Multiple Intelligences


In 1981, a young Dr. Howard Gardner published a book for which he is now famous, "Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences." Dr. Gardner certainly has research to back up his work, and I commend him for his contributions to education and psychology. He shares some of his thoughts on how he came up with the theory in this nice narrative. His work's impact on education (both positive and negative) is the purpose for which I write this page. You can follow his continued work on his "Official Authoritative Site on multiple IntelligenceS." On his site he responds to criticisms of his work, which I suggest you read.

I once had a discussion with a special education teacher about Dr. Gardner's theory of "Multiple Intelligences." The teacher started the conversation hesitantly, and preceded her query by asking if it was alright to ask me a personal question. Just a few days prior to the conversation, she saw a Facebook status I had posted about how "Multiple Intelligences" make me cringe; she wanted to know why I had posted that comment.

My Personal Thoughts and Disclaimer:

I should state at this point that this page is my own personal/professional opinion. What you're reading here are my own thoughts, which are notably different than Dr. Gardner's and his loyal followers.

I do not disagree with Dr. Gardner's theory of Multiple Intelligences. In fact, I deeply appreciate his contributions to education and psychology, and I certainly do acknowledge that we can use these "multiple intelligences" to draw on a student's strengths within the classroom. My primary concern with this theory is about the use of the term "intelligences" as he explains each person's innate skills in these multiple areas.

    1. The first issue I have is with the large-scale misinterpretation by educators about Gardner's work. He created a theory about how people learn or solve problems. He states that each of us has several unique skill sets that make up our overall intellectual capacity. However, educators tend to misinterpret it; they believe that he says that each person has several unique intelligence (IQ) measurements in each of these areas. In my position as a school psychologist, I administer several varieties of intellectual assessments, and I've never seen a test which measures Multiple Intelligences.

    2. The second issue I have is directly critical of Gardner's choice of terminology. As I joked with my colleague, "I believe that 'intelligence' is sacred and holy." We cannot simply state that one's skills or talents in motorcycle riding give that person a higher intelligence in Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence. If Gardner would have coined his work as the "Theory of Multiple Ways of Learning" or "Theory of Multiple Skill Developments" then I'd happily accept and endorse his work. I don't like using the word "intelligence" in any capacity other than in those which are able to be cognitively measured using a normed intellectual assessment.

What is Intelligence?

Historically, our view of intelligence has been hard to define. In fact, I challenge you to find two definitions of intelligence that are exactly the same; I doubt that you'll have much luck doing so. Generally, 'intelligence' is considered to be a measurement of the way we learn, reason, and adapt. Intelligence is generally not thought to increase or decrease; it's a constant innate ability. Yes, we can certainly develop our problem solving skills as we age and mature, but our 'intelligence' cannot be increased.

Gardner understands something; people have a varied ability to learn a vast array of skills. Some of us will never understand how to play billiards, some will never understand chemistry, some can't "carry a tune in a bucket," and the list goes on.... Each of us have a unique ability to learn, and learn in different styles. I believe that Gardner's learning theory is useful; but I maintain it would be ill-advised to refer to it as a theory of multiple intelligences.

Closing Comments

To summarize, most psychologists assert that intelligence must be able to be measured. I believe most scientists will agree; if we can't quantify something, how can we prove it exists?

For a good review of Dr. Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligences, which does offer a differing opinion than my own, please read here. You can also take a look at Dr. Williamham's writing as he debates learning styles.