Book Review: Exporting Multiple Intelligences

A review of Multiple Intelligences Around the World by Norman Abeles.

Reviewed by Norman Abeles.

Reprinted from PsycCRITIQUES. 409 pp. ISBN 978-0-7879-9760-l. $30.00 Reprinted with permission from PsycCRITIQUES December 23, 2009, Vol. 54, Release 5l, Article l4 l554-0l38 © 2009, American Psychological Association.

Multiple Intelligences Around the WorldIn their book Multiple Intelligences Around the World, editors Jie-Qi Chen, Seana Moran, and Howard Gardner provide an in-depth understanding of the multiple intelligences (MI) theory by examining its application and adaptation across cultures; this approach "offer[s] a unique opportunity to gain insights about the ways in which cultural contexts can shape educational practice" (p. 2). MI practitioners from countries in Asia and the Pacific area, Europe, South America, and the United States share their experiences implementing MI theory. The book is organized by these regions, with an introductory overview section (chapters by Howard Gardner and by Thomas Armstrong) and a concluding section titled Synthesis, Reflection, and Projection.

In the book's opening chapter, "Birth and the Spreading of a 'Meme,'" Gardner, the father of MI theory, recalls how he came to develop the concept of multiple intelligences and reflects on its history and spread. He describes MI theory as a meme, a unit of meaning that has spread not only in the United States but around the world over the past 25 years.

Initially it spread around educational circles...[b]ut soon it ventured abroad, and it became an item of discussion and application not only in schools, but in homes, in museums and theme parks, places of worship, the workplace, and the playground. (p. 8)

Gardner (l983) formally introduced the idea of multiple intelligences in his first book on the subject, Frames of Mind.

Gardner was not convinced that intelligence is a single entity that could be measured adequately by intelligence tests. In contrast, he believed that human beings could excel in a range of ways. Gardner suggested that intelligence fits eight criteria, which he considers to be original and vital to MI theory (p. 5):

  1. Potential isolation by brain damage;

  2. The existence of idiots savants, prodigies, and other exceptional individuals with jagged cognitive profiles;

  3. An identifiable core set of operations;

  4. A distinctive developmental trajectory, culminating in expert performances;

  5. An evolutionary history and evolutionary plausibility;

  6. Support from experimental psychological tasks;

  7. Evidence from psychometric findings; and

  8. Susceptibility to encoding in a symbol system.

Initially Gardner identified seven forms of intelligence. The first two, linguistic and logical-mathematical, include the skills that intelligence tests traditionally measure. The five other forms are musical, spatial, bodily kinesthetic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal. For each of these forms of intelligence, Gardner proposed a person whom he considered an exemplar; for example, Martha Graham, the creator of modern dance, exemplified the ability to use one's body. Sigmund Freud was selected to represent intrapersonal ability designed to understand one's self. Gandhi was picked to represent the understanding of others (social intelligence). The traditional intelligences were represented by the poet T. S. Eliot, who exemplified speech and language aptitudes, and Albert Einstein, who exemplified logical-mathematical intelligence. Much later, Gardner added an eighth intelligence, naturalist intelligence, exemplified by Charles Darwin.

Gardner did not insist that all individuals show strengths in every area but argued that each person would have a unique pattern of intelligences. In response to some misconceptions that arose concerning multiple intelligences, Gardner recalls cautioning educators that human beings are not born with a finite amount of intelligence, which would limit their functioning, but that we all have potentials across the intellectual spectrum. It is motivation, skill of teaching, and resources available that develop these potentials (p. 7).

Many educators are convinced that Gardner's ideas will have a sustained and lasting impact on educational curricula. Indeed, MI theory is widely used in preschool and in higher education as well as in institutions that provide vocational and adult programs. Smith (2008) has suggested that Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences provides a broad vision of education and encourages programmatic flexibility rather than rigidity. Further, Gardner implies a moral context wherein people will want to live. Benefits of applying the theory to school learning can include the use of portfolios, interdisciplinary projects, and student-designed topical learning projects, as well as internships and apprenticeships, all of which can broaden the horizons of learners.

In Part Five, which looks at MI theory in the United States, Vincent Rizzo, director of the Howard Gardner School for Discovery in Scranton, Pennsylvania, explains that MI presents a more hopeful view of students' abilities in demonstrating their mastery of subject matter. Furthermore, MI makes us ask whether teaching practices are in the best interests of students (p. 343).

Rizzo discusses the topic of assessment and argues that MI supports the use of assessments other than psychometric tests. Thus, portfolios, projects, and other forms of synthesis provide learners a more balanced and accurate means for demonstrating knowledge. Rizzo notes that the faculty members teaching in MI programs are expected to develop their own portfolios, just as students are. These portfolios, he says, allow the development of more than one intelligence in a concurrent manner.

In Part Two, the Asia and Pacific areas, Jie-Qi Chen discusses the use of MI theory in China, noting that MI in China is a family-based enterprise. In addition, several hundred thousand teachers have completed MI training at international conferences. Chen considers it noteworthy that MI theory has taken hold in China because MI is a Western theory and does not directly address Chinese educational concerns.

However, MI theory is consistent with educational thought and philosophy in China because it calls on diverse points of view and reinforces a pluralistic perspective that is ingrained within Chinese culture. Furthermore, intelligence is viewed as a product of the family rather than as a quality that resides solely within the individual, that is, it is considered a shared attribute. Since the culture values harmony, MI provides a vehicle for its preservation.

Chen also emphasizes that it is important to recognize both strengths and weaknesses in order to provide a more balanced view of the child's learning potential. MI effectiveness is realized through this understanding of strengths and weaknesses. In addition, China focuses on collective education, and improvement of the collective is achieved through the sharing of goals and values rather than through individual development.

In Part Four, on South America, Barrera and León-Agusti describe the start of a school for disadvantaged children in Colombia. In this setting, MI theory is relevant because it emphasizes the importance of both intra- and interpersonal intelligences. They point out, for example, that their students had many more problems than did students in other schools in solving textbook problems when they were required to learn the concepts of addition and subtraction. However, their students performed much better when confronted with practical problems such as buying rice and bread and bringing home the correct change. The authors also argue that MI theory has been helpful in improving social interactions among the students and within the students' families and the community.

Regarding school disciplinary procedures, Barrera and León-Agusti's program gives students more voice in determining disciplinary procedures. Whenever transgressions occur, students have to develop appropriate sanctions that must be written down, taken home, and signed by parents. In this way the parents are informed and can comment on the agreements reached. This is part of what the authors call a discipline for empowerment, which allows students to act as agents of their change and growth.

These brief examples from Multiple Intelligences Around the World provide a sense of the range of educational efforts that apply MI theory. In the final section, Synthesis, Reflection, and Projection, contributors explore the argument for multiple intelligences from a cultural perspective. Discussion centers on interactions among intelligences within individuals, among individuals, and among intelligences across cultures.

The editors have provided excellent materials to illustrate the impact of MI theory around the world. Critics of MI theory include those who look for evidence-based data to support theoretical formulations. They ask whether the theory is testable and measurable and whether the multiple intelligences proposed by Gardner (l999) are a combination of talents and correlates of general intelligence. However, this edited book is not designed to answer evidence-based questions. One reason given why Gardner has not pursued the testing of his theory is that it could lead to labeling and stigmatization (Smith, 2008).

So where does that leave us? In my judgment, the collection of materials presented in Multiple Intelligences Around the World concerning education and multiple intelligences around the world is challenging and shows the impact of the theory. For those who believe that psychometric approaches for the measurement of intelligence are entirely too rigid, this book will be most helpful. Further, to the extent that curricula around the world have recognized the importance of individual differences, flexibility, and interdisciplinary content, Chen, Moran, and Gardner's book provides ample examples. From this perspective, their book should be required reading for all parents, educators, and students.

References

Gardner, H. (l983). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Gardner, H. (l999). Intelligence reframed. Multiple intelligences for the 21st century. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Smith,M.(2008). Howard Gardner, multiple intelligences, and education. Retrieved from http://www.infed.org/thinkers/gardner.htm.