“If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music… I get most joy in life out of music.” -Albert Einstein
The Sci-Fi film “Divergent” (see trailer) shows a future where sophisticated testing systems classify and sort all members of society into fixed groups. The hero and heroine of the film are sent to join the warrior faction, but they are creative and “divergent,” they come to realize that they don’t fit into any one single group or category.
In this dystopian version of the future, people are treated as cogs in a larger “machine,” each belonging to a unique “faction” (sub-group), where only a very limited and rigid subset of skills are valued.
At one point (see scene) the young male hero (Theo James) reveals a tattoo on his back that shows each of the various specialized factions lined up like chakra points. He says he loves the strengths and skills of all the groups, doesn’t want to be- can’t be– “just one thing.”
I was really impressed by the story line, and the fact that both the book and movie are presently popular with teenage readers. The film presents a great metaphor for modern societies and educational systems that leave many people feeling a bit fragmented and off balance, like unfinished works of art. It points towards how schools ignore the unique potential each of us has for developing skills in many different areas.
While watching the film I was reminded of Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences. M.I. Theory was very popular in the 1990’s and had a strong influence on education reforms, until right after the Sept. 11th attacks, when a greater emphasis on high-stakes exams and standardized testing began to take hold.
Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences
Basing his theory on research in cognitive and developmental psychology, Gardner proposed that there are at least 8 forms of intelligence that humans possess, many of which we share with other animals.
There are the Social and Emotional intelligences, the ability to empathize, care for and support others, collaborate as a part of teams, build relationships and gain insight into our own hearts and minds.
Then there are Musical and Physical intelligences– the ability to master complex compositions and play musical instruments, to be creative, play sports and build skills that involve our body’s movements. While each is distinct, these two intelligences come together harmoniously whenever we dance and move our bodies to music.
There are also two visual modes of thinking- Spatial & Ecological intelligence. These abilities find expression with movie making, the sciences, engineering and creative visual arts. Spatial intelligence is related to systems thinking, allowing our brains to construct complex representations of systems relationships and interconnections.
Systems thinking works with the realm of the imagination, which Einstein rightly emphasized as being more important than knowledge, for it’s our visual intelligence (something we share with most other animals) that is able to construct unified representations of everything we encounter, mental models which reflect how the world is organized.
Finally there are the two representational skill sets most valued (and tested) in modern societies- Linguistic and Mathematical intelligence. This is how knowledge has been represented and passed on across the centuries by civilized societies, its the language of numbers, law, science, economics, business, academics and literature.
The problem for many modern civilizations is that we seem to have overemphasized these last two intelligences, elevating them above the others and forcing all our children to be tested and assigned social ranks according to their mastery of them.
If we look at those we call “geniuses” down through history, many seemed to possess a creative mix of intelligences that worked together in unison, kind of like an orchestra or jazz band. We could call this Symphonic Intelligence. Very different from A.I. in that it’s not artificial at all, but represents the highest potential of human beings when our various intelligences are synchronized and working together harmonically.
Albert Einstein, for example, was not only a great mathematician, he was also deeply spiritual, had a powerful imagination and was a skilled musician. Would he have excelled in physics if his parents had not encouraged him to play music, if he had limited his interests to mathematics and science?
Every human being has unique and unknown capabilities. Educational systems that prioritize a narrow range of skills may cripple our creative potential, create artificial expectations for our children and keep all of us from developing fully.
There is much evidence to support the idea that greater happiness and life success comes when we are given opportunities to master a wide range of skills, when each of us is in synch with our own unique symphony of talents.
The failure of modern cultures to prioritize all the intelligences equally could help to explain many of the seemingly “unsolvable” problems that surround us- perpetual warfare, environmental disasters, rising poverty, violence, inequality, materialism, consumerism, addictive behaviors and other forms of suffering.
Like in the film Divergent, because of we’ve believed that talents are rare and exist in isolation, we have created systems of education that have sorted most of us into categories and boxes – artists, jocks, science geeks, mechanics, bankers, farmers, etc. In reality, each of us has great potential in many areas, our full range of skills just need to be valued, nurtured, balanced and developed.
By Christopher Chase
Tattoo representing all skill areas on the back of hero in Divergent:
* Let a Child’s Spirit Be Free to Unfold – M. Montessori * How Schools Kill Creativity – Ken Robinson * How Children Naturally Learn * Self-Direction is the Key to Mastery * Symphonic Intelligence: The Next Revolution in Learning? * Real Learning is a Creative Process * Systems Thinking- Seeing How Everything is Connected * Educational Malpractice – The Child Manufacturing Process * How Wisdom Grows: Educating Hearts & Minds * Toward a More Creative & Holistic Model of Education *