Interview: The Hidden Intelligences

Howard Gardner was recently interviewed by Dario Ruggiero, founder of the Italian organization Long Term Economy. The interview presents Gardner’s current views about multiple intelligences and its application in education and society.

Below is the interview in full.

Interview with Howard Gardner 

(Hobbs Research Professor of Cognition and Education Harvard Graduate School of Education)

“THE HIDDEN INTELLIGENCES: HOW THEY CAN HELP HUMANS IN THE 21st CENTURY”

May 2000. I went out for a pizza with my friends. Mike who had the highest IQ was not able to have a word with any girl in the group. Josh who had the worst IQ was a genius in relating with girls and the other friends of the group. Why that? Why the most intelligent person was defeated by Josh in relating with the girls and the group. The answer is simple: Josh has higher interpersonal intelligence!

Having a big IQ simply means that you have good Logical and Linguistic intelligences. But there are 6 other kinds of Intelligence the IQ does not take into account and that can be determinant in your success in life and can be determinant in solving some complex challenges like the ones humans are to face in the next decades. Howard Gardner (Hobbs Research Professor of Cognition and Education Harvard Graduate School of Education) developed the Multiple Intelligences (MI) theory in the late 1970s and early 1980s, with the publication of the book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. He says “Each person has a unique spectrum of intellectual strengths and weaknesses.” We all (parents, teachers, professors, politicians, head of companies etc…) should understand this principle. We should understand that it is a very, very big failure for the system if it is not able to get the best from each person and make him happy (by doing what he can do best).

So, what are Multiple Intelligences? How does it affect the educational approach? How can it help humankind face the current and future challenges? Can it help society develop Long Term Thinking? Should educators and parents understand the MI model before trying to educate a child? Howard Gardner answered to these and other questions.

This interview was made by Dario Ruggiero and published in July 2019 on www.lteconomy.org.

Acknowledgements

Thanks go to Long Term Economy Board (Priscilla Asamoah Baffour, Geetha Packal, Stephen Saunders, Tazeen Siddiqui) and Fatjona Filipi and Grazia Giordano (Long Term Economy collaborators) for their help in making the questionnaire.

Highlights 

  • …Rather than human beings having a single intelligence, which can be adequately assessed by an instrument like an IQ test, human beings are better thought of as having a set of capacities.

  • The intelligences are like a mental chemistry set – you can create a poison or a an antibiotic with chemical elements.

  • … And not surprisingly, “MI approaches” to education are more likely to be found in smaller and more flexible educational environments.

  • Nearly every day, I hear from educators all over the world, who have found these ideas compelling, and who sometimes combine them with an interest in ‘the good project’.

  • For the first time in human history, we have developed machines and approaches (like deep learning and other forms of ‘artificial intelligence’) which equal or surpass human capacities.

  • So the intelligences in themselves are amoral. They need to be yoked to a purpose and that purpose can be positive or destructive. And that’s why my colleagues and I have been studying Good Work – work that is technically excellent, personally engaged, and carried out in an ethical manner.

1. When I first came across the concept of Multiple Intelligences (MI) I was shocked by the fact that it is still not used massively in school and that IQ remains the only assessment method. Can you kindly better explain the concept of MI and how can it benefit our society?

Gardner: The idea of multiple intelligences is a psychological theory. I contend that rather than human beings having a single intelligence, which can be adequately assessed by an instrument like an IQ test, human beings are better thought of as having a set of capacities, which I call the multiple intelligences. A person may be strong with linguistic intelligence, but not with spatial intelligence, or vice versa. And there are several other intelligences, ranging from musical to interpersonal. (See my writings or my website www.multipleintelligencesoasis.org.) Each person has a unique spectrum of intellectual strengths and weaknesses.

Any psychological theory can be used beneficially or destructively. The intelligences are like a mental chemistry set – you can create a poison or a an antibiotic with chemical elements. I believe that intelligences need to be yoked with ‘good work’ or ‘good citizenship,’ as I mention below with reference to Question 5.

As for IQ tests I don’t think you are correct. At least in the United States, IQ tests are not used routinely anymore. And there are many tests for more specific kinds of abilities. Yet, as the creator of MI theory, I prefer not to use short answer tests but rather to observe individuals in various kinds of environments and to observe which kinds of things they like to do, and which things they can do well.

2. You say that there are 2 main educational implications: Individuation (also termed personalization) and Pluralization (ideas, concepts, theories, skills should be taught in several different ways). How can the current standardised, competitive-based and non-inclusive current model of education move towards this approach?

Gardner: As you imply, it’s easier to individuate when you have a more progressive, more flexible educational system, than when you have a ‘one size fits all’ approach. And not surprisingly, “MI approaches” to education are more likely to be found in smaller and more flexible educational environments.

But any teacher and any school can decide to pay more attention to individual differences; and certainly any schools can approach complex concepts and procedures in a variety of ways. That’s a choice to be made by teachers and by the heads of school. And when they choose to embrace individuation and pluralization, and the students learn more or better, then there’s no need to revert to more old-fashioned approaches.

One other important thing: In the age of the internet and the web, it is possible to individuate and to personalize as much as one wants to. No need for ‘one size fits all’ any more. But of course, that means that you can’t just do social media (like Facebook). You have to explore the web and approach important concepts and processes in ways that are comfortable to you, the learner – take courses, converse with others, and the like.

3. You developed MI theory in the late 1970s and early 1980s, with the publication of the book Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Since then has the educational system moved towards your model?

Gardner: You are right that these ideas are several decades old, and I have nuanced some of my views since then. It would not be correct to say that ‘the educational system’ has moved towards my or anyone else models. There are hundreds of countries and millions of schools!

I can say that whether or not parents and teachers have heard of me, or know the phrase ‘multiple intelligences,’ these ideas have had considerable influence in education around the world. In 2009 my colleagues and I published a 400-page book ‘Multiple intelligences around the world.’ Forty-two scholars in 15 countries on five continents described ways in which they used “MI ideas” in schools, museums, workplace, and other educational contexts. And nearly every day, I hear from educators all over the world, who have found these ideas compelling, and who sometimes combine them with an interest in The Good Project (see Question 5).

4. Perhaps the 20th century was a period where intelligences making up the IQ, specifically linguistic, logical-mathematical, and sometimes spatial intelligence, were more important in that kind of society (where efficiency request was high, economic growth was the only main goal and no uncertainty was present). Do you think that the 21st century, with all its upcoming uncertainties, will boost the need for a multiple intelligences approach?

Gardner: That’s a good and complex question. For the first time in human history, we have developed machines and approaches (like deep learning and other forms of ‘artificial intelligence‘) which equal or surpass human capacities. In some cases, we will not need to draw on certain human intelligences because the relevant tasks are solved much better and easier than human beings can do. Also, for the first time in human history, we are understanding the nervous system well enough that we can begin to operate directly on the brain, diagnose strengths and weaknesses, and perhaps also link the human brain directly to mechanical entities or vice versa. And to top it all off, we may be able to operate directly on the human genome, thus changing the nature of our species at a speed that has no connection to the speed with which evolution has worked for thousands of years.

So I have little doubt that 100 hundred years from now, if there are psychologists or cognitive scientists (or new creatures!) interested in human cognition, they will draw the map of human intelligences in quite a different way. I’ll bet that it is closer to an “MI” perspective than to the traditional IQ perspective.  But I won’t be around to know the answer!

5. Finally, we are a community of Long Term Thinkers. The project wants to move from a short term into a long term vision in making decisions (take into account long term effects) in order to make humankind really sustainable. The fact is that being Money (short-term asset) the main goal in the current society is in contrast with long term sustainability. In which way do you think a Multiple Intelligences Model can help developing Long Term Thinking and a more sustainable and thriving society? Is in your opinion for example MI more suitable to face the current Ecological Crisis?

As a result of twenty five years of research on Good Work, I think about this question differently. Any human intelligence can be used benignly or destructively. Both the poet Goethe and the propagandist Josef Goebbels had plenty of linguistic intelligence; one used it to write great literature, the other to foment hatred. Both Nelson Mandela and Slobodan Milosevic had plenty of interpersonal intelligence: the first used his intelligence to heal a wounded country, the other to generate ethnic cleansing.

So the intelligences in themselves are amoral. They need to be yoked to a purpose and that purpose can be positive or destructive. And that’s why my colleagues and I have been studying Good Work: work that is technically excellent, personally engaged, and carried out in an ethical manner. And that’s why we have been studying Good Citizenship: an approach to one’s role in various sectors that is informed, involving, and takes into account the needs of the broader society (rather than just one’s own selfish desires).

So when someone says that they are using the idea of “MI”, I ask “To what end?” And I am delighted if an individual or a group is devoted toward longer term thinking, and toward dealing with crises like the ecological crisis, and my colleagues and I offer to work with them if that proves feasible. If readers are interested, they should look at the website for thegoodproject.org and write to hgasst@gse.harvard.edu.

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