Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences.

Gardner's Theory of Multiple Intelligence defines human intelligence in broader terms than the traditional view of intelligence that regards intelligence as a singular capacity conventionally measured by what we know as the IQ or intelligence quotient. Gardner proposes that there is a range of distinct intelligence capacities, and that each individual possesses a unique blend of seven of these (later writings talk of nine rather than seven intelligences). The seven are: Linguistic Intelligence, Logical - Mathematical Intelligence, Visual -Spatial Intelligence, Musical Intelligence, Body - Kinaesthetic Intelligence, Interpersonal Intelligence and Intrapersonal Intelligence.

This theory, now well accepted, provides a much better model for teachers to work with. It has long been known by observant teachers that students learn in different ways, and indeed view or observe the world in different ways. There is, however, an aspect of this theory that does not sit well with me. In labelling these "intelligences" as distinct we are tempted to view them as utterly separate functions and it is my view that they are not.

I propose a model that sees intelligence as a capacity that varies from one person to another, but one that also varies from one field of thought to another within each person. The fields or modes of thought equate to Gardner's categories of intelligence. The reason that the capacity for intelligent activity would vary from field to field in a particular person would lie in the degree to which that field is developed as a receiver of intelligence. To use a computer analogy these fields equate to "hardware". This model allows us as teachers to stimulate increase in a student's capacity for intelligent activity whilst also developing all of the modes or fields through which this intelligence can act. Instead of multiple intelligences therefore I prefer the concept of alternative fields or modes through which ones intelligence can express itself.

I see intelligence as a capacity, that when functioning as it should, adjusts itself to the task at hand in whatever mode its possessor is functioning. For example, the brilliant soccer player sees opportunity inherent in a situation and has the physical skills and dexterity to capitalise on it, the brilliant musician has a feel for the relationships between the notes and has the skills to express them, yet both are using the same capacity, their intelligence, to achieve their desired end.

I have worked during my life in a wide paddock that includes physics, maths, dance, music, building, teaching, raising a family, cooking, visual arts, cabinet making, shop-keeping and farming and it is the same mind and the same intelligence that helped me to overcome obstacles, to find solutions to problems, to see my way forward in all these areas of my life. I agree that the mono-intelligence quotient view is out dated and inadequate. It needs to be replaced with a broader view that recognises that children need a range of fodder for their developing intelligence. Applying their intelligence to a wide range of endeavours will do several things. It will provide them with a flexible or adaptable intelligence, it will help them to identify their areas of gift or strength, it will give them self esteem if their gifts happen to lie out side of the areas that society currently values.

Gardner defines intelligence as "The ability to solve problems, or to create products, that are valued within one or more cultural settings". This seems to me a limited definition. As an artist I use my intelligence to express myself, to interpret or attempt to make sense of the world around me. In the process I solve problems, use critical judgement, observe relationships between elements, make choices, analyse, synthesise. This process is of value to me independent of my own or any other cultural setting. It seems to me that Gardner’s definition is biased toward consumption, as befits the modern obsession, rather than serving a more existentialist point of view.

Our problem lies not in the nature of intelligence but our limited view of its expression and an antiquated means of quantifying it. Modern life demands that our children possess a flexible adaptable intelligence, our educational institutions need to nurture the development of this kind of thinking. As educators and as learners we must also consider the way in which an individual perceives or receives information from her or his world. Different people sense their world in different ways and this must influence the way their intelligence expresses itself. Children need to engage in activities that suit their dominant mode of perception in order to develop their ability to process that information, bearing in mind that I use the term information in its broadest sense not its current usage in relation to text, data and photographic material.

We are currently being told that intelligence capacity is developed in early infancy, with touching, love, diet and creative play all contributors. We are learning also that as we age we can continue refine and develop this capacity. Such creative activity or play may well be developing not only the capacity for thought but also, depending on the type of activity, a particular mode or field of thought. We have, in the past, looked at to narrower band of these modes, an oversight that we now seem to be correcting.

(This paper was written as a contribution to discussion held in several Hills Primary Schools in 1999 and was printed in the Mylor School newsletter to prompt further discussion in that school community.