Successful education involves seeing each child as a unique and whole human being, concerned about how they think, feel and learn. Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences provides a useful way of looking at this. His model of human abilities is grounded in psychological research of the last century, viewing each person as having at least eight different domains of potential intelligences, each comprised of many different skill sets that can be mastered and developed over time.
Unfortunately, current test-driven school reforms pay little attention to Gardner’s holistic view of human beings. They ignore the last 50 years of research in cognitive science, psychology and innovative learner-centered education, focused primarily on a very narrow range of “testable” mathematical, cognitive and linguistic skills in the upper right quadrant of Gardner’s model.
“We have schools because we hope that some day when children have left schools that they will still be able to use what it is that they’ve learned. And there is now a massive amount of evidence from all realms of science that unless individuals take a very active role in what it is that they’re studying, unless they learn to ask questions, to do things hands on, to essentially re-create things in their own mind and transform them as is needed, the ideas just disappear. The student may have a good grade on the exam, we may think that he or she is learning, but a year or two later there’s nothing left.
If, on the other hand, somebody has carried out an experiment himself or herself, analyzed the data, made a prediction, and saw whether it came out correctly, if somebody is doing history and actually does some interviewing himself or herself — oral histories — then reads the documents, listens to it, goes back and asks further questions, writes up a paper. That’s the kind of thing that’s going to adhere, whereas if you simply memorize a bunch of names and a bunch of facts, even a bunch of definitions, there’s nothing to hold on to.” ~Howard Gardner on Multiple Intelligences
Clearly, to be successful and happy in life, human beings need to develop much more than just linguistic and mathematical skills. It may even be true that those we view as creative “geniuses” are individuals who have successfully meshed a variety of intelligences together, in unique ways. Einstein, for example, was not only a mathematical thinker, he also had great insight into human psychology (social and emotional intelligence), a powerful imagination (spatial, ecological intelligences) and was a highly skilled musician.
“The idea of multiple intelligences comes out of psychology. It’s a theory that was developed to document the fact that human beings have very different kinds of intellectual strengths and that these strengths are very, very important in how kids learn and how people represent things in their minds, and then how people use them in order to show what it is that they’ve understood.
If we all had exactly the same kind of mind and there was only one kind of intelligence, then we could teach everybody the same thing in the same way and assess them in the same way and that would be fair. But once we realize that people have very different kinds of minds, different kinds of strengths — some people are good in thinking spatially, some in thinking language, others are very logical, other people need to be hands on and explore actively and try things out — then education, which treats everybody the same way, is actually the most unfair education. Because it picks out one kind of mind, which I call the law professor mind — somebody who’s very linguistic and logical — and says, if you think like that, great, if you don’t think like that, there’s no room on the train for you.” ~Howard Gardner on Multiple Intelligences
We live now in a world with many difficult problems and far too few creative solutions. What the future requires is innovative educational approaches where young people are given the freedom and support they need to experience deep and varied multisensory learning. Only such enriched forms of education can help our children to become multi-skilled, able to collaborate and communicate well with others, comfortable with their bodies, skilled with the arts, understanding not only how to learn from printed texts and solve mathematical problems, but also how to apply that knowledge creatively, how to build things and learn from their life experiences.
– Christopher Chase, The Art of Learning –