Friday, May 20, 2011

Multiple Intelligences: Is Formal Education Needed for Everyone?

To me, it is cruel to treat children and adults like they are stupid or morons because they didn’t or don’t do well in school.  Oftentimes, people who have a tough time in school start to identify themselves as dumbasses because they have been told such since grade school.

Yet, the world is filled with famous, successful, and happy people who did poorly in school or never finished grade school let alone earn a high school diploma.   

Today we are told that only with a college degree do we have a chance to succeed; yet, even with only a high school diploma, there is very little hope.  However, we have heard many examples of famous, successful, happy people who never went to or completed college: athletes, movie stars, musicians, outdoorsmen, artists, builders, contractors, salespeople, etc.

Why is that?  

Why can people do so well without a formal education when we are told that we cannot succeed without such education?  The world is full of examples.

The reason is Multiple Intelligences.

For all those who were told you are an idiot, a moron, a dumbass, a loser, can’t focus, can’t apply yourself, lazy, just don’t get it, a waste of space, etc, I have good news for you. Those people who told you such things were just plain wrong.   

Failing or just barely getting by in school is no sign of a poor intelligence, nor a predictor of future success.  Schools just don’t teach to your intelligence.  It’s not your fault.  Our education system is way too far behind.

According to Psychologist and Social Scientist, Howard Gardner, seven intelligences are identified:

1.     Musical: The brain controls perception and production of music

2.     Bodily-Kinesthetic: Control of body movement
          Logical-Mathematical: The process of problem solving and scientific inquiry 

4.     Linguistic: The gift of language and the skill in understanding syntax, semantics, and grammar

5.     Spatial: Required for navigation, visualizing objects from different angles, and playing chess

6.     Interpersonal: A core capacity to notice distinctions among others

7.     Intrapersonal: Knowledge of the internal aspects of a person

The core curriculum of our schools is based on only two intelligences: Logical-Mathematical and Linguistic.  Therefore, if you are not skilled or interested in these two intelligences, you may be labeled stupid, lazy, and all the bad labels I mentioned above. 

The problems with this labeling are plentiful: it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy, and we identify ourselves as being useless.  Oftentimes, we then behave as a lazy person, a black sheep, a castoff, a bad person, a bad citizen, etc.

What about the people who are good at selling, playing sports, repairing cars, machining parts, cleaning buildings, growing plants, developing ideas, understanding others, navigating ships, rescuing lost hikers and skiers, exploring new frontiers, etc? These things are not taught in school.  

 Sure, there may be a class or two; however, if you don’t succeed in the main two intelligences, then you just don’t cut it!

To be sure, learning, practicing, and developing the other skills of music, sports, orienteering, selling, customer service, are important; however, our culture puts a premium on only two intelligences.  Yes, we could be spending that time developing the other intelligences and succeeding at a young age with a healthy self concept and esteem.

I for one am happy to have discovered Gardner’s work.  It has let me rethink my identity and let me explore my own intelligence which led to teaching a subject that isn’t even taught in grades K-12—communication studies.

Source: Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice by Howard Gardner (1993)  BasicBooks A Division of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

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