In 1983, Howard Gardner, PhD, made a fateful choice. While proposing that people's abilities might be divided up into seven different spheres—linguistic, logical-mathematical, musical, spatial, bodily/kinesthetic, interpersonal and intrapersonal—the Harvard professor decided to call these categories "intelligences" rather than, say, "talents." In his plenary talk, "The Theory of Multiple Intelligences: Reflections on the First Thirty Years, Speculations About Future Developments," Gardner will discuss how he came to make this linguistic gamble, and why it raised the ire of IQ test designers while sparking the imagination of educators.
"Educators are much less wedded to disciplinary standards of evidence and acceptability," he says.
Since then, teachers, museum educators and even theme-park designers have applied Gardner's ideas, while mainstream academic psychologists have been reluctant to pick them up—perhaps because Gardner refuses to translate his theory into a set of easily administered aptitude tests. "I'm reluctant to create a new kind of straitjacket," he says.
In recent years, Gardner has turned his attention to people who have meaningful, engaging, high-quality careers. He and his colleagues have been conducting in-depth interviews with more than 1,200 people who have sought to find such work despite challenging economic conditions. So far, they've found that many people would like to do meaningful work that makes a contribution to society, but they feel economic and social pressure to "sell out," or seek material gain at the expense of their own values.
The goal of the GoodWork Project, says Gardner, is to identify ways educators can reinforce people's inherent drive to do good, while also pressing for regulations or other social change to ease their way. It's a step away from the research that made him famous, but it's still about helping people capitalize on their strengths.
"We don't need more people of high intelligence or multiple intelligences, we need people who will use their intelligences for positive ends," he says.