ENG 111

Fall 2002


READING GUIDE:  Extraordinary Minds, chapter 2—Ordinary Development


Vocabulary . . .


A  Learn what these words mean as they are used in the places indicated in the text.


Complementary (p. 17)

Mediate (p. 17)

Tangible (p. 18)

Germane (p. 19)

Articulated (p. 19)

Analog (p. 20)

Parse (p. 20)

 Pretense (p. 23)

Malevolent (p. 25)

Requisite (p. 26)

Proxy (p. 29)



B  Gardner uses the word “ontological” on p. 21.  Let me use this extended example, which I learned in a philosophy class, to explain what it means.  Until about 100 years ago, the central problem of philosophy was the question “how do I know what is ultimately real?”  The first part of that question, “how do I know,” is studied by the branch of philosophy called epistemology.  “What is ultimately real” is studied by metaphysics.


The new question was introduced by Friedrich Nietzsche.  “What does it mean for me to be in the world?”  The “what does it mean” part is about understanding and interpretation, which is studied by hermeneutics.  “For me to be in the world” is . . . (yes!  We’re finally here!) ontology.  When Gardner uses the word here, I think he means “what makes us uniquely human.”


Notes . . .


The title of this chapter is “Ordinary Development.”  It’s worth our while to take a moment and think about what that phrase means.  In a book about extraordinary people, the word “ordinary” can be used to establish a contrast.  How do the rest of us—those of us how will not be widely known as great writers, musicians, leaders, and so on—develop our skills and talents as we progress from infancy to childhood, from childhood to adolescence, from adolescence to adulthood?


The chapter’s first four sections talk about two of the great observers of child behavior, Jean Piaget and Sigmund Freud.  Piaget, as you’ll read, thought the big thing for children was learning how to deal with the world of objects.  Freud, on the other hand, thought objects were trivial; what was really important was forming relationships in the world of people.  Both Piaget and Freud, as you might expect, thought the other was wrong.  Gardner, however, thinks they were both right, at least in part:  by the end of the four sections, he reconciles them in a way that is (to me, anyway) pretty clever.  Be sure you know what that way is.


The fifth section, “The extraordinary ordinary five-year-old mind,” is a kind of hinge; the chapter turns on it.  Why, according to Gardner, is the five-year-old mind so important, both psychologically and culturally?


The remainder of the chapter’s sections deals with the culturally determined idea of expertise.  What is Gardner’s definition of an expert?  He says that there are, traditionally in our culture, two paths to becoming an expert:  through apprenticeship and through school.  How are these different?  How are they the same?