Perhaps the most ambitious form of synthesis occurs in interdisciplinary work, which should not be invoked lightly. We would not consider an individual to be bilingual unless he or she had mastered more than one language. By the same token, it is inappropriate to characterize work as genuinely interdisciplinary unless it entails the proper combination of at least two disciplines. Moreover, the two disciplines should not merely be juxtaposed; they should be genuinely integrated. Such integration should yield understandings that could not have been achieved solely within either of the parent disciplines.
The dangers of inadequate synthesis are perhaps most manifest in interdisciplinary work. Much activity in the early years of schooling is misleadingly labeled as “interdisciplinary.” Children may well benefit from carrying out evocative classroom projects or from pursuing a unit on generative topics like “patterns” or “water” or the “cradle of civilization.” But these endeavors do not involve disciplines in any legitimate sense of that term. In making a diorama or a dance, in thinking of water or cities in a variety of ways, students are drawing on common sense, common experiences, or common terminology and examples. If no single discipline is being applied, then clearly interdisciplinary thinking cannot be at work.
Five Minds for the Future
Harvard Business Press, 2008