Tom Hoerr Interviews Howard Gardner about MI

In September 2014, Howard Gardner participated in an interview with Tom Hoerr, head of the New City School in St. Louis, MO, for the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development’s Multiple Intelligences Network newsletter. In the interview, Gardner discusses a few current thoughts about multiple intelligences theory, including whether the number of intelligences could be expanded, the effect of technology on multiple intelligences, and the importance of character and values in education.

The text of the interview is reproduced below.

Tom Hoerr: You initially identified seven intelligences and then added the naturalist, and I’m wondering if there are other candidate intelligences which you are considering or which you considered and concluded not.

Howard Gardner: In putting forth the eight intelligences, I strictly applied the 8 criteria outlined in Chapter 4 of my 1983 book FRAMES OF MIND. As my interests have moved to other topics, I am no longer researching specific intelligences. What’s important to me is that I’ve broken open the conversation about intelligence, and few educators still think that there is only one kind of intelligence.

That said, I continue to speak informally about existential intelligence, the intelligence that allows us to pose and ponder ‘big questions”; and, more recently, pedagogical or teaching intelligence, the intelligence (which only human beings have) that allows us to teach something to a person who is less knowledgeable and skilled than we are.

I hereby give permission for anyone to speak informally about these intelligences. But I stop short of positing an endless string of new intelligences. Most candidates can be readily explained by the already posited intelligences.

Hoerr: Do technological advances change how you view MI being used in schools? To what degree might technology support students utilizing more of their intelligences?

Gardner: The new technologies are a boon for education that is individualized (taking into account what we know about each person) and pluralistic (presenting important ideas, concepts, theories, skills in multiple ways). Put differently, there is no longer any excuse for teaching a topic in one way, to all students, and penalizing those who don’t happen to learn in that way. Ultimately, I think that the new and emerging technologies will speak to, and nurture, a wider range of intelligences. But any tool/technology can be misused, and so one could use apps simply to pursue “drill and kill” pedagogies.

Hoerr: You’ve written that the intelligences are amoral – they can be used to pursue good or evil ends – and you wisely reminded me that I should be talking about good grit, not just grit. What are your thoughts about the role of character and values in education?

Gardner: The older I get, the more convinced I am that character and values are and should be central in education. Our problem in the US is not a lack of the so-called ‘best and brightest’; it is that so many of these people use their abilities for self aggrandizement or worse. I am all in favor of classes and exercises that engage students and teachers in discussions of purpose, values, morality, and ethics. The GoodWork Toolkit that we’ve devised can help in such discussions. But ultimately the most powerful influences are the behaviors of adults – teachers, parents, and older siblings and students – that are seen by younger persons. Show me an institution where the values are healthy, clear, transparent, and known, and I’ll show you an institution that works well. Alas, there are not many role models around these days in the news, the media, the gossip circuit. That places an extra burden and challenge in our schools. (I invite readers to visit thegoodproject.org.)

Hoerr: Are you optimistic that schools in the U.S. will be able to move away from their focus on standardized test results?

Gardner: I would like to think that the limits of testing-testing-testing are beginning to be understood by the general public. The article by Rachel Aviv, in The New Yorker, about the organized cheating in Atlanta was a stunning indictment of a system that pressures teachers and students to achieve a certain cut-off score, rather than encouraging them to teach and learn well. But even if the standardized testing ardor wanes, it is not clear that something better will emerge. At least in independent schools, faculty and parents have more of a choice about when and how to assess student learning.

Drawing Ability, Genes, and Intelligence

A study by Rosalind Arden et al in Psychological Science measures whether drawing ability has a correlation with genes and overall intellectual capacity by testing over 7,000 pairs of twins. The study presents two findings:

1) how well students draw has a genetic component; and
2) drawing ability relates to general intelligence.

Actually, however, the report is quite misleading. The test is not a test of drawing in any artistic sense; indeed, the authors state that their “scoring system ignores features such as overall size, charm, proportion, expressed emotions… and other characteristics of children’s drawings.” Indeed, far from presenting a new measure of anything, the study is simply a repetition of work that is almost a century old, as described in Florence Goodenough’s book Measurement of Intelligence by Drawing (1926). The scorers only take into account how many features of the body are included, period.

As for drawing ability having a genetic component, it is worth noting but hardly surprising, as so does virtually every human behavior except for traits such as language. From the view of either classical intelligence theory or the theory of multiple intelligences, we have not learned anything new.

-Howard Gardner

Reference:

Arden, R., M. Trzaskowski, et al. “Genes Influence Young Children’s Human Figure Drawings and Their Association With Intelligence a Decade Later.” (2014). Psychological Science 25(10), pp. 1843-1950.

Rationality vs. Intelligence

The work of Keith Stanovich over the past years has focused on an aspect of cognition that is extremely important: whether individuals can think rationally/systematically/shrewdly about a complex topic, weigh relevant factors, and avoid “group think,” biases, and egocentrism to come to plausible solutions and then test the likelihood of those solutions. As he points out, this form of thinking was investigated initially by Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman and his associate, the late Amos Tversky. For examples of Stanovich’s recent writings, see his piece in Project Syndicate, his article in British Journal The Psychologist, and his article in Scientific American Mind.

Stanovich has assembled considerable evidence that the capacity to think rationally is significantly different from the logical and mathematical capacities that are probed in IQ tests. (Typically, these take the form of short answer and right/wrong kinds of clever puzzles.) And since presumably we value rationality, it is important to understand that capacity better and to have ways of assessing it and also promoting it.

Stanovich does not invoke multiple intelligences theory; there is no reason to think that he believes that MI ideas are relevant to the assessment of nurturance of rationality. But in the article from The Psychologist, I was struck by the following passage: “Unlike the case of fluid intelligence, fluid rationality is likely to be multifarious—composed of a variety of different cognitive styles and dispositions. As a multifarious concept, fluid rationality cannot be assessed with a single type of item.”

My own hypothesis is that intelligences might contribute to rationality in two distinct ways. First of all, individuals with high amounts of intrapersonal intelligence (understanding themselves, including their predilections and prejudices) and interpersonal intelligence (understanding others, taking into account their perspective, not assuming that one’s gut feeling is necessarily on target) might be more aware of traps and therefore less likely to succumb to them. Second, individuals may display more rationality with respect to areas where they have a great deal of expertise. And so, for example, architects might be less likely to act irrationally when it comes to environmental matters (spatial intelligence), while athletes are more likely to behave rationally in sports (bodily-kinesthetic intelligence).

-Howard Gardner

Is There a Specific ‘Face Detection’ Mechanism, and Does It Matter?

A 2012 study in Cognitive Neuropsychology which examines deficits in facial recognition ability was recently brought to my attention. The article provides persuasive evidence that human beings have evolved a specific neural mechanism for the recognition of faces. On the one hand, I did not need to be persuaded, because I (and other members of my family) have prosopagnosia (literally, the inability to know faces). But it is always good to have research evidence to back up the claim of a cognitive disability and also to begin to determine the limits of that disability.

When in our early twenties, both my daughter Kerith and I discovered that we had a deficit that most others did not lack. We would go to some kind of conference, meet people in the evening, and appear to insult them when we did not recognize them the next day. And that is because, as prospagnosics, we cannot pick out face-specific features; instead, we rely on props like color and style of hair, presence and type of moustache, style of dress, gait of walking, etc. As with other deficits, we could not completely compensate; all we could do is develop strategies, ranging from writing detailed notes for ourselves about the appearance of people to telling new acquaintances that we would not recognize them on a subsequent encounter.

In earlier times, prosopagnosia did not, in effect, exist. And that is because, as a species, we have evolved to know 100-150 persons, no more, and those persons can be identified in numerous ways. (That is why Kerith and I were unaware of our deficits when we were younger.) Only in a modern ‘weak tie’ society, where one meets hundreds of individuals superficially, does prosopagnosia become a significant deficit.

Is there such a thing as facial intelligence? I answer this question negatively. Inability to recognize faces, at least until this point in time, is a specific kind of visual disorder, akin to color blindness or monocular vision, both of which I also have (my daughter is more fortunate). It is also akin to a sense of absolute pitch—something that is easily acquired by some (I was one) and with great difficulty for others. I would call these modality-specific disorders.

In contrast, an intelligence refers to the way that information is processed, once it has been picked up by one or more sensory organs. Linguistic intelligence is mobilized whether we encounter language through the ears, through the eyes, or (if we are blind) through a sense of touch. We can speak of interpersonal intelligence, because we infer how other persons are feeling, using input from several sensory modalities. And, interestingly, I know of no evidence that prosopagnosics are worse (or better) than others in reading mood off of faces.

Read the article in its entirety in Cognitive Neuropsychology.

-Howard Gardner

Reference:
Wilmer, J.B. et al. “Capturing specific abilities as a window into human individuality: The example of face recognition.” (2012). Cognitive Neuropsychology, 29 (5 –6), pp. 360 –392.