Howard Gardner retires from teaching at the end of this academic year. He will continue his research as the Hobbs Research Professor of Cognition and Education at Harvard University. To read a tribute marking this occasion by two close colleagues from Harvard Project Zero, click here.
I recently saw this article from a Pakistani newspaper, click here for link. It begins with the observation that individuals are often clueless about their career paths even after completing their masters degree. I can’t just judge whether that statement is correct—either about young people in Pakistan or in the United States.
However, from that possibly relevant observation, there is a huge leap to the next statement and to the headline that “Parents should know their kids’ future careers from class three.” And there is no warrant whatsoever for the additional assertion “from grade three a parent can distinguish… that a child has one intelligence at the top in which they excel, one intelligence at the lowest, and six intelligences in the average zone.”
Quite the opposite: we differ from one another in our profiles of intelligence, and there is no simple formula for strengths and weaknesses. And in any case, intelligences develop—or fail to develop—because of an individuals experiences, motivations, and opportunities. Rather than trying to anticipate or dictate a career, parents should encourage their children to try out various pursuits and to be prepared to pursue a variety of careers—for who can anticipate what the occupational landscape will be a generation from now?
While MI Theory is well known in educational circles, and has become part of the common culture in some places, it has never had much of a home in standard psychology circles. This point is illustrated beautifully in this article published in a major journal of psychology (Current Directions in Psychological Science), click here for link. Entitled “Life beyond ‘general intelligence,’” researchers Kovacs and Conway contend that “IQ should be interpreted as an index of specific cognitive abilities rather than the reflection of an underlying general cognitive ability.” Terming their approach “POT” (Process Overlap Theory) the authors propose that intelligence is determined by multiple components, both domain-general and domain-specific.” Moreover, they add that they do not equate “g” or general intelligence with some kind of central executive function. Rather, executive functioning appears to be a “cluster of largely autonomous control processes—an executive committee,” so to speak.
You might well conclude that I am pleased with this article and its conclusions. And yet, what strikes me more is that neither my work nor that of other critics of a single-intelligence position is cited — not Robert Sternberg, not Steven Ceci, not David Olson, just to mention three scholars known to me. Apparently, standard intelligence theory and standard proponents of “g” are the only individuals who merit citation in such an article. You may think that I am annoyed, or even angry, and yet I am simply bemused.
Howard Gardner recently received an email from a Romanian scholar and educator who wanted to know how she could build a test that measures children’s various intelligences. Below, we’ve printed her question and Howard Gardner’s response in full.
Dear Dr. Gardner,
I come back to you after a while with another question. Last year I have got my PhD with the thesis "Theory of Multiple Intelligences: Impact on In-service teachers’ training." I am very happy and grateful to Professor Gardner for his fascinating theory and work, as MI really has a big impact in the classroom.
Now I would like to continue my research and to build a Romanian tool in order to estimate the development level of each of the 8 intelligences (or are they already officialy 9 ?) at a certain moment - somehow like Branton Shearer’s MIDAS does, for different ages (3-5yo, 6-10 yo, 11-14 yo, 15-18 yo and over 18 yo). Because teachers ask for that as they say have no enough time to observe each child and would need something quicker to help them and the parents find about the kids cognitive profile in terms of MI .
So the question for you is : could you please give me some pieces of advice before starting this huge task? how should I think this tool? As a questionnaire (more like MIDAS type with Likert scale answers for each activity listed) with good psychometric properties or as a screening tool or observation guide? how is it in other countries? Do you have some bibliography/links /tools to share?
Thank you for spending time in reading my email and all the best in everything you do.
Educator in Romania
Dear Educator in Romania,
My colleague has passed on your correspondence from a few weeks ago, and I've also looked through your papers. I have to admit that I was unaware, or had forgotten, about your initiative. Let me say that I'm quite impressed with what you have done and how you think about the issues of assessment of MIs.
As you point out, I have been skeptical about testing for the intelligences. However, that's NOT because I fear a replication of the IQ story. Rather, it's because I think that it is quite challenging to come up with a reasonable set of measures of each of the intelligences, and because I worry about the importance of having certain experiences in certain cultures which can stimulate or stunt particular intelligences. I feel most positively about Project Spectrum because it was a modest effort to assess the profiles of middle class preschoolers in a Boston suburb; and about the Explorama in Denmark (I don't know whether it still exists!), because it presents games which individuals of all ages can “play” in their own way.
I respect Branton Shearer's efforts but, as he knows, I do not particularly trust self reports. (Almost all people--or at least almost all Americans--believe that they have an above average sense of humor and above average capacity to drive cars--and clearly half of them must be wrong!) If the self-reports on MIDAS were independently verified by those who know the children well--family, insightful teachers or friends,--then I would feel more comfortable with the results of the MIDAS. We term this confirmation from several sources 'triangulation'.
So if I were your adviser, I would turn the question around and ask "Why do the teachers in Romania want to estimate the developmental level of the several intelligences?" What are they planning to do with this information? Will it inform how they teach a particular subject, or what they teach, or what extra-curricular opportunities they offer? If they have any or several of these goals, then it is well worth devising instruments-- which can be observational or psychometric or some combination--which can inform their pedagogy, their approach to particular children. But if it is just to give students or parents some kind of a chart, with their scores, I would not be sympathetic. And there is the risk that they would treat the report as some kind of a final statement, rather than as a stimulus for trying new things or trying new ways with old things.
Also, you mention "developmental level'. It is true that in FRAMES OF MIND I mention that each intelligence may have its own developmental sequence. But that was a dis-embodied statement. It would have been more helpful to say that tasks and skills that feature particular intelligences may well have a developmental sequence So, for example, when it comes to writing essays, there may be developmental levels--similarly, learning to play an instrument, or chess, or understanding the motivations of others--but one can't be certain that one's developmental level in , say, playing the piano is equivalent to a developmental level in composing a piece of music or singing or some other musical tasks. Life is more complicated than that...and so are the intelligences!
In writing you these words, I am well aware that I have not been particularly helpful . But I hope at least to have given you an idea of how, forty years later!, I think about these complicated issues.
With all good wishes,