Matters of intelligence
Recently, The New York Daily News reported on a mother who sued her four-year-old child’s elite Manhattan preschool for placing her daughter in a class with younger children instead of the accelerated programs the mother thought her child deserved. The mother claimed that the preschool irreparably damaged her child’s chances of getting into an Ivy League school because the preschool did not treat her kid as gifted. To reiterate: The child is four years old. Although an extreme example, we all know of parents who claim their child is smart beyond their years. It’s like there is an unspoken smartest-kid competition, and if your child isn’t preternaturally gifted, you’ve failed as a parent.
Traditionally, intelligence has been measured by IQ tests and exams that determine whether an individual is above average, average, or below average in terms of intelligence. Studies show that if a child tests high on a traditional IQ test, chances are she or he will do well in school and at most jobs.
A curriculum that takes Multiple Intelligences into account is going to help develop the different abilities/intelligences according to each child’s strengths.
Harvard Professor Howard Gardner has a different approach. He theorizes that there are different intelligences, and people might be very intelligent in some areas and less so in others. In contrast to past research, Gardner claims there is little correlation between intelligence in one domain and intelligence in another.
In the early ’80s, Gardner came up with the Multiple Intelligences (MI) theory which includes these nine intelligences:
* spatial (ability to visualize with the mind’s eye)
* linguistic (spoken or written word)
* bodily/kinesthetic (control of body movement, ability to skillfully handle objects)
* interpersonal (ability to understand others)
* intrapersonal (ability to understand one’s self)
* naturalistic (being in tune with natural surroundings)
* existential (ability to comprehend abstract concepts like spirituality and the infinite)
Educators say that he’s onto something. A curriculum that takes MI into account is going to help develop the different abilities/intelligences according to each child’s strengths.
Some psychologists and academics, however, take issue with Gardner’s MI theory. First, Gardner has little empirical evidence to back up his theory. There is no concrete test for MI, and there have been no studies that show MI to have any sort of scientific basis. By contrast, traditional IQ tests have studies and empirical evidence to back them up.
Moving beyond standardized testing as a measure of intelligence
Another issue with Gardner’s theory is that the term “intelligence,” as Gardner uses it, has the same definition as the term “ability.” Using “intelligence” rather than “ability” seemingly panders to the parents who need to believe their child is a genius. It sounds better to say that little Timmy ranks high in bodily/kinesthetic intelligence, than to say that little Timmy is good at sports. Changing the wording in this way smacks of rhetoric, and turns many academics off to Gardner’s theory.
If the anti-MI folks were right, our current system that pushes standardized testing would work perfectly. As we have seen over the past couple decades, it does not.
Pushing standardized tests discounts the abilities that might make a child succeed in life. If a child is good with tools, she might become a carpenter or construction worker, and her schooling should foster this ability in hopes that she can develop those skills. This particular child, who is very bodily/kinesthetically intelligent, might not be that good at standardized tests. Does that mean she should fall through the cracks?
It’s obvious that education needs to be revolutionized.
It’s obvious that education needs to be revolutionized. Although Gardner’s MI theory is by no means perfect, it incorporates plain old common sense in a way that can benefit schools exponentially. In a nutshell, MI encourages educators (and parents) to ease their obsession with standardized tests, and instead look for what each child is good at. MI theory states, perhaps most importantly of all, that there is a place in the classroom for all kinds of learners.
Laura Mann recently graduated in Emerging Media and Communications from the University of Texas, and writes for The Dallas Observer. Her father Mike Mann is an award-winning storyteller (www.storymann.com), a speaker for the MediaWise Movement, and a father of four, including Laura. The father and daughter collaborate on “Imagine That!”
© Michael Mann, 2012, all rights retained. Printed by permission of the author.