Gardner Multiple Intelligences or school subjects mirrored?
Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences is opposed to the idea of intelligence being a single measurable attribute. His is a direct attack on the practice of psychometric tests and behaviourism, relying more on genetic, instinctual and evolutionary arguments to build a picture of the mind. He also disputes the Piaget notion of fixed developmental stages, claiming that a child can be at various stages of development across different intelligences.
Evidence for intelligences
He viewed intelligence as “the capacity to solve problems or to fashion products that are valued in one or more cultural setting” (Gardner & Hatch, 1989). These criteria were identified by him as 'signs' of an intelligence:
1. Potential isolation by brain damage.
2. The existence of idiot savants, prodigies and other exceptional individuals.
3. An identifiable core operation or set of operations.
4. A distinctive development history, along with a definable set of 'end-state' performances.
5. An evolutionary history and evolutionary plausibility.
6. Support from experimental psychological tasks.
7. Support from psychometric findings.
8. Susceptibility to encoding in a symbol system.
Multiple intelligences (8)
These criteria were used to identify a list of eight ‘intelligences’. His thoughts on what constitute intelligence have developed over time. The first two are ones that have been typically valued in schools; the next three are usually associated with the arts; and the final three are what Howard Gardner called 'personal intelligences'.
1. Linguistic: To learn, use and be sensitive to language(s).
2. Logical-mathematical: Analysis, maths, science and investigative abilities.
3. Musical: Perform, compose and appreciate music, specifically pitch, tone and rhythm.
4. Bodily-kinaesthetic: Co-ordination and use of whole or parts of body.
5. Spatial: Recognise, use and solve spatial problems both large and confined.
6. Interpersonal: Ability to read others’ intentions, motivations, desires and feelings.
7. Intrapersonal: Self-knowledge and ability to understand and use one’s inner knowledge.
8. Naturalist: Ability to draw upon the immediate environment to make judgements.
It is important to understand that these intelligences operate together and complement each other. He has described people as having blends of intelligences.
(Note that this last intelligence was added later, in 1999.)
Application of the theory
Gardner has also worked towards a full set of recommendations on the use of multiple intelligence theory in schools. The Unschooled Mind, Intelligence Reframed, and The Disciplined Mind look at how the theory may be applied by educators. This has led to a broader more holistic view of education, being less rigid about abstract and academic learning. It demands knowledge fo these intelligences among teachers, an aspirational approach to learning, more collaboration between teachers of different disciplines, better and more meaningful curriculum choices and a wider use of the arts.
John White has criticised the theory as being subjective and not validated by evidence. Rather than being derived from solid empirical evidence, Gardner seems to draw his taxonomy from broad observations. It is also not clear how this maps on to actual cognitive functions, as it depends (variably) on the learner dealing with actual content in various forms. In fact, it also bears an uncanny resemblance to the current curriculum subjects. White suggests that this is why it has been so enthusiastically adopted by teachers.
Gardner has also been criticised for simply perpetuating the idea of ‘intelligences’, pigeon-holing students, rather than exploring their potential. again this is a general problem with learning styles and multiple intelligences theory. It may actually thwart attempts to teach and learn skills that the students has not yet mastered, thereby doing more harm than good.
Gardner himself has been surprised and at times disappointed by the way his theory has been applied in schools, in one case as, “a mish-mash of practices…Left Right brain contrasts….learning styles….NLP, all mixed up with dazzling promiscuity”. In the US some schools have redesigned the whole curriculum, classrooms and even entire schools around the theory, which may be several steps too far. The point is to be sensitive to these intelligences, not to let them prescribe all practice. However, Project SUMIT (Schools Using Multiple Intelligences Theory) does claims to have identified real progress across the board in schools that have indeed been sensitive to Gardner’s theories.
Gardner has strong appeal to educators looking for practical support for existing subject specialisms but there are doubts about the theory as serious experimental psychology. Many do not see his ‘intelligences’ as a comparable set of abilities as some, such as musical intelligence, do not have the same consequential impact as others. He has also been criticised for not testing his theories experimentally and failing to identify exactly why he chose his particular criteria for intelligence. What is clear, however, is that Gardner has opened up the debate and affected real practice in educational institutions around the whole person with a spread of subjects and approaches to learning. This fits teachers’ intuitive feel for the abilities of those they teach. While the theory may be rather speculative, his identified intelligences represent real dispositions, abilities, talents and potential, which many schools ignore.
Gardner, Howard (1983; 1993) Frames of Mind: The theory of multiple intelligences, New York: Basic Books.
Gardner, Howard (1989) To Open Minds: Chinese clues to the dilemma of contemporary education, New York: Basic Books.
Gardner, H. (1991) The Unschooled Mind: How children think and how schools should teach, New York: Basic Books.
Gardner, Howard (1999) Intelligence Reframed. Multiple intelligences for the 21st century, New York: Basic Books.
White, J. (1998) Do Howard Gardner's multiple intelligences add up? London: Institute of Education, University of London.