Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences and Why Educators Should Be Using the Lockdown to Children’s Advantage

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It’s no secret that children and indeed all humans have multiple intelligences, some of which are far better developed than others. The Guru of this theory Dr. Howard Gardner, proposed this way back in 1983. Yet most schools today still test a student’s success by how well they do linguistically, logically and perhaps mathematically. But as Gardner said, the purpose of schooling “should be to develop intelligence and to help people reach vocational and avocational goals that are appropriate to their particular spectrum of intelligence. People who are helped to do so, he believes feel more engaged and competent and therefore more inclined to serve society in a constructive way”. Harvard Education Review 1987.

This seems pretty logical right? Any teacher or even parent worth their salt knows that not every child is good at math, writing, scientific observation, art, music or dance. It’s very rare to have an “all-rounder”. And if they do, some type of intelligence would be much better developed than the other. Then shouldn’t we as teachers use different methods, exercises and activities to reach all students, not just those who excel at linguistic and logical intelligence? This knowledge is over 30 years old but few educators are putting it into practice; a) because its hard as a teacher to think of different ways of presenting the same material; b) we just don’t have the bandwidth in one 45-minute lesson to teach say, a math addition problem visually and musically and through dance; and c) how do you go about testing and assessing understanding and that dirty word, “grading” if everyone is learning differently and doing different tasks! I have a close colleague who starts each introduction of herself with “I hated school”. She often says: I was good at music, art and storytelling, things that didn’t count for much in my final exam. “But why the heck not? If she had been tested on drama or her ability to create a phenomenal board game from scratch or sing a song, she would have been a straight A student. Through sheer perseverance and no formal instruction, hard work and passion, she has developed into someone who has blossomed as an artist, a graphic designer, a teacher and a storyteller, and every day her self-esteem gets a boost. But it would have helped her a great deal to exhibit her intelligences as a child. 

If we believe that all students do need to learn the traditional subjects of Science, Math, Social Studies and Languages, then perhaps in an ideal world, children could be identified early on when starting school, as to the type of learners they are. Maybe they could be placed in schools suited to their learning style?

And then came Covid-19 and the ensuing lockdowns around the world. Some children did not and still do not have access to a teacher for months on end. The days and hours of school time and home time are blurred. If I were a visually advanced child, and I am now being forced to learn the tables from my teacher or parent by reciting out loud, that’s not going to help is it? If I were a musical child and I have to memorize my periodic table in chemistry with a picture of a periodic chart, I won’t be successful. Well here-in lies the opportunity. With all the fantastic digital and human resources out on the internet, could we not develop an entire chemistry curriculum for the musical learner? Could biology not be much more deeply explained to the naturalist (nature smart) child by letting them loose in various ecosystems, either virtually or physically?  Instead of writing an essay on the causes of World War II, might the existentially intelligent teenager get a lot more from introspecting on what Covid-19 says about life, death and existence?

And what about the content in our curriculum? Can we as educators still stand behind the traditional teaching of Science, Math and Literature exclusively while forest fires burn in California; while we bring pandemics closer to us by destroying ecosystems; while each day African-Americans die from violent hate crimes; while the mental health of both children and adults deteriorate daily from all the associated stresses of social media and the isolation caused by this pandemic?

At Project Rangeet, we are striving to change this narrative. We recognize that discrimination, climate change and mental health are at the forefront of all humanitarian issues and need to be dealt with in the physical or virtual classroom with young children. We recognize that any classroom on the planet has children with every type of the 8/9 intelligences Howard Gardner speaks of, and we are doing humanity a disservice if we are not ensuring that what we teach reaches each and every one of those intelligences.

As Sean Bellamy, honored as one of the 50 best teachers in the world (Varkey Foundation) says, and I paraphrase: “What’s important is what school is doing for me right now. Awaken to the joy of now… Why? Because what you are learning today and filling children’s brains with now is something you won’t need when you are 43 years old.” So carpe diem I say to educators the world over, carpe diem!

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