Sunday, March 11, 2007

Gardner's Multiple Intelligences

Every teacher in the country, at least those who got their training in the 90s and beyond, learned about Gardner and his theory of multiple intelligences. Following this link will take you to a brilliant Hoover Institute essay on the topic, one that casts some doubt on Gardner's theory.

One may wonder how educators got so confused by Gardner’s theory. Why do they believe that intelligences are interchangeable or that all intelligences should be taught? The answer is traceable to the same thing that made the theory so successful: the naming of various abilities as intelligences.

Why, indeed, are we referring to musical, athletic, and interpersonal skills as intelligences?

Why indeed? After all, the essay concludes:

In the end, Gardner’s theory is simply not all that helpful. For scientists, the theory of the mind is almost certainly incorrect. For educators, the daring applications forwarded by others in Gardner’s name (and of which he apparently disapproves) are unlikely to help students. Gardner’s applications are relatively uncontroversial, although hard data on their effects are lacking. The fact that the theory is an inaccurate description of the mind makes it likely that the more closely an application draws on the theory, the less likely the application is to be effective. All in all, educators would likely do well to turn their time and attention elsewhere.

There's no good way to learn trigonometry except to do trigonometry. To try to teach it emphasizing each of the eight so-called intelligences would be a disservice to the student.


Anonymous said...

Indeed. To whatever degree some have used the idea of multiple intelligences to advance feel good theories to the effect that everyone is the same and that all that really matters is self esteem, Gardner's work is misused.

When one speaks of musical intelligence, for example, one speaks primarily of talent. Perhaps the best lesson we can teach kids is that talent, in any field, is of little practical value in and of itself. Talent is manifested only through the steady application of hard work over time, a great deal of time for most. Talent without such development remains, at best, a genetic prediliction toward possible ability.

Interesting post.

W.R. Chandler said...

Gardner himself had this to say on the subject:

"I don't remember when it happened but at a certain moment, I decided to call these faculties 'multiple intelligences' rather than abilities or gifts. This seemingly minor lexical substitution proved very important; I am quite confident that if I had written a book called 'Seven Talents' it would not have received the attention that [my book] Frames of Mind received."

Unknown said...

I'm a nasal learner. I need to smell equations. Mmmmmm. Did you know that quadratic equations smell like vanilla?

Really. I'm not making this up.

Anonymous said...

A coworker of mine (Ph.D., psychology) tells me that this theory of multiple intelligences is completely unsupported by mainstream research.

Darren said...

It shouldn't take a PhD in psychology to figure that out!

Anonymous said...

The same is true of many of the unsupported but popular theories that have been embraced by edu-dingbats, but I don't care to delve into the mainstream research myself. It's so much easier to appeal to authority.

Ellen K said...

I find myself stunned that this is on here because my AP mentioned that we would be concentrating on multiple intelligences and learning styles in the next year. So I guess this is the new wave of educationese coming down the pike.Just like New Math and Whole Language, we will be expected to jump through preparation hoops of fire to accommodate the 30 or so different "intelligences" at work in the classroom. I don't have a problem adapting to learning styles or even to modification for special ed and ESL students. But at some point there's going to be a meeting "facilitator" whose paid ten times what I am, who will tell me that the reason Johnny and Susie can't learn is because of me rather than being due to frequent absences, constant disruptiveness and incipient laziness on the part of Johnny and Susie. At that point, I think I will hang it up. But it's nice to know what the next fashionable trends in education will be.

Darren said...

This is new to you? I had this stuff shoved down my throat back in the 90s.

It's all crap. I've linked here, and it isn't hard to find corroborating facts elsewhere, that actually applying Gardner's *theory* to education is complete and total crap. Perhaps you should direct your AP to the Hoover Institute essay on the topic--if your AP has an open mind at all.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, perhaps I misunderstood Gardner's premise. I got something very different out of the idea of multiple intelligences. I have a daughter who has a severe learning disability, but who loves the arts and by using her love of drawing and story telling was able to help her overcome her learning disability by helping her learn important things by having her draw pictures of them and write stories about them instead of having her take tests. This way she can prove mastery of a subject by actually using it.

I have also used this approach in classrooms with students who are excellent in one of Gardner's intelligences but are poor at 'book learning' to help build their confidence so they are better at the 'book learning' and to present information to them in a way that is easier for them to grasp, mainly because they are actually interested in it.

I'm not sure what it means to "actually applying Gardner's 'theory' to education" actually means if it does not mean using a child's (or adult's) skill or talent or interest (intelligence) in something they actually care about to help them learn things they do poorly in (or don't care about).

I also found it very useful to give a student time to pursue their area of expertise.

Perhaps I don't fault Gardner the way the commenters here do because I never viewed it as a teaching methodology but took away from it "help students by teaching them using a skill they already have". I never viewed the multiple intelligences idea as advice to substitute one intelligence for another. For example, opting Susie out of algebra class because she is a good artist. I would, however, try to figure out a way to use art to help Susie understand algebra.