Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Theory (MI Theory) (2006) states that human beings have different combinations of intelligences. This pluralistic approach is an alternative vision to the traditional notion that intelligence can be objectively measured and reduced to a single number, the IQ. The first intelligence tests carried out at the beginning of the twentieth century, which focused on verbal abilities, were developed by the French psychologist Alfred Binet and his colleagues in Paris. The motivation of their research was to respond to a request from the authorities to create a measure to predict which students were likely to need special attention in schooling. These early empirical experiments introduced the concept of intelligence as a quantifiable measure. Above all, the notion of intelligence as a single number has finally corroborated the one-dimensional view of the mind.
There are educational implications of this theory. Gardner points out that the IQ idea generated a corresponding view of school which he calls as the “uniform view”. This uniform view is responsible for a core curriculum – a set of things that everyone should know (critical reading and calculation, for example). So, the brightest students can go to the better colleges. Following these narrow standards, thousands of young people will never have a chance to flower. But can intelligence be a single construct? And besides, is this fair with the immense human potential? From Gardner’s idea of multifaceted intelligences emerges the concept of an individual-centered school. This vision sounds like Rorty’s understanding that persons should be educated as individuals. In the sphere of public education, every child should have an individualized education program. In a word, Gardner and Rorty show that the main problems in schools today lay on these issues of policy. We know now that all students need special attention in school. The authorities must understand that an individualized education is not just for students with special needs.
We have two attitudes toward mind. The traditional one which was considered as a scientific turn at the time. And the pluralistic view which in fact broadens the scope of human possibilities. The eight intelligences suggested by Gardner are: linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalist. Recall that IQ test is based only on linguistic and logical-mathematical abilities. Both research and theory indicate that multiple student-level factors account for the variance in student achievement. Recent theories on the contextualization of intelligence say that the intellectual potential will depend on the culture in which the person happens to live. Life experiences are very important. It seems that the idea of mind as a single construct has been slowly fading.
The new comprehension of the intelligence is based on a radically different view of the mind. It gradually became clear that this theory yields a very different view of school. In all this we feel a remarkable respect for the differences among people, the varied ways that they learn.
Howard Gardner. Multiple Intelligences. New Horizons (New York: Basic Books, 2006), 4-5.