Gardner Writes Introduction for Arabic Book about MI

Books about multiple intelligences theory have appeared in dozens of countries and over thirty languages. Until this point, however, we do not know of any independent writings in Arabic about the theory.

In 2014, it was brought to our attention that Dr. Abdelwahed Fakihi in Morocco has written two books in Arabic about MI. The first is titled Multiple Intelligences: The Scientific Foundation, and he is currently working on the second. At Dr. Fakihi's request, Howard wrote an introduction to this second book, directed to an Arabic-speaking educational audience. The text in English is reproduced below, providing an overview of the development and current implementations of multiple intelligences:

I am gratified to learn that Professor Abdelwahed Fakihi has introduced the ideas of multiple intelligences to an audience in Morocco and perhaps to educators in other nations as well. In this prefatory note, I describe the steps leading to the development of the theory and the principal ways in which the theory has been used by educators.

When I began to study developmental psychology, in the middle 1960s, I was struck by the lack of interest in artistic development. As a young person, I had been a serious pianist and had also developed interests, as an audience member, in several art forms.  Because the great psychologist Jean Piaget had carefully examined how children developed into scientific thinkers, I took as a challenge to describe how children developed into participants in the arts. My first research and books were on this topic.

During the 1970s and early 1980s, I was working with children with various talents and with brain damaged patients who had lost one or another cognitive capacity. As a result of this immersion with two distinctive populations, I became convinced that the unitary view of intelligence—a person is either smart, average, or dumb—was overly simple. Over several years, I surveyed many bodies of knowledge and eventually developed the theory of multiple intelligences. I wrote this work as an argument to convince psychologists to change their view of intellect. Psychologists were not much interested in my argument and the supporting evidence; but educators, at first in the United States, and then elsewhere, were very attracted to these ideas. Indeed, “MI” is still the idea for which I am best known.

I had not anticipated the extensive interest in the theory on the part of educators—initially in the United States, ultimately in many parts of the world. In 2009, my colleagues and I published a book called Multiple Intelligences Around the World. In this collection, 42 scholars and practitioners, from 15 countries on five continents, described the ways in which they have used multiple intelligences ideas for various age groups  (from preschool to university), in various educational settings (schools, museums, theme parks, after school activities) and with various populations (language learners, gifted students, students with learning or emotional difficulties). Needless to say, in 1983, I could hardly have anticipated this state of affairs. I should note that none of the contributions came from African nations and to my knowledge none of the contributors had an Arabian background.

Why did MI theory catch on in education?

MI theory had the benefit of being a Rorschach test—that is, like a subject interpreting an inkblot, educators could use the claim of several intelligences to support almost any pet educational idea that they had. My original book had very few educational suggestions—after all, I was the psychologist, casting only a sideways glance into the classroom. For that very reason, the theory provided ample running room for practitioners to suggest approaches to curriculum, pedagogy, assessment, learning differences, use of computers, place of the arts—indeed, almost any issue in which educators are interested.  And since I had not precluded any educational use of the theory, practitioners in many places felt liberated to make use of the theory in whatever way they liked.

For the most part, this promiscuous use was fine with me. After all, as I maintained from the beginning, I am the scholar, not the educator, and it is up to educators to decide how to use the theory. I did not want to be a traffic cop or a rating agency! Also when educators approached me for help in devising curricula or even whole schools, I declined to be a full-fledged member of their team. At most, I agreed to provide feedback when I could.  In fact, I learned a great deal from the uses to which others put the theory—in that sense, I became a ‘student of MI theory.’

Only once did I openly condemn an application of the theory. In the early 1990s, I learned from a colleague about an MI-inspired educational approach in Australia. No doubt well motivated, this approach went way too far and violated both scientific and ethical boundaries. For me, the ‘smoking gun’ was the claim that different racial and ethnic groups in Australia each exhibited a characteristic intellectual profile. I thought that this was nonsense; I went on a television program and said so; happily, this ill-conceived educational intervention was soon cancelled.

As a result of this experience and of my general observations, I took two steps.

First of all, I wrote a paper called “Reflections on Multiple Intelligences: Myths and Messages.” In that essay, probably my most widely specimen of reprinted writing, I delineated seven common misunderstandings of the theory. These misunderstandings ranged from the terminology (MI is not a statement about learning styles) to the educational (there are no official MI or Gardner schools). I cannot say that this publication stopped all misunderstandings of the theory. But it catalyzed a change in me—namely, that I needed to take some responsibility for the interpretations of my theory. And in fact, my subsequent involvement in the study and promotion of “GoodWork” arose most directly from my own battle scars with reference to the misuse of MI ideas.

The second step was to state explicitly the most important educational implications of MI theory. They can be captured in two words: Individuation and Pluralization. Human beings differ from one another and there is absolutely no reason to teach and assess all individuals in the identical way. Rather, in the future, good practice should particularize the modes of presentation as well as the manner of assessment as much as feasible; and that individuation should be based on our understanding of the intellectual profiles of individual learners.

Interestingly, such individual education has always been possible for one group—the affluent. These individuals hire tutors and the tutor’s job is to make sure that Abraham and Sarah learn what they need to know, and to use whatever pedagogical approaches work. We are fortunate enough to live in an era where individualized education is no longer an option only for the wealthy.  Computers make it possible to provide individualized teaching and assessment options for every person.

Pluralization can be undertaken in any era and with classes of any size. It simply means that important ideas, topics, theories and skills ought to be taught in more than one way, indeed in several ways—and these several ways should activate the multiple intelligences. When one pluralizes an educational approach, two wonderful things happen. First of all, one reaches more individuals—since some individuals learn better through stories, others through work of art, or hands on activities or group work—and by argument, each of these approaches activates a distinctive set of intelligences. Second of all, pluralized education exemplifies what it means to understand something well. Because if you understand an entity well—be it a school subject, an avocation, your own home, your own family—you can think of it in many ways.  Conversely, if you can only represent this entity in a single way, using a single intelligence, then your own mastery is probably tenuous.

Note that neither of these educational implications—individuation, pluralization—depends explicitly on MI theory. Indeed, dating back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, I am certain that you could find recommendations for approaches based on the same underlying ideas.  MI Theory provided some scientific and empirical evidence for these approaches. And, perhaps more importantly, because of the list of 7-10 intelligences, it gave names for, and made suggestions about how to individualize and how to pluralize.

A final word to readers of this book:  I hope that you find the ideas of multiple intelligences helpful in your teaching, your learning, and your own life. That is the greatest satisfaction for an individual who has sent some ideas into the world.

Howard Gardner
Harvard University
Cambridge, Massachusetts
November 2014