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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.