In the post-Sputnik era,
when most research funding was going toward science
and mathematics, Harvard University's Project Zero emerged to focus on arts
education and school reform. Its founders looked at the arts as being
cognitive in character, and launched the thinking skills movement as well
as portfolio assessment techniques.
From this intellectual wellspring came Dr. Howard Gardner's Theory of
Multiple Intelligences, which has become a major force in education
throughout the world. This article comes from material presented in Gardner's
own lectures and writings about Multiple Intelligences.
When Harvard University's Dr. Howard Gardner first put forth Multiple
Intelligences (MI) theory in 1983, he was unprepared for the huge and mostly
positive response among educators. For twelve years he did not speak up about the
hundreds of different interpretations and applications of his theory, but was
content to let the theory fend for itself. He was awakened from his silence
when he learned that a group in Australia had used the theory to endorse
racist practices. He has since spoken out about the following myths and
practices that have grown up around MI theory, and also around art education,
intelligence, understanding, and general school practices:
Myth #1: Arts education is a subject that should be separate from the rest
of the curriculum because it is unteachable and appeals to the emotions, not
Reality #1: The arts are cognitive in nature, not just a bubble bath for
the emotions, according to Project Zero's co-founder, Nelson Goodman. The
arts are now considered a gateway to the processes of thinking and learning.
Doing and studying about art calls into practice many kinds of
cognition--visual processing, analytical thinking, posing questions, testing
hypotheses, verbal reasoning, and more. Works of art, by their very nature,
are connected to many areas of learning.
Myth #2: Human beings possess a single intelligence.
Reality #2: Gardner posits a pluralistic view of mind, recognizing many
different and discrete facets of cognition. Gardner's empirically-tested
theory, which is based on cognitive science and neuroscience, states that
normal individuals exhibit intelligence profiles which combine eight
different intelligences in varying degrees.
Myth #3: Intelligence is a relatively fixed quantity measured by a simple
paper-and-pencil test that can reliably predict who will succeed in school
and in life.
Reality #3: The I.Q. test, devised by Alfred Binet in the early 1900s, is a
one-dimensional quantitative measure of linguistic and logical-mathematical
ability--only two of Gardner's eight intelligences. Intelligences are best
assessed in context, in a situation where one carries out tasks of
consequence using the intelligence directly.
Instead of being of fixed quantity, the intelligences are raw biological
potentials. Individuals can differ in the intelligence profile with which
they are born and the profile they end up with. Gardner says while "standard
tests may predict who will get into a prestigious college, whether you do
well once you leave is probably going to depend as much on the extent to
which you possess and use the other intelligences."
Myth #4: All schools should be uniform and teach the same core curriculum,
presenting a standard cannon of knowledge.
While Gardner does believe in a core curriculum, he thinks it
should be determined by individual groups of educators who decide on key
topics according to their student body and cultural context. He believes that
"coverage" for its own sake is the enemy of learning and understanding.
Out of Gardner's MI theory comes a vision of a more individual-centered
school. According to Gardner, the purpose of school is to develop the
various intelligences so that people might reach vocational and avocational
goals that are appropriate to their particular spectrum of intelligences.
Getting back to basics in education means obtaining knowledge and
mastering the three R's--reading, writing and arithmetic.
According to Gardner, the basics of education are obtained
through enhanced understanding of important questions, topics, and themes
about our world. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are viewed as essential
tools without which one cannot pursue deeper understanding.
It has been shown that a great number of our students, even the ones with
the top scores, do not truly understand the material they have studied. They
are not able to use knowledge outside of set formulas and they can not make
connections outside of school. Students in school must spend a greater part
of their time with activities that ask them to put their understanding to
work. These could include building an argument, constructing a product,
generalizing, finding new examples, carrying out applications, creating works
of art, and other activities that demonstrate understanding through multiple
learning styles and forms of expression.
Myth #6: All subjects should be taught using all eight intelligences.
Reality #6: Most topics can be approached powerfully in a number of ways, but
it is a waste of effort to assume that all eight can be used all the time.
Each subject must be considered individually to determine the most effective
ways it could be presented.
Intelligences should be exercised and evaluated in and of
themselves without regard to content or context.
Reality #7: Random moving about of the body will do nothing to develop the
kinesthetic intelligence. Movement should be done to develop skills related
to dance, sports, music or spatial awareness, for example, not merely to
exercise the intelligence. The intelligences are best used in context and in
service of understanding within a subject.
Likewise, grading students on how linguistic or bodily-kinesthetic
they are is likely to introduce a new and unnecessary form of tracking and
labeling. Individual descriptions of a child's strengths and weaknesses
should be used to help students perform better in meaningful activities.
Myth #8: There is a single acceptable educational approach based on MI Theory.
Reality #8: Gardner
does not consider MI theory an educational prescription or goal in
and of itself, but rather a powerful tool to be used in the service
of understanding. MI theory does not take a position on tracking,
gifted education, interdisciplinary curricula, the layout of the
school day, the length of the school year, or many other "hot
button" educational issues.
Three Positive Ways to Apply Multiple Intelligences Theory in Schools