Seven Ways of Knowing, Not One
In Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences, the psychologist Howard Gardner attacks the notion that intellect is a single, overarching faculty.
Instead, he proposes that man draws on different sets of "core" abilities to process various kinds of information, solve problems, or produce products valued by society.
To support his theory, the Harvard University scholar searched for groups of cognitive functions that operate in relative isolation from each other, and whose features could be readily defined.
The components of "musical intelligence," for example, are sensitivity to pitch, melody, rhythm, and tone.
To prove that such intelligence exists as a separate function, Mr. Gardner draws on composers' accounts of what it is like to create a piece of music; traces the development of musical competence in children; and recounts the evolution and neurological basis of musical faculties in both birds and humans.
He also examines individual instances of brain damage, in which injury to a specific area of the brain causes devastating problems in language but leaves musical abilities relatively unscathed, or vice versa.
Finally, he looks at cases of autistic children and idiots savants who show unusual musical talent despite other impairments.
Based on such evidence from a wide range of disciplines--including anthropology, biology, and psychology--Mr. Gardner proposes the existence of at least seven relatively autonomous avenues of intelligence.
In addition to musical intelligence, these include:
Linguistic intelligence, or sensitivity to the meaning and order of words, and the varied uses of language;
Logical-mathematical intelligence, or the ability to handle long chains of reasoning and to recognize patterns in the physical world;
Spatial intelligence, or the ability to perceive the visual world accurately, to rotate or transform objects in space, and to recreate aspects of visual experience;
Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, or a fine-tuned ability to use the body and to handle objects;
Interpersonal intelligence, or sensitivity to others; and
Intrapersonal intelligence, or a highly developed understanding of one's self.
According to Mr. Gardner, evidence also derived from many scientific disciplines indicates that if a society chooses to devote resources to a particular intelligence, it can improve the use of that intelligence in children.
One example of this, he notes, is the Suzuki method of instruction in music, which manages to produce high levels of competence in large groups of youngsters.
When children are very young, Mr. Gardner argues, simple exposure to one of the seven intelligences will prompt learning. But by the time they reach school age, he asserts, more specific instruction is required.
"I think that at least when you're dealing with kids in grades K-6 the messages given by the overall society are probably not terribly important," he says. "But I think the messages given by parents and teachers are important."
In their training, he argues, "teachers need to be made aware of the different kinds of dimensions on which kids differ both cognitively, stylistically, and personality-wise."
Eventually, he says, it should become "second nature" for teachers to recognize children's strengths and weaknesses, and to gear their instruction accordingly.
New School Roles
In fact, Mr. Gardner proposes that schools of the future encompass several new roles for educators based on his theories.
"Curriculum-student brokers" would match a student's intellectual profile and working styles with corresponding ways to teach math, history, or other academic subjects.
"School-community brokers," would locate opportunities for children with particular abilities to gain exposure to future work roles.
"Assessors" would describe children's cognitive profiles at a particular point in time, not based on standardized tests, but on how children use their free time, interact with others, or tackle problems.
Negative on 'Test-Mongering'
Although standard I.Q. tests have their uses, Mr. Gardner asserts, they sample "much too narrow a band of abilities."
Nor is he supportive of what he describes as the new wave of "I.Q.el10lstyle instruments": the short-answer, multiple-choice achievement tests, which he says are "very much on the increase."
"I take a very, very dim view of all this test-mongering," he adds. "I don't think that in the end it's going to make much difference."
"Even to survive in school," he notes, "you need to have different smarts than the ones that are captured in I.Q. tests."
In a joint project with the psychologist Robert Sternberg, from Yale University, the Harvard theoretician will be examining the kinds of "practical smarts" needed by schoolchildren to succeed.
These include students' understanding of themselves and others, of the academic tasks required of them, and of the differing demands made by separate academic disciplines.
The goal of the project, which is funded by a grant from the James S. McDonnell Foundation in St. Louis, is to produce a number of "curriculum modules" and "rich and nutritious" materials that might help ''innoculate" students against school failure.
Both the Indianapolis and Pittsburgh school systems have agreed to serve as sites for the study. It will also include research to be conducted in Boston and New Haven, Conn., the two home sites for the psychologists.
"This is a new problem, which to our knowledge, nobody has really defined in this way before," says Mr. Gardner. "Nobody has really thought about 'street smarts' within the school context."