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Multiple Intelligences Overview

by Barbara Shafer

For those of you who like items in a nutshell, I thought I'd offer a very brief synopsis of Multiple Intelligences and the concerns some have over its implementation in public schools.

What defines Multiple Intelligences?

Howard Gardner, a Harvard professor, wrote a book called "Frames of Mind." In it, he argued for the replacement of standard view of intelligence by "multiple intelligence." In short, IQ alone shouldn't determine intelligence, according to Gardner. Other things like a person's Auditory Linguistic, Musical, or Kinesthetic etc. abilities should be considered "intelligence" as well. He argued that intelligence is displayed in all different areas and he proposed 7 different Multiple Intelligences, such as the categories above.

Why do public educators like it?

Many public educators like it because it meshes nicely with the self-esteem movement. If Johnny isn't very good at taking tests, but can play the trumpet really well, he shouldn't be considered less intelligent that Billy who gets straight A's in academic subjects. Just because Suzy has a great memory and aces spelling bees doesn't make her smarter or more intelligent than Betty who wallops all the kids in tennis. While the standard view of intelligence (being book-smart) has been a tradition for a long time, for Gardner, it just doesn't accurately reflect the individual differences we have and we should recognize all types... not just one. For Gardner, there's no reason to consider one to be "intelligence" and the others as talents and abilities.

Why do many parents dislike Multiple Intelligences?

(1) Some view it as being a further "dumbing down" of academic achievement, reflective of the overall anti-intellectual trend in public education.
(2) It doesn't allow parents to know how their child is doing in school. If Johnny makes a poster and Billy writes a dissertation on Native Americans and they both get A's, was it really the same quality level of work and amount of work required?
(3) Multiple Intelligences are often the excuse used for abandoning letter grades and adopting "Performance Based Assessments" that further muddy the waters in academic accountability. If districts teach according to Multiple Intelligences, it's often not too long before they replace a standard report card with letters A, B, C, D or F with things like "Demonstrating, Consistently Demonstrating, Exceeding."
(4) Multiple Intelligences are the reason behind more posters, songs, dances, videos, and dioramas as classwork (often as group work) in lieu of written papers, book reports, and oral presentations.
(5) And Multiple Intelligences require more work on the part of parents. Time at home for group projects. Buying foam core, video tapes, fabric, costumes. Of course some parents love doing this stuff... and teachers love to display the work that parents have done (often with their children :-)) at open houses. Other parents walking past the classroom are amazed at how talented 3rd grade Johnny must be to use an Exacto knife to cut a bunch of uniform sized twigs to build a beautiful longhouse. Meanwhile Johnny's Mom and Dad smile knowing that Aunt Sarah the architect who watched Johnny over the weekend "helped" Johnny.... "just a little" ;-) ;-)

I think what makes many educators unwilling to reject Multiple Intelligences as a theory is the classroom observation that kids are different. They learn differently. They act differently. The teachers have an emotional response to grading an objective test knowing it will hurt the feelings of those with poor academic performance.

Most people have no difficulty recognizing that academic performance is only one aspect of a child. Poorly performing students (academically speaking) frequently excel in other areas. What needs to be recalled is that society has ways of rewarding the performance of these students in other ways: soccer trophies, traveling baseball teams, going to the State Music Competition, being selected for the lead in the school play, etc. The day we argue that a poster of a soccer ball is as good as scoring.... or that an essay on Bach is as good as a violin solo... or that a dramatization of the announcing booth is as good as a Grand Slam home run... we'll see how Multiple Intelligences can be misused.

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