Multiple IntelligencesHoward Gardner first proposed the theory of multiple intelligences (MI) in 1983. Gardner?s theory suggests that there are several different areas of intelligence and that most people will have a special affinity to one area over others. In his original formation, Gardner proposed seven different areas of intelligence and has since added an eighth. These different kinds of intelligence are spatial, linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic. Some theorists have suggested that there is a ninth intelligence that Gardner has termed existential intelligence.
The importance of MI theory is that even if a person seems to have a problem with one area of intelligence, such as math (the logical-mathematical intelligence) they can still be found to be intelligent in other ways. In addition, people who have trouble learning mathematics may not have problems with math per-se, but rather with the way in which it is being taught to them. For instance, a person with an affinity to linguistic intelligence should learn best through listening and talking about problems, where as someone with a spatial affinity will learn through visuals rather than through strict lecture.
Traditionally, education has focused on linguistic and logical competency, in other words on reading, writing, and math. If this theory is correct it would explain how many students
, who appear particularly intelligent, still have trouble in school. Many teachers feel that this theory does apply, but that instead of opening up many new fields, it rather reinforces what they already believe: that different people learn differently. The lesson in this theory is still an important one, namely, education should be a broad endeavor that focuses on many different aspects of the human experience. Focusing on MI theory will expand the minds of students
and allow all different kinds of students
to succeed, regardless of their specific affinities.
As interesting as this theory is, there has been a large critical backlash in the scientific and educational communities. One criticism suggests that Gardner uses the word intelligence too loosely. Essentially, they argue that intelligence should define the skill set that helps people achieve in schools. By widening the definition to music and physical awareness (bodily-kinesthetic intelligence) Gardner is missing the mark and misusing the term. On the other hand, as soon as a curriculum places emphasis on a wide range of skills, that include music and physical education, then these ?intelligences? do in fact help people to do well in school.
Another, far more important critique of MI theory, is that the work done to date on how the brain works does not appear to support the theory. Gardner argues that each of these intelligences are separate fields that share little to no connection with each other. However, research into the brain has shown similarities between brains using language, music, motor skills, and emotions. These findings directly contradict MI theory, at least insofar as there are eight or nine different intelligences. Research into how the brain works does, however, suggest that there are at least a couple of different ways for people to understand things. It is possible then that Gardner?s intelligences are subsets of larger processes.
Finally, many critical of MI theory have pointed out that there is little to no empirical evidence to support its claims. However, rather than many studies refuting the claims of MI, unfortunately it appears that there really just aren?t many studies in this field at all. Until there has been more empirical research into whether or not MI theory works, it will remain just a contentious theory.
Multiple intelligence theory is a fascinating idea, and whether or not its claims are true it does set up an interesting framework for education. People learn in different ways, and just because one person appears unable to understand a certain thing does not mean that they could not understand it from a different perspective or that they are not gifted in other ways. At the very least, MI theory suggests the common sense approach that if we want talented, rational, and creative thinking individuals in our society, we need to begin in our education system by teaching as many different fields as possible.
"Theory of Multiple Intelligences." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 12 July 2011. .