Howard Gardner at the Dalton School

To view a video of Gardner’s talk, please click here.

My Trip to the Dalton School in New York City
by Howard Gardner

On May 14, 2014, I spent an hour with students at the Dalton School, a well-known and highly selective private school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The bulk of the audience consisted of 7th and 8th graders who were studying science—among them Theo Strauss, a beloved relative. Also present were some older students, including Annabel Strauss, Theo’s sister, who introduced me to her schoolmates. Some parents, teachers, and, by coincidence, one of my doctoral students were in the audience.

When accepting the invitation to speak some months earlier, I had thought that I’d just have a conversation with a small group of students. I was surprised to see an audience of close to 200 persons.  It would have been easier to give a canned talk, but I decided instead to follow my initial plan, and attempted to have a conversation with the entire audience. I was pleased that this plan worked out.  You can view the entire proceedings on YouTube here. Please note that I am not visible for the first few minutes until the cameraman assumes the controls, and the first few questioners are not audible. However, thereafter, the recording logistics work well.

Some days after my talk, students from the 7th and 8th grade classes sent me a nice card of appreciation.  Prompted by their teachers, they wrote down what they had learned or found new and interesting from my talk. I found these student reflections to be intriguing and instructive. Below, I’ve grouped the responses into seven categories (A through G), and I offer brief reactions of my own to each.

A. What Social Science Means

  • I learned the different types of sciences and how “real” science relies on having tests to provide evidence.
  • He talked about social science & how this plays into science. He also talked about how one word [see Gardner’s comments below] made all the difference for him and that the educators were interested but not the scientists.
  • I never knew that social science had to do with multiple intelligences.
  • I never knew there was such a thing as “Social Science.”

Comment: Since students were studying science, I thought it would be useful to get them to explain what science is (and is not). I then introduced them to a term that was probably unfamiliar to them: “social science” (the kind of research that my colleagues and I carry out). The remark about “one word” has to do with my decision to write about “multiple intelligences.” Scientists in psychology have their way of defining intelligence, and it jars with my own formulation. If I had written about multiple talents, psychologists would not have objected; but it was the choice of the word “intelligence” in the plural that brought attention to my work.

B. How MI Theory Challenges Standard Intelligence/IQ Theory

  • What is considered smart will change over time.
  • That Howard was the first person to challenge the IQ system.
  • The definition of the word smart changes all the time.
  • I learned a lot about different kinds of intelligences and it kind of strengthened what I had already learned in science.
  • I liked the way he described Intelligence. His views on the IQ test make me realize how flawed the system is. We judge fish on their ability to climb a tree.

Comment: The students understood the key ideas of “MI theory.” It is an exaggeration to say that I was the first person to challenge the IQ system. In fact, famed journalist Walter Lippmann did so in the early 1920s. But the particular challenge that I mounted in the early 1980s seems to have been the right challenge at the right time.

C. MI Theory is Not Widely Accepted in the Scientific Community

  • I learned about conflict from the “real” scientist and the educators about the IQ test.
  • I learned that the science community didn’t accept the multiple intelligences theory. I found that interesting.
  • I found it interesting that he said “real” scientists were not all so enthusiastic about his intelligences theory. I knew that IQ tests, etc. are very rigid still, but I thought it was a unanimous theory.
  • The idea that multiple intelligences was not considered science from the scientific community.

Comment: I was probably a bit hard on myself and my theory. It’s true that most psychologists with a technical interest in intelligence do not accept my theory; they also don’t accept the triarchic theory of Robert Sternberg, and he is much more “in the club” than I am. We might say that they are “strict constructionists.”

But many psychologists outside the “intelligence club” are more sympathetic to MI theory. And among scientists in biology and evolutionary studies, there is a belief in the multiplicity of capacities, which is consistent with MI theory.

D. Appeal of Howard’s Presentation

  • He was so knowledgeable, and did not tell us any lies. Or, as he said, “B.S.” J
  • His story of how he came to his conclusion on intelligences.
  • Gardner’s presentation today was fascinating. He talked so enthusiastically, and really made me want to have a conversation w/ him. Also about the IQ test and controversy.

Comment: I was delighted that the students at Dalton were so receptive to my presentation. I’ve spoken in dozens of schools all over the world. The hour spent at Dalton stands out in terms of attention, receptiveness, and the ability and inclination of students to reflect on our time together.

E. Limits of Standard Testing

  • I found it very interesting that there was no test that could measure ability of all the intelligences.
  • I found it interesting that there aren’t tests for all the intelligences.
  • I learned that ERB’s and SAT’s are not great ways of testing b/c they only include 1 intelligence. P.S. he was very funny!

Comment: As American students living in the 21st century, these students have already been tested frequently. As they head off to secondary schools, colleges, and careers, they can fully expect to be tested periodically, with some of the tests being quite high-stakes. Certainly, the students need to be prepared for high-stakes tests. Yet I think it is salutary for them to have and maintain a degree of skepticism with respect to what can be measured and how sensitive and how accurate these measures are.

F. Miscellany

  • Big data (both new and interesting)
  • It amazes me that a brain can be divided into so many parts, and how another brain can find out about it.
  • I found it interesting that the fact that he pluralized the word “intelligence” made such an impact on the reception of the book and theory.

Comment: I like these disparate comments. They all relate to asides that I made, not to the major point of the talk. It shows that the students were listening carefully and thinking all the time.

G. Hyperbole

  • That most people have at least one good intelligence, at least one medium intelligence, and at least one bad intelligence.

Comment: This is a frequent over-interpretation of MI theory. In the case of the interpretation of my remarks at Dalton, I’ll take the blame. What I meant to say is, “People can be excellent in one intelligence, average in a second, and quite poor in a third.” In reality, however, life is not fair. There are some individuals who are intelligent across the board, and others who do not distinguish themselves in any intelligence. But—and this is what the student picked up—most of us have quite jagged profiles of intelligence.


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