthropologists is to view and define societies as coherent wholes. Likewise, a teacher’s goal is to understand and influence individuals so that they may become whole, rational, and productive citizens.
Of great import to educators is linguistic anthropology. Language is the hallmark of our species. It is the responsibility of teachers to help transmit information across generations through written and verbal language. It is upon language that culture relies and within language that human knowledge resides. Linguistic anthropology attempts to trace the background of all languages spoken by human beings.
Anthropologists compare language forms and concern themselves with the relationship between the evolution of languages and the evolution of various cultures. Links between societies and contextual use and meanings of verbal concepts shed light on the social and political relationships among people being studied. Linguistic anthropologists work to make associations among language, brain, and behavior. Using their knowledge and insight derived from language study, anthropologists aim to understand the way people perceive, think about, and react to the world in which they live. Educators often behave as soci-olinguists to study the social forces inherent in language in order to more successfully instruct African American students who speak Ebonics, Hawaiian students who speak Pigeon, or other students who are learning English as a second language.
Applied anthropology is significant because it utilizes the findings of physical, archaeological, cultural, and linguistic studies to solve practical problems affecting the security, prosperity, health, and education of human beings within cultures. Applied anthropologists strive to discover the general principles of behavior that apply to differing human cultures and communities. From that perspective, education became an academic subfield of anthropology in the 1970s as it applies to different communities and cultures existing within the educational system. For example, students, parents, faculty, and administration represent different communities, and by using anthropological theories, we can understand the 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 an increase of diversity, special needs students, and 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. These concepts are critical as schools look to deal with conflict and promote positive intergroup relations. As anthropologists cut across disciplinary boundaries and question conventional wisdom, educators also cut across curricular boundaries to make relevant connections in order for students to achieve an understanding of and an appreciation for the human experience. With insight extracted from anthropologists, education and anthropology work together to alleviate behavioral difficulties, dropout rates, violence, and other negative influences that potentially impact upon the school, and ultimately, the individual.
Education cannot be reduced to simple information processing and the classification of knowledge. The objective of education is to assist learners to construct meaning. Making meaning requires an understanding of the prevailing culture, whether the subject is literature, social studies, or science. 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 this knowledge to improve student attitude and achievement.
Value of Anthropology to Education
The classroom environment is a microcosm of the larger society. There, students are active learners and participators within a framework of rules, codes, beliefs, and ethics. Teachers act like anthropologists in that they are asked to understand the “internal logic” of the classroom society. Teachers who develop an anthropological outlook foster a cooperative environment where students’ similarities and differences are accepted and their interdependence is recognized. The anthropological societies established by teachers embrace their diverse members and manifest 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, teaching, advocacy, and public service.
With this in mind, the connections between education and anthropology become extremely important, and the fields bear more in common than might be realized. Key skills that are taught and refined in the study of anthropology are germane to the study of education. These include seeking multiple perspectives, rational speculation, dialogue, scientific inquiry, analytical reading, data collection, comparing and contrasting, testing hypotheses, and applying theories. Attention is given to research methodology, logic and reasoning, detailed record keeping, and clear thinking. Notably, the analytical categories and processes that are used to understand tribal and small-scale societies can be useful in understanding the culture of schoolchildren and undergraduate students.
Anthropology has been applied to education dating back more than a century, when Hewett published his thoughts on education in the American Anthropologist. However, the connection between education and anthropology remains a relatively new frontier. To some degree, historically, the education profession revised old programs and practices, renewing and renaming them, and implementing them in what had been hoped to be a new way. A more anthropological 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 practice based on the research. Clearly, this approach precludes 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 will allow students to study in collaborative situations leading to social acceptance, self-discovery, and the ability to take risks within the learning environment. More and more, education and anthropology aspire to similar goals and utilize similar methods of research and discovery.
Mutual Goals Promote Diversity
One area of anthropological research that has had great impact on education and inspired great innovation is seen in the programs that have recently been incorporated in American schools to celebrate human diversity, multiculturalism, and ethnicity. Strides have been made not only in the way that we teach children about ethnicity and diversity but also in the way we instruct children from other cultures. One excellent example is in a New Jersey high school where a program was developed by the school counselor to inform students and staff about human rights and tolerance. As a student advocate, the counselor created a six-page booklet concerning diversity within the school. A tolerance and diversity committee was formed, resulting in attention to Human Rights Week, Martin Luther King’s birthday, Black History Month, Women in History Month, and workshops on “Critical Issues.” Nonetheless, research continues to reveal statistical data, case studies, and analyses of how many Black and other minority students have become under-achievers in the American educational system.
The complexity of humanity directs anthropologists and educators to work in concert. Equipped with a satchel of scientific and academic armaments, professionals are prepared to crack the smallest kernel of misinformation. Together, anthropologists and enlightened educators deploy devices such as scientific inquiry and logic and creative reasoning 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 United States 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 different despite not being similar in appearance, ability, or possessions.
Prejudice and ethnocentrism are the products of fear caused by a lack of knowledge and lack of 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 a precursor to positive interethnic relations. Melting-pot theorists predicted that as poor nations advanced in their development, ethnicity would become obsolete and peace would follow. This view was challenged by conflictual modernization theory, and development was seen for a time as a cause of conflict. As the world approached the 21st century, development was again considered to be a precondition for peace. Today, bias, prejudice, bigotry, conflict, and ethno-centrism continue to contaminate society, and these hazards trickle down into the classroom.
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 identify both naive and complex thinking as they focus either on conceptualizations or minutiae and detail. Helping children to question situations may make a student successful, 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 participants accept and appreciate the contributions of others.
Charles Darwin 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.” It was an inauspicious indictment of one of history’s greatest thinkers. Born in 1809 in Shrewsbury, England, young Darwin did poorly in a traditional school setting and preferred to collect specimens of animals, plants, and minerals that he would experiment upon in his brother’s chemical 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 benefit of anesthesia, gruesome. After graduation, the reluctant Darwin enrolled in Cambridge with the notion of becoming a clergyman. While at Cambridge, Darwin was inspired by the “personal narrative” of Alexander von Humboldt, the German, who wrote about his travels in South America and his discoveries in geology, geography, and mineralogy.
Having been invited to set sail on HMS Beagle, a frigate designed for scientific research, Darwin embarked on a 5-year expedition to chart the coastlines of South America. Onboard ship, he read intently and was influenced greatly by the geological systems described by Charles Lyell. The Beagle reached Brazil in February 1832, and Darwin began to answer the call of the wild. He spent months observing and collecting plants, animals, minerals and fossils and keeping careful and detailed records of his discoveries. Moreover, he was astounded to find marine fossils high in the Andes Mountains, thus hypothesizing that the land had once been covered by water. Earthquakes in Chile, experienced by Darwin, satisfied his belief that the earth’s topography is always changing. Subsequently, arriving in the Galapagos Islands, Darwin discovered many life forms that were not found anywhere else in the world. He was intrigued by the numerous species of birds found there, and he noticed how various species of finch had developed specialized beaks that aided them in gathering and consuming food. Darwin further noted that organisms on the island seemed similar, yet different, from those on the mainland.
From his experiences on HMS Beagle, Charles Darwin began to question the idea of creationism and the belief that a supreme god created immutable organisms to populate the unchanging world. He used the comparative method to challenge concepts, introduce new facts and values, and construct his extraordinary evolutionary framework. In 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.” Essentially, he implied that all life on earth, including human life, is the result of evolution over millions of years of adaptations to changing environments. Darwin concluded, “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 simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.”
Darwin and Education
Charles Darwin saw the magnificence of all living things, including man, and his theory impels us to respect one another despite any or all differences. The convergence of Darwin’s evolutionary framework points to the precarious position of our species and the essential need for mutual respect, global understanding, and planetary interdependence. As a species, we are constantly competing for space and sustenance. 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, we must come together as one unified, diversified species, evolved from a common ancestor and aware of the interconnectiveness of the global society.
Educators have been influenced profoundly by Charles Darwin, his research, his methodologies, and his theories. Far from being a disgrace, in the 200 years since his birth, Darwin has become a model of optimism, unification, and hope for the future as we look ahead through his penetrating eyes. Darwin tells us: “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 the struggle and even death make for progressive evolution in which good useful characteristics develop to benefit every species.” Thanks to Darwin, present-day teachers respect the similarities and differences in their students more than ever 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 desires 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.
Darwin and Dewey
In the same year that Charles Darwin published his seminal work, On the Origin of Species, John Dewey (1859-1952) 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, John Dewey was tutored in philosophy for 3 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 PhD in 1884. In time, Dewey rejected absolute idealism, which suggested that fact and thought are connected in that facts develop from thought. However, Dewey evolved a more naturalistic, pragmatic philosophy that was refined and supremely influenced by the works of Charles Darwin. Darwin’s theory of natural selection provided a form for Dewey’s naturalistic approach to the theory of knowledge. On the Origin of Species introduced a mode of thinking that would ultimately transform the logic of knowledge and hence the treatment of morals, politics, religion, and education. Rejecting supernatural explanations for the origins of species, Dewey adopted Darwin’s naturalistic account and then considered the development of knowledge as an adaptive response (i.e., the product of the interaction between man and his 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.
The influence of Charles Darwin on John 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 the president of the Philosophical Association at Columbia University from 1905 until his retirement in 1930.
John Dewey’s philosophy of education has had far-reaching effects on teaching and learning. His pragmatist stance suggested that schools should prepare individuals for participation in community life and overcome barriers between school and community 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 might occur in the unpredictable future. Dewey believed strongly that schools should take on societal responsibilities. He was convinced that 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, John 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 facilitator, not director or instructor, designers of educational experiences that guided learning through doing in areas of children’s real interests. Dewey’s 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 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. Emphasis on multiculturalism, hands-on learning, and participation in authentic learning experiences with real-world audiences reflect the pedagogical contributions of John Dewey. Notably, as Darwin inspired Dewey, so have Dewey’s contributions inspired other movements of import to education (contextualism, empiricism, humanism, and naturalism). A study of Deweyan philosophy 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 thinkers of our time.
In 1896, when John 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 Union of Socialist Soviet Republics. 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. Vygotsky spent his short life in Marxist Russia, but his theories did not conform to 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 printed in the West during the 1960s.
Vygotsky’s views on teaching and learning are founded on the premise that human intelligence is not a fixed characteristic, but instead, it is 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 or her own meaning. This constitutes the theoretical basis for cooperative learning, a method that has now found favor throughout the United States, Canada, and 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). 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 zone of proximal development has been subsumed into the initial, and now expanded, current developmental level of abilities (the enlarged center of the circle) and 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 proximate and may be learned with more experience, or they may be found to be unattainable.
When assigning problems for cooperative-learning groups to solve, it is essential that they be within students’ ZPD. If the task is too simple, then it poses no challenge to the group. The work could be done independently and so does little to enhance intelligence. A task that is too complex for any member of the group lies outside the boundaries of the ZPD and cannot be solved with any amount of appropriate assistance. In that situation, all the students would be functioning at the frustration level. Ideally, tasks should be assigned at the outermost area of the ZPD for the most capable students in the group, where everyone on the team may be challenged to produce a solution to the problem. The newly discovered knowledge is shared within the group, and each group member constructs meaning according to his or her understanding of the information. In this manner, all team members increase their zones of actual development and their ZPDs. Continual expansion of the ZPD is accomplished by a process that is often termed “scaffolding.” Scaffolding involves reaching out and sometimes down to assist another member of the group to broaden his or her level of understanding. Through scaffolding, students are able to accomplish more complex assignments as the ZPD evolves and expands.
Undoubtedly, cooperative-learning classes are progressive, and students are encouraged to interact, 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 with others to solve problems for themselves. A sense of optimism, hope, and power is infused in Vygotskian theory when we realize that what children can do with assistance today, they can do independently tomorrow. It remains uncertain whether Dewey influenced Vygotsky directly, yet their philosophies of education are compatible and are found at the heart of anthropological and educational thought and practice.
A prominent leader in the field of education and brain research, Howard Gardner extensively investigated and documented cross-cultural studies on human intelligence. Gardner employs anthropological methods, and his research reflects a respect for science, the value of experience, and an acceptance of change that was intrinsic in the work of Charles Darwin, John Dewey, and Lev Vygotsky. Currently a psychologist and professor at Harvard University School of Education, Howard Gardner developed the theory of multiple intelligences. In Frames of Mind, published in 1983, Gardner theorized that there are seven equally important components of intelligence. In 1999, two additional components of intelligence were introduced in Intelligence Reframed, 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 Dewey and Vygotsky, 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, Condoleezza Rice, 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 geniuses 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. Howard 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 brain-damaged children. As a result, Howard 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 what are, at this point in time, nine ways of knowing. Criteria for identifying the existence of an intelligence is grounded in neuroanatomy, developmental psychology, cognitive psychology, and anthropology. 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 formulae. 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. Verbal-linguistic, musical-rhythmic, and existentialist intelligences are not connected to objects.
Howard Gardner hypothesizes that individuals are born with and possess a unique compilation of all nine intelligences, which may be strengthened 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 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 future findings resulting from the research of Howard Gardner and others who realize that intelligence is definitely not fixed at birth.
Looking to the Future
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. Anthropology reflects the human condition and offers the tools to ensure our survival as a species. The window opens to the future. Through science and technology, the world is becoming increasingly more interconnected. The “global village” is experiencing the migration of people around the world. In the centuries to come, anthropology will continue to be relevant to education due to man’s acute curiosity about cultural differences. New directions will be taken as educators stay abreast of all the research that impacts upon their pedagogy. Overall, it is evident that taking a holistic anthropological approach to education has greatly benefited in the improvement of students in terms of academic achievement. It allows educators to look at all aspects of teaching and learning in a critical manner and to adjust or change methods as needed.
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, psychology, and neuropsychology. Educators are cognizant of the impact that Charles Darwin has had upon science and education down through the generations. John Dewey said that Darwin’s influence on philosophy came from having conquered the phenomena of life for the principle of transition, thereby freeing us to apply logic to “mind and morals and life.” The new logic inspired 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 to be ever evolving and never fixed in nature underlies the philosophies of Lev Vygotsky and Howard Gardner. It stands to reason that if man evolves, then his intelligence will evolve and expand through experience. Vygotsky based his notion of the ZPD on the theory that an individual’s zone of actual development can be enlarged by working with others. Gardner, in developing his theory of multiple intelligences, recognized the new logic inspired by Darwin when he defined nine equally important components of dynamic intelligence.
As we look into the future and the possibility of life on other planets, both educators and anthropologists will have to develop a wider cosmic perspective of culture that will engulf our current earthly perspective. Differences among earth’s peoples will be trivialized, and all traces of anthropocentric conceits will evaporate as we encounter the rise of comparative exoevolution. Exovolution is a term coined by H. James Birx, to “complement the notion of exobiology, which is the search for the existence of life elsewhere in this universe.” Birx theorizes that if exobiology exists, then exoevolution exists also. It is incumbent upon us to develop what Birx terms an attitude of dynamic integrity as we actively aspire to understand the enormity of the universe and our relatively miniscule role as agents of change. As we develop creatively and grow intellectually, we become living evidence of the evolutionary process. As agents of change, anthropologists and educators can affect our small but colorful world. It is advances in education that will guide our species as it further evolves on earth and among the stars.
- Birx, H. J. (1991). Interpreting evolution. Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books.
- Bruner, J. (1999). The culture of education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
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- Dewey, J. (1956). The child and the curriculum and the school and society (Combined ed.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- Gardner, H. (1993). Multiple intelligences: Theory in practice. New York: Basic Books.
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- Lee, C., & Smagorinsky, P. (Eds.). (2000). Vygotskian Perspectives on literacy research: Constructing meaning through collaborative inquiry. Cambridge, UK, New York: Cambridge University Press.
- Ornstein, A. C., & Levine D. U. (2003). Foundations of education. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
- Schumar, W. (2004). Making strangers at home: Anthropologists studying higher education. The Journal of Higher Education, 75(1).