Online Registration

Howard Gardner answers FAQ on MULTIPLE INTELLIGENCES
Monday, 19 November 2018 23:02

Preface: It was a treat listening to Dr Howard Gardner at IIM Bangalore on a lovely Friday afternoon. There was pin drop silence as he shared with us his thoughts on common characteristics of creative people;

Dr Gardner’s theory of Multiple Intelligences demolished the traditional view of intelligence where every person was judged by a common yardstick or IQ test.

Dr Gardner’s path breaking study is the core of various new “student centered learning” initiatives where a pluralistic approach is taken in delivering content. Different activities involving multiple intelligences are deployed so that students can master different genres.


Revathi Kasturi

CEO, Laqsh Job Skills Academy.

Howard Gardner answers FAQ on MULTIPLE INTELLIGENCES

Q.Is Multiple Intelligence really a theory? Can it be confirmed by experiment? Do brain sciences continue to support it?

HG: The term “theory” oscillates between two quite different meanings. Among physical scientists, the term is reserved for an explicit set of propositions which are linked conceptually and whose individual and joint validity can be assessed through systematic experimentation. Among lay persons, the term is used to refer to any set of ideas put forth orally or in writing –as the man on the corner says,” I’ve got a theory about that”.

Multiple Intelligences falls somewhere in between these two uses. There is no systematic set of propositions which could be voted up or down by a board of scientists. On the other hand, the theory is not simply a set of notions that I dreamed up one day. Rather, I offer a definition, a set of criteria for what counts as an intelligence, data that speak to the plausibility of each individual intelligence, and methods for revising the formulation. In many sciences, theories occupy this intermediary status. Certainly, theories in the social sciences attempt to be as systematic as possible yet they are rarely proved or disproved in a decisive way. And broad theories in the natural sciences, like evolution or plate tectonics, are similarly immune from a single, simple test. Rather; they gain or lose plausibility on the basis of an accumulation of many findings over a long period of time.

In brain sciences, a decade is a long time, and the theory of multiple intelligences was developed over two decades ago. We know much more about the functioning and development of the nervous system. I find the neurological evidence to be amazingly supportive of the general thrust of MI theory. The evidence supports the particular intelligences that I described and provides elegant evidence of the fine structure of such capacities as linguistic, mathematical, and musical processing.

Q.What do other scholars think of MI theory?

HG: There is a wide spectrum of opinion, both within psychology and across biological and behavioral sciences. Those involved in standard psychometrics are almost always critical of the theory; among those psychologists, who are not psychometricians, there is openness to the expansion of the concept and measurement of intelligence. Still, psychologists like neat measures of their constructs and there is frustration that the “new” intelligences are not as readily measured as the standard ones. Also, psychologists really think of intelligence as ‘scholastic capacity’ while I am trying to expand the notion of intelligence to extend to all manner human cognitive capacities.

Scholars are not known for responding generously to new theories, and so I have not been surprised at the considerable criticism leveled at MI theory.  Perhaps a more reliable index of reception is the extent to which theory is cited in scholarly articles and textbooks.

(Also gratifying) has been the response by scholars in the”harder”sciences (such as biology) on the one hand, and in more distant fields (such as the arts and humanities) on the other. The idea of multiple intelligences has considerable appeal across the disciplines, and my particular choice of intelligences is often endorsed.

Q.Do you think we should be able to freely choose what courses we take? Or do you favor a uniform curriculum for all students?

HG: In general at the secondary level, everyone should study some history, science, mathematics, and the arts. It is not important to me which science is taught-I am much more interested in students learning to think scientifically. Similarly, it does not matter that much which history students learn, though they certainly ought to be acquainted with their own country. What matters is that the students have some sense of how historical studies are carried out; what kinds of evidence are used; how history differs from literature on one hand, and from science, on the other; why each generation rewrites history and there can never be a definitive history.

Q.You prefer depth over breadth. Do you think students might not learn enough with this approach, and graduate with major gaps in their knowledge? For example, if a history class was to focus deeply on World War I, and thus not have time to cover Vietnam?

HG: It is more important that students learn how to think like a historian, and how historians handle data and draw conclusions. This can only come from in depth study of a manageable number of topics. If the teaching of history were well coordinated throughout K-12, we could certainly learn about all the topics that you mention. The problem now is that a student might study the American Revolution four times and never learn about the French or Russian revolutions at all.

Q.Can you recommend techniques for teachers to identify their students’ strengths?

HG: If you want to get to know your students intelligences during the first weeks of school, I have two suggestions:

  1. Take them to a children’s museum a few times (or some other kinds of games) and watch them carefully. This will complement what you observe in class.
  2. Give a small questionnaire about their strengths to the students themselves and their parents and, if possible, last year’s teacher. To the extent that all three report the same strengths and weaknesses, you are on pretty safe ground. I don’t trust self reports unless they are corroborated.

Q.How does intelligence relate to creativity?

HG: There are many forms of creativity. Domains involving characteristic combinations of intelligences also exhibit characteristic forms of creativity. So, for example, creativity in physics turns out to be quite different from creativity in poetry or politics or psychology. Generalizations about creativity are destined to be weak; the devil lies in the details about the creative domain in questions.

One cannot be creative unless one has mastered a domain-that process can take upto ten years. Second of all, creativity probably has more to do with personality than with sheer intellectual power. Individuals who enjoy taking risks, who are not afraid of failure, who are attracted by the unknown, who are uncomfortable with the status quo are the ones who are likely to make creative discoveries. Finally, as stressed by my colleague Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, creativity should not be viewed simply as a characteristic of an individual. Rather, creativity emerges from the interactions of three entities:

  1. The individual, with his given talents,personality,and motivation
  2. The domain-the discipline or craft in which the individual is working
  3. The field-the set of individuals and social institutions that render judgments about quality and originality

Q.What about the oft-noted connection between mathematical and musical intelligences?

HG: There is no doubt that individuals who are mathematically talented often show an interest in music. I think this linkage occurs because mathematicians are interested in patterns, and music offers itself as a goldmine of harmonic, metric, and compositional patterns.Interest,however is not the same as skill or talent: a mathematician’s interest in music does not predict that she will necessarily play well or be an acute critic of the performance of others.

(However the implied link) rarely works the other way. We do not expect of randomly chosen musicians that they will be interested, let alone skilled, in mathematics. There may also be a bias in the kind of music at issue. Those involved in classical music are far more likely to be oriented toward science and mathematics than those involved in jazz, rock, rap, and other popular forms.

These observed correlation and lack of correlation suggests another factor at work. In certain families and perhaps also certain ethnic groups, there is a strong emphasis placed on scholastic and artistic accomplishment. Youngsters are expected to do well in school and also to perform creditably on an instrument. These twin goals yield a population with many youngsters whose stand out in math and music. There may be other common underlying factors, such as willingness to drill regularly, an inclination toward precision in dealing with marks on a piece of paper, and a  desire to attain high standards. One would have to sample a wide variety of skills-from being punctual to writing cogent essays-before jumping to conclusion that a privileged connection exists between musical and mathematical intelligence.

Q.what happens to multiple intelligences during later life?

HG: In many ways, the multiple intelligences seem a particular gift of childhood. When we observe children, we can readily see them making use of their several intelligences. Indeed, one of the reasons for my enthusiasm about children’s museums is their evident cultivation of a plethora of intelligences. Nowadays, the children’s museum simply has a better fit with the minds of children than does the average school.

It could be that multiple intelligences decline in importance as well as in visibility. But I believe that quite the opposite is true. As individuals become older, our intelligences simply become internalized. We continue to think differently from one another-indeed, differences in modes of mental representation are likely to increase throughout active life. These differences are simply less manifest to outside observers. Consider, for example, what happens in the average high school or college classroom. The teacher lectures, the students remain in the seats, either taking notes or looking vaguely bored. One might easily infer that actually no processing is going on, or that all the process is linguistic in nature. Individuals may also take all kinds of notes and use disparate aids to study and recall. The recesses of our mind remain private. No one can tell the mind exactly what to do. As I see it, the challenge to mind is somehow to make sense of experience, be it experience on the street or in the classroom. The mind makes maximal uses of the resources at its disposal-and those resources consist in our several intelligences.

Q.How could the multiple intelligences theory positively impact schools around the world?

HG: Briefly, my theory can reinforce the idea that individuals have many talents that can be of use to society; that a single measure is inappropriate for determining graduation, access to college, etc.; and that important materials can be taught in many ways, thereby activating a range of intelligences.

Note: This interview is extracted from iDiscoveri XSEED prsesnts HOWARD GARDNER India Tour 2012