04 October, 2008


Read the transcript from the online chat with Howard Gardner.

Moderator: Hi there, everyone. Welcome to our chat with Dr. Howard Gardner, co-Director of Harvard Project Zero and the creator of the theory of multiple intelligences.
Moderator: Professor Gardner's latest book is INTELLIGENCE REFRAMED: MULTIPLE INTELLIGENCES FOR THE 21st CENTURY. He is here tonight to answer your questions about his research and insights into education.
Moderator: Welcome, Dr. Gardner.
Professor Gardner: Thank you, I am happy to be in this chat.
Moderator: Professor Gardner, I'm sure most of the people here are familiar with some of your work, but could you please explain your theory for those who aren't?
Professor Gardner: Well I am a psychologist and my theory arose as a critique of the standard view of intelligence. That view holds that there is a single view of intelligence. We are born with it and psychologists can assess our intelligence with tests. This is wrong, and I have done tests through brain studies and anthropology to come up with an alternative approach called Multiple Intelligence Theory (MI Theory). The theory holds that all human beings possess eight different intelligences, including not only the familiar Language intelligences, but also Spatial intelligences, Musical, Interpersonal, etc. While we all possess these eight or more intelligences, no two people-not even identical twins-exhibit exactly the same profile of strength and weakness. As educators, we face a stark choice; either ignore these differences in MI profiles, or take them seriously in instruction and assessment.
Moderator: What is your most recent research?
Professor Gardner: Most recently I've been studying how the fact of our multiple intelligences can be used to help students understand the way in of different disciplines, specifically science, history, mathematics and the arts. That research is detailed in DISCIPLINED MIND, published in 1999 by Simon and Schuster.
1767students: How did you get involved in researching these "intelligences"?
Professor Gardner: In truth I did not begin as a researcher on intelligence. My first decade of research probed the development of cognition in children and the breakdown of cognizance in adults.
Professor Gardner: These two groups of subjects convinced me that human beings have a wide range of intellectual strengths and weaknesses, and that strength in one area does not predict strength or weakness in other areas.
Professor Gardner: In 1979, my colleagues and I received a large grant and my assignment was to write a monograph on what had been discovered about the human mind in the biological and cognitive sciences. After four years of research and synthesis I published a book titled FRAMES OF MIND in which I unveiled MI Theory. Since then, I have been refining the theory and investigating its educational application. The most recent update, published this month, is INTELLIGENCE REFRAMED.
122teach: Many states and communities are currently implementing academic standards, which designate skills and competencies that all the students in a given age or grade-range are supposed to meet. How can the multiple-intelligence approach be used, when standards require everyone to meet the same benchmarks?
Professor Gardner: The question entails a number of presuppositions which need to be examined.
Professor Gardner: Intelligences are not skills, they are biological potentials which are realized to a greater or lesser extent depending upon opportunities and motivation. There is no point in developing Linguistic or Spatial intelligence per se; what may be important is to develop skills (like writing or geometry) which presuppose strengths in certain of the intelligences.
Professor Gardner: Therefore, if you have a state mandated test, you need to look at the performances which are mandated and to determine which intelligences can help students succeed in those performances.
Professor Gardner: For example, a test may assess the understanding of the scientific principles. It is up to the instructor, and ultimately the students, to mobilize whichever intelligences can help the students understand this principle. One student may use primarily intelligence A, one may use intelligence B, a third may use a combination of C and D.
Professor Gardner: I have not so far indicated what I think of standardized tests. That's a separate question. I can say that I do not have any interest in a test that claimed it was assessing one intelligence or another. I am interested in those abilities which we need to be good workers and good citizens. To use an analogy, if I were interested in athletics I would not devise a test for bodily-kinesthetic intelligence. Instead, I would examine how well students throw a football or play hockey or master a dive. And I would not care which intelligences they were using, so long as they were able to perform the athletic test.
222flowers: Do you think students can improve in an area where they may be weak? Or do you consider these new intelligences to be innate? In other words, can they be learned?
Professor Gardner: Any intelligence can be improved. Differences in potential simply mean how much effort the individual and the community must exert to enhance a particular intelligence. The better the teaching and the more powerful the prosthetic (technological or otherwise), the more readily the intelligence can be enhanced.
Professor Gardner: As we get older it probably makes more sense to build on our strength than to shore up weaknesses; nonetheless, at any age an intelligence can be enhanced if enough effort is exerted.
Laura985: Can you explain a little about your two new intelligences, Naturalist and Existentialist?
Professor Gardner: The Naturalist intelligence describes the human ability to detect significant patterns in nature. To survive, animals (including humans) must be able to distinguish among plants, animals, and other natural objects. I speculate that our consumer society exploits this ability - for example, allowing us to distinguish one sneaker or automobile from another.
Professor Gardner: In addition there may be a 9th, or Existential, intelligence. That intelligence reflects the human proclivity for pondering big questions, like who are we, where do we come from, what's going to happen to us? From childhood humans ask these questions, and across cultures we create art, science, philosophy and religion to help us answer these questions. The reason for my uncertainty about this 9th intelligence is the absence, thus far, of evidence about brain regions dedicated to existential thinking.
Professor Gardner: By the way, many people have speculated that there may be a spiritual intelligence. In INTELLIGENCE REFRAMED, I explain why there is no spiritual intelligence and no moral intelligence, but why there might be an existential intelligence.
education33356: Do you feel classrooms focus too much on the Linguistic and Logical-Mathematical intelligences, and not enough on children's individual talents? If so, what is the best approach for teachers to begin incorporating these new intelligences in their classroom?
Professor Gardner: That's such a complicated question that I have written three books about it.
Professor Gardner: The first point I make is to distrust generalizations about classes. The second point is that language and logic become increasingly dominant, as the specter of college admissions looms large. A third point is that one can espouse a highly traditional curriculum and yet reserve much room for several intelligences; as I have already mentioned, one can approach subjects like science and history by drawing on a whole range of intelligences.
Professor Gardner: Conversely, one could teach music in a highly linguistic or logical way. So there is no one to one mapping between a subject and an intelligence, unless the teacher decides to mandate that link. With that said, I personally prefer a school in which a range of discipline and skill areas are a regular part of the curriculum and I dislike a school with a narrow focus on any intelligence, be it a traditional academic school or an arts centered school.
Professor Gardner: For me the biggest enemy of good education in America today is the pressure to cover vast amount of material. Anybody who succumbs to this pressure converts school to a verbal memory routine. Conversely, if you are willing to probe deeply, to uncover rather than to cover then there is plenty of latitude for incorporating MI approaches. To see how this is done, read chapter 7-9 of The DISCIPLINED MIND.
Laura985: I find the lack of evidence about the brain regions dedicated to existential thinking interesting. Is not the evidence of mythology, the question of existence, proof?
Professor Gardner: The answer is no, because the issue is not whether any kind of thinking reflects the brain. Every kind of thinking reflects the brain. The issue, rather, is whether there are parts of the brain that are exclusively or primarily dedicated to these big questions. And so, to put it concretely, does existential thinking rely on the same part of the brain that tells stories or do philosophical analyses, or is a separate set of brain regions involved?
Professor Gardner: Even in giving this response, I'm speaking about brain studies very loosely. But when I evaluate the evidence for a new intelligence, I try my best to do so in a manner of a neuroscientist.
Whit1216: You have suggested that there is no "artistic intelligence" but that each intelligence can be used in an aesthetic or non-aesthetic way. Please elaborate.
Professor Gardner: First of all, I appreciate the question. In answering your question, I am using Language intelligence but not, alas, in an aesthetic way. If, however, I were to answer in elegant sentences or in verse or with metaphor and imagery, I would be using "the same intelligence" in an artistic way. To use a different example, if I play a bugle to wake up recruits in boot camp or put on music in a dentist office to soothe the pain, I'm using Musical intelligence in a non-artistic way.
Professor Gardner: Your question raises an important point. I certainly don't question the value of arts education. I've devoted much of my life to it. However, as a scholar I need to have formal definitions as well as criteria for determining what is and what is not an intelligence. And so while I might love to have an artistic intelligence or a spiritual intelligence or a humor intelligence, my decisions on these candidates have to be based on the best scientific evidence I can accumulate and not on what you or I might prefer.
Laura985: Do you think there could be a technological, or computer-use intelligence?
Professor Gardner: Certainly. In coming up with my original list of intelligences, I spent a lot of the time thinking about mechanical or tool use. In fact, there is an anthropologist named Steven Mithen who believes that there is a tool intelligence. Personally, I concluded that skill with traditional tools can be adequately explained by invoking a number of intelligences, among them Spatial, Bodily, and Logical.
Professor Gardner: As for intelligence for computers, that's a new ball of wax. There are many computer skills, ranging from programming, to inventing new languages, to surfing the web, to typing as quickly as I can speak, etc. We'd have to study each of these skills to determine which intelligence or intelligences are used by most people. Finally, it's possible that as computer use continues to evolve, new intelligences may emerge. Twenty years ago nobody, not even Bill Gates, could have envisioned the routine use of computers today.
Moderator: Do you ever feel that your theories are misinterpreted?
Professor Gardner: Every day. But unless the misinterpretation is willful, I consider it a natural fate of any theory. People always draw on old knowledge to make sense of something that is initially unfamiliar, and I am no exception. Therefore, it is inevitable that the more challenging aspects of MI Theory will initially be misunderstood. In fact, it's no exaggeration to say that my own understanding deepens regularly.
Professor Gardner: In INTELLIGENCE REFRAMED I devote two entire chapters to dealing with misunderstandings, a few of which I helped to propagate myself. I can only add that I have no patience for people who claim to understand or to apply the theory without taking the trouble to read some of my writings. Alas, I have to include a lot of journalists in the ranks of those who rely on second hand reports, rather than on their own reading of the primary literature.
Moderator: For those of us who agree with your theories, any hints for talking to administrators or parents who may not understand?
Professor Gardner: It's very important to be alert to questions and potential misinterpretations. Much of INTELLIGENCE REFRAMED is explicitly designed to help educators answer sympathetic and hostile questions from parents, administrators, and politicians. The most important thing to understand is that multiple intelligence is not an educational recipe. It is how the mind works. Moreover, you can never go directly from any theory to educational practice. That's because educational practice always depends on a value system; what's important, what kind of adults we want to have, what disciplines we value, which ones are we willing to demote, etc. No scientific theory can answer these questions.
Professor Gardner: So, when someone says to me, "We want to use MI Theory," I always reply, "For what?" If you can't answer that question you are not ready for the theory. But if you can tell me what kind of adults you want to produce and if you can tell me what kind of disciplinary understandings you want those adults to have, then I can help you to design Multiple Intelligence curricula and teaching methods, and assessment techniques that reach more students and help those students become the adults that you value.
Whit1216: Going back to the concept that each intelligence can be used in an aesthetic or non-aesthetic way, it seems that if the schools focused more on the aesthetic side of the intelligences the students might connect more with what they are learning.
Professor Gardner: The most recent research at Project Zero suggests that the arts may not directly improve performance in traditional academic subjects, but that the arts can help nurture an educational context in which students are more serious, more disciplined, more likely to take on new challenges, and more likely to value learning across the board. I think that this impression, for which we have some data, is very compatible with your useful question and comment.
Moderator: Thank you so much for taking time to come chat with us today, Dr. Gardner.
Professor Gardner: You're welcome!
Moderator: We hope that all our guests will take time to explore the entire "Tapping into Multiple Intelligences" workshop.