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Recently, Howard Gardner brought his theory of multiple intelligences to NYU. Mary Brabeck, Dean of the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human development had the difficult task of succinctly introducing Dr. Gardner. “When it comes to Howard Gardner, there is no briefly,” she said of the 1981 MacArthur Fellowship and holder of 20 honorary degrees.
A ninety minute conversation ensued with colleague Marcelo Suárez-Orozco. Admitting that after he and his family fled Nazi Germany for Scranton, PA, Gardner's early life provided little intellectual stimulation. Of course, entrance to Harvard at 14 certainly gave him ample time to pursue a life of scholarship.
The Road Less Traveled
His groundbreaking work into Multiple Intelligences developed out of his need to allot adequate space between his ideas and the work of others. “I tend to go where nobody else goes,” Gardner stated.
These types of journeys led to an understanding that normal brain activity could best be determined by studying the limited brain processes of stroke or aphasia patients. Today, his theories are applied worldwide, but it concerns him when institutions take a superficial approach to his work. I hope “they dig deeper to enrich and deepen their own thinking,” he said.
Theory Provides Open-Ended Possibilities
This type of approach could provide multiple entry points to important subjects that align themselves to each students' intelligences. “My theories might not have been uncontroversially accepted if I called these capacities or intelligences "talents." Everyone accepts that there exist specific talents—for chess, music, trapeze, etc. By using the word "intelligence," I caught attention, provoked controversy, and perhaps changed the conversation in education, if not in psychology,” reflected Gardner.
So an institution that plasters his name all about means little in comparison to engendering the ingenuity that his work aspires to. The Danfoss Universe in Denmark not only qualifies in its efforts to develop children’s insights into science and technology, but the experience park has him as an active member on their board. “They develop all kinds of games that make use of the separate intelligences,” he says, and a game called Explorarama came directly from Dr. Gardner’s input.
Theory Takes Hold in Some Places and Holds off Elsewhere
Halfway around the world, China clings to his theory as enthusiastically as they are pursuing globalization. Visiting in 2004, he found there are over 100 books expanding on his work, and he was greeted at a conference with over 2,500 papers on Multiple Intelligences.
In the recollections of one attendee, Dr. Gardner encompassed how the Chinese differ from the American approach where strengths are identified and weaknesses are deferred. “In China, it’s just eight things that we have to make our children good at,” he conveyed lightheartedly.
As to be expected, MI hasn’t caught on everywhere. In England and France, where general intelligence theory first developed, scholarship is mostly stuck in its ways. Japan’s educational mindset also lags behind along with its lack of individual psychological profiles.
The American Way
Of course, here we have yet to dispense of the SATs or even the time constraints that add little to the assessment of a student’s intelligence. “Teachers care about the quality of the work, not whether it was completed in the allotted time,” he says he wrote in a New York Times Op-ed piece.
To that came quite an array of responses, but no more vocally than from one particular group. As if to prove his thesis, he said, “These middle aged males disagreed violently because they seem to have performed better on the SAT than they had in life.
A Question of Ethics
Regardless, even though the sun never sets on a theory that has no limits, according to Professor Suárez-Orozco, Dr. Gardner thinks it wasteful to stay stuck on the same course. “The Good Works” project arose as he and fellow colleagues realize that ethics were not moving at anything close to revolutionary speed. In his book, Making Good, he found young people aspired to ethics, but at some later date after they achieved comfort and standing. “Someday when we’re rich and famous, we’ll be ethical, but peers who cut corners will beat us to the top,” they averred, according to Dr. Gardner.
As for the corners that could apply to him, he doesn’t shy away from a future that could put all he’s worked for to the test. Asked from the audience what MRI technology could mean to his theories, he didn’t defer. “I monitor these studies, and it will be interesting to see if my original taxonomy will stand up to the scrutiny,” concluded Gardner.