Multiple Intelligences: Understanding Your "Superpowers"
In today’s educational landscape, it is common for many students to experience anxiety. Young people today are busy, with many competing demands and expectations. Yet a large part of the pressure they feel comes from a source that is supposed to reward them for content mastery: standardized testing. Measures like the SAT and state-mandated assessments have resulted in increasingly high levels of stress as young people await numeric scores deemed to be reflections of their aptitude, even though these types of tests are very limited measures of overall intelligence.
How can re-calibrating the conversation empower students to have better self-esteem and an enhanced understanding of their abilities and those of others?
As a nonprofit founder and an educator, I have worked to help students reconsider the narrow meaning of intelligence we see espoused in many schools, and I have used the theory of multiple intelligences to do so. The mission of my 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, Student Body of America Association, is to support young people through education, and in doing so, our programs have implemented the theory of multiple intelligences in workshops, educational materials, curricula, and more. The impact it has had on our students has been striking.
As shared by one of our young program participants, “Learning about multiple intelligences has taught me there are many layers to everyone. I was able to learn more about the different qualities that make me who I am. I feel much more confident and sure of myself knowing my strengths.”
Our research further shows that youth participants who attended a two-day workshop to learn about multiple intelligences, and then completed a survey provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, showed an average 10 percent improvement in their self-esteem. The most significant gains were evident when youth were asked if they "take a positive attitude towards [themselves]." Survey data showed a 20 percent increase.
Based on these results, I recognized the power that MI had to transform young people’s perceptions. As a result, Dr. Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences provides the framework for the MI9 Team, a book I wrote to empower youth to recognize their unique skills and special talents and to apply their strengths to reach their full potential.
This book is about a group of nine fictional superheroes, each of whom is an expert in a particular intelligence. For example, Hoku, the superhero who symbolizes bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, is a superb athlete and highly trained in martial arts. And while Hoku’s expertise came quite naturally, some of the other heroes had to work hard at the intelligence they now represent. Yin, once socially isolated and lonely, worked very hard to overcome her inhibiting shyness and now represents interpersonal intelligence.
While the MI9 Team members have superpowers, as all superheroes do, what is most significant is the fact that these characters possess qualities that each and every one of us can exhibit as well. In addition to a particular component of MI theory (e.g. musical intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, naturalist intelligence), the MI9 Team superheroes each embody two other unique qualities—a specific positive character trait (such as leadership, tenacity, determination, etc.) and a social cause they are passionate about. For instance, Sphinx, the leader of the team, fittingly epitomizes leadership. Her social cause is gender equality, and she opened a school for girls in Concordia, the impoverished land where she grew up and where gender discrimination prevents most girls from getting an education. In contrast, her fellow superhero Pierre grew up surrounded by prosperity and high expectations, but he had an apathetic family who turned a blind eye to his struggles with depression. After running away and a bout of homelessness, he ultimately comes into his own as a member of the MI9 Team and champions empathy, which he lacked as a youth. His social issue, also influenced by his personal experiences, is mental disorders.
I have shared the MI9 team with many of the young people with whom I work. When asked about whether they connect to anyone in the story, students typically identify the superheroes who represent the intelligences they feel are their strongest. These young people also express their aspirations to be more like a superhero who is skilled in an intelligence that they want to improve. One girl, who wants to be an engineer but has a hard time at school with math and science, finds that her favorite character is Athena, who represents logical-mathematical intelligence. This student has recently joined the STEM club at her school in hopes of improving her skills. With the MI9 superheroes as strong role models, we can help students remember that they each possess unique talents and that they should always do the right thing.
As young people enter adolescence, they look increasingly beyond their parents, at their peers and the media, for role models who may influence their choices, goals and behavior. In helping youth to avoid negative role models, Common Sense Media suggests helping young people “choose positive role models who embody the values you want to pass down.” The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry agrees that youth should choose positive role models by identifying qualities they admire; and the MI9 Team provides an array of qualities so there’s something that everyone can relate to, whether by intelligence, character trait, or social cause.
In summary, I have found that the multiple intelligences are a tool useful to improving youth self-esteem, whether taught academically or in the context of a fantasy world. MI is a framework with wide applicability; not only does it help young people understand themselves better, but it can also be instrumental in considering potential college majors, career paths, or volunteer opportunities. MI ultimately inspires mutual respect as students learn to appreciate the diverse abilities that they and their peers possess.
Amy Mintz is President of Student Body of America Association, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization she founded in 2011 to support the youth and education. She began working on the MI9 Team series in 2013, inspired by her experiences growing up in different countries around the world and years of experience educating the youth. The MI9 Team projects include a series of books, graphic novels, and animated film.