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Sunday, September 1, 2013

Broadening the View on Intelligence: Multiple Intelligences

by Benjamin Hebebrand, Head of School, Quest Academy

The method by which we initially began to measure intelligence has led to what some scholars call a “narrow view of intelligence” – a view that is tied closely to the skills that we value the most in school: ‘linguistic and logical-mathematical skill,” according to 2003 edition of The Handbook of Gifted Education, compiled by Nicholas Colangelo and Gary A Davis.

This school-based view of intelligence can be traced back all the way to the beginning of the 20th century when Alfred Binet initially began devising measurements “that could assist in identifying students who were likely to fail in elementary school.” Binet’s work was the basis to Lewis Terman’s development of the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale in 1916.

In the Handbook of Gifted Education, several authors, including Howard Gardner, who in 1983 broadened the traditional school-based view of intelligence by putting forth his Multiple Intelligences (MI) theory, insist that “a high IQ score remains the most common standard for admission to specialized programs for the gifted and talented.”

But it clearly is Gardner’s work that has broadened our view of intelligence, even if it has not yet led to a shift in admission practices to gifted education programs. By incorporating a MI approach to conceiving and measuring giftedness, gifted education may not only reach “students who are gifted in the traditional sense of the word,” but also “students who are gifted in one or more culturally valued areas.” Additionally, proponents of MI would argue that a “MI perspective can enhance (gifted students’) understanding through application of multiple entry points.” Conversely, a traditionalist point of view toward intelligence may espouse the notion that looking beyond linguistic and logical-mathematical dilutes the academic experience in a gifted education classroom.

Essentially, Gardner’s work “threw into question the idea that an individual’s intellectual capacities can be captured in a single measure of intelligence.” Instead, Gardner defines intelligence as a “biopsychological potential to process information in certain ways: Each intelligence can be activated in an appropriate cultural setting.” While Gardner’s MI theory puts intelligence in a more universal context, it also opens the door to the idea that there may be culturally different interpretations of intelligence – possibly an idea that relates to cultural relativism. By employing a MI point of view, we “permit an individual to solve problems and fashion products that are of value within a cultural context,” according to Gardner, Catya vonKarolyi, and Valerie Ramos-Ford, as cited in their entry entitled “Multiple Intelligences: A Perspective on Giftedness,” included in the Handbook of Gifted Education.

Initially, Gardner put forth seven intelligences in his publication entitled Frames of Mind, which have recently been updated to include nine different intelligences. They are summarized in the Handbook by “core operations” as follows:

·         Linguistic: “Comprehension and expression of written and oral language, syntax, semantics, pragmatics.” William Shakespeare is cited as an example.
·         Logical-Mathematical: “Computation, deductive reasoning, inductive reasoning.” Example: Isaac Newton
·         Musical: “Pitch, melody, rhythm, texture, timbre, musical, themes, harmony. Example: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
·         Spatial: “Design, color, form, perspective, balance, contrast, match.” Example: Frank Lloyd Wright
·         Bodily-Kinesthetic: “Control and coordination, stamina, balance, locating self or objects in space.” Example: Tiger Woods
·         Interpersonal: “Ability to inspire, instruct, or lead others and respond to their actions, emotions, motivations, opinions, and situations.” Example: Dalai Lama
·         Intrapersonal: “Knowledge and understanding of one’s strengths and weaknesses, styles, emotions, motivations, self-orientation. Example: Oprah Winfrey
·         Naturalist (added later): Noting the differences that are key to discriminating among several categories or species of objects in the natural world. Example: Charles Darwin
·         Existential (unconfirmed ninth intelligence): Capacity to raise big questions about one’s place in the cosmos. Example: Soren Kierkegaard

While MI theory states that “each intelligence is a relatively autonomous intellectual potential capable of functioning independently of the other,” it also puts forth the idea that the different “intelligences work in concert with each other.” While MI certainly defines intelligences in a more universal manner, it cautions also to suggest that there are individuals who are universally intelligent, i.e. possessing high degrees of ability or talent in each of the nine intelligences. Gardner references a “jagged profile of abilities.”

“It cannot be assumed that an individual who demonstrates exceptional linguistic and logical-mathematical skills – abilities tapped by IQ tests – will also display exceptional ability (or even interest) in activities relying on interpersonal or kinesthetic intelligence, for example. Neither can it be assumed that a child who performs poorly on an IQ test or standardized achievement test will fail to excel in activities relying on one or more of the other intelligences,” according to the Handbook.