Finland, the Common Core, and MI

MI wheelThe Huffington Post’s World Post reports that Finland has adopted new standards for its National Core Curriculum similar to those of the Common Core in the United States.

Under the new regulations, Finnish educators would no longer teach subjects like math, science, or history to students; instead, learning will be topical, meaning that lessons will be interdisciplinary and practical in nature. For example, a class on the European Union would combine elements of language, economics, history, and geography. As Finnish students consistently rank at the top of Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests, the new measure has attracted a lot of attention across the world.

In the US, the same interdisciplinary and real-world criteria have been a part of the Common Core movement to enhance critical thinking and problem solving skills.

The World Post article points out that the reforms align well with Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences (MI) theory. By catering to different modes of instruction and incorporating various ways of approaching the same issues in the classroom, the standards implicitly acknowledge MI’s relevance to the educational experience.

Click here to read the full article.

How is Number Represented in the Brain?

A principal component of the theory of multiple intelligences has been the belief that the human nervous system has evolved to facilitate a number of relatively independent computations. Rather than a single intelligence, on which one draws for the full panoply of skills, there are neural regions or networks that are more specifically dedicated to language, number, music, and the like.

A quite original aspect of the theory is that the intelligences are not yoked to a specific sensory capacity: for example, linguistic intelligence (known to be represented in the left hemisphere of right handed individuals) is mobilized whether linguistic information enters through the ear, the eye, or (in the case of the blind reading Braille) the fingertips.

When MI theory was developed over 30 years ago, most of our knowledge of the brain basis of cognition came from the study of individuals who had suffered brain damage. The findings were consistent, but at a very gross level; brain damage does not follow strict guidelines! In the intervening era, researchers have developed far more sophisticated means of studying the representation of capacities in the brain.

A study released in Science provides a number of fascinating findings. First of all, by using functional magnetic resonance imaging, it is possible to examine numerical capacities quite specifically in the human parietal cortex. Specific cortical areas, known as association cortex, are stimulated by numerical operations that occur across different sensory capacities; unlike, say, face recognition or tone discrimination, they are not restricted to a specific sensory cortex. Most remarkably, the size and manner of cortical representations actually reflects the size (technically, the numerosity) of the array; if you look at the pattern of neuronal arousal, you can tell whether the array contains few or many stimuli.

What I like best about the study is the clear implication that the human brain has evolved, not only to represent specific sensory input, but also to capture important distinctions that cut across the senses. I suspect that when scientists begin to study other intelligences, ranging from spatial to interpersonal, they will discover a clear rationale for the way these capacities are represented in the human brain.

To read the article in its entirety, click here.

-Howard Gardner

Harvey, B.M. et al. “Topographic Representation of Numerosity in the Human Parietal Cortex.” (September 2013). Science, 341 (6150), pp. 1123-1126.

Using Our Intelligences for Good, Not Bad


Dan Goleman and I are always yoked together because both of us challenged the idea of a single intelligence in a way that was immediately understood by the general public, especially by teachers and business leaders.

We are friends and are very much on the same page on most matters. His notion of ‘emotional intelligence’ is quite similar to my concepts of ‘interpersonal’ and ‘intrapersonal’ intelligence.

Where we differ, on my analysis, is that my intelligences are amoral: you can use any intelligence for beneficent or malevolent ends. Both Goethe and Goebbels were masters of the German language; Goethe wrote great poetry, Goebbels fomented hatred. Dan combines description with prescription: he casts emotional intelligence as using one’s people skills in a positive way.

The research reported in an article from The Atlantic indicates that emotional intelligence can be used for a variety of ends, including the manipulation of other individuals. Presumably both Nelson Mandela and Slobodan Milosevic had plenty of knowledge of how to affect others (in my term, they were both interpersonally intelligent). Mandela helped to reconcile a warring country; Milosevic introduced the notion of ethnic cleansing during the Balkan wars of the 1990s.

On the street, it’s perfectly fine to speak of ‘emotional intelligence’ as being desirable. Like grit, it is a capacity that we want to develop in our young persons. But, like grit, it has to be combined with positive values. We need more ‘good grit’ and ‘good intelligence,’ not simply more grit or intelligence for its own sake.

Click here to read the article via The Atlantic.

-Howard Gardner