Howard Gardner's `Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences' is a fascinating book that helps to explain how and why different people seem to learn in different ways and possess different skills and talents. Gardner's main thesis throughout the text is that there is not one thing called intelligence, but rather several different types of intelligence that work together (or, sometimes, play together) inside each person's overall intellectual development and structure.
Gardner begins his discussion with an overview of the idea of multiple intelligences. The idea of different kinds of intelligence is hardly new, as Gardner concedes, but that idea having been formed, it is rarely carried forward save by the most innovative of teachers and thinkers. Why does a person, for instance, remember particular teachers from elementary or secondary school days rather clearly, while others not at all? Beyond the subject matter and interest, there is a manner of teacher connecting with the student that taps into dominant and active kinds of intelligence, despite the subject matter at hand.
Potential Isolation by Brain Damage
This establishes an autonomy of the function of a particular kind of intelligence from others, thus helping demonstrate uniqueness and separation.
The Existence of Idiot Savants, Prodigies, etc.
That certain kinds of intelligence can be highly developed in some to an extraordinary level also helps demonstrate uniqueness - for instance, rarely is the musical genius likewise a genius in all (or even many) other intellectual areas.
An Identifiable Core Operation or Set of Operations
There must be something that the intelligence processes or does in a particular way differently from others - for example, we process mathematical information and linguistic information in different ways.
Distinctive Development History
Intelligence, even if gifted naturally, has a development line that can be traced from earlier to later proficiency.
Evolutionary History and Plausibility
Intelligence can evolve to higher levels (this is readily seen in science and mathematics); likewise, intelligence can be lost in different arenas.
Experimental Data Support
Intelligences can be isolated and studied - linguistic and spatial abilities are often used as experiments easily documented.
Psychometric Finding Support
While the IQ test is hardly the final arbiter, there are ways of materially charting the relative state of intelligences of people in comparison with one another.
Susceptibility to Symbolic Expression
Intelligences should have a means of symbolic expression and transmission - linguistic intelligence can use words spoken and written; musical intelligence can use written and sound symbols, etc.
Using these criteria, Gardner proposes the following list of intelligences, alerting the reader that while this list is broad and encompasses much of human intelligence, it is not an exhaustive list.
Most of these items are fairly clear - we know that linguistic intelligence involves language, words, speech, and the understanding and use of such tools. Similarly, logical-mathematical intelligence is fairly well understood. It is on the basis of these two intelligences that most of Western academics is founded and evaluated - even the primary measuring instruments such as SAT tests recognise the difference between mathematical and linguistic abilities by separating out those tests and scoring them differently.
Musical intelligence is likewise understood. It is an intelligence people can tap into for enjoyment even if the sophisticated understanding of theory is not present, unlike the main part of logical-mathematical intelligence.
Spatial and bodily-kinesthetic intelligences are sensed by athletes, dancers, and others who use their bodies in ways that exceed normal abilities. These are intelligences that are closely related. A quarterback or a ballet dancer needs to have both an awareness of body motions and abilities as well as sense of the space involved for the action. However, these are separate intelligences. An architect may have a great sense for spatial requirements and have no real bodily-kinesthetic intelligence.
Perhaps the most difficult to express is the idea of personal intelligence. This is likewise the one intelligence that Gardner concedes he might have the most difficulty with in defining, symbolising, and expressing. It involves an ability to interact with others and with oneself. Perhaps Einstein is a classic example of a savant in logical-mathematical intelligence while being impaired in the personal intelligence arena - not having a good sense of himself and his relationships with others, with time, with place, etc. Religious leaders and diplomatic persons tend to be high in this intelligence.
In the third part of Gardner's book, he explores the education and application of intelligences. Gardner explores the educational systems of many cultures, past and present, to illustrate ways in which different kinds of intelligence are cultivated. A hunter needs good bodily-kinesthetic abilities as well as good spatial abilities honed to a high degree. City-dwellers tend to need linguistic and logical-mathematical abilities to a higher degree.
`As compared with hundred or even thirty years ago, talk about the development of intelligence, the realisation of human potential, and the role of education is very much in the international air.'
The ways in which all kinds of intelligence, including the very-difficult-to-teach personal intelligence, can be cultivated. First is the requirement of recognition of different kinds of intelligence and the ways in which students respond. In my theology class last semester, we had students who were divinity students, counseling students, and church music students. To have required the same pattern of assignment for each of these groups would have been unfair. So, one person turned in an audio tape as accompaniment for her theology paper. Another student framed her theological discussion in terms of a counseling session. These permitted the students to tap into their stronger intelligences while still learning what was valuable from the basic course materials.
This is a valuable book for teachers, pastors, counselors, parents, supervisors, and anyone who wants a clearer definition of what is working inside oneself as intelligence.